US defends AP photographer's detention in Iraq

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BAGHDAD, Nov 21 (Reuters) The US military today defended its 19-month detention of an award-winning Associated Press photographer it has accused of working with insurgents in Iraq, saying he remained a ''security threat''.

Bilal Hussein, who began working with the news agency in 2004, has been in US military custody in Iraq since he was detained in April 2006 in the city of Ramadi, 110 km west of Baghdad, according to the AP website.

The AP has called for the immediate release of the photographer, who was part of an AP photo team that won a Pulitzer prize in 2005.

Since Hussein's arrest, ''this case has been reviewed a number of times by the standing board that does periodic reviews of individuals in detention,'' US military spokesman Major- General Kevin Bergner told a news conference.

''In each instance the recommendation was to continue detention because of the continued security threat that he represented.'' Bergner declined to discuss the evidence against Hussein, who took pictures for the AP in western Anbar province, which until a tribal security push began last year was the heartland of Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon called Hussein a ''terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP''. Berger said only that Hussein had been detained ''as a result of his interactions with insurgent activities''.

The military has said in the past that Hussein was detained for possessing materials used to make roadside bombs, insurgent propaganda, and a surveillance photo of a coalition installation.

AP president and chief executive officer Tom Curley said this week in a statement: ''While we are hopeful that there could be some resolution to Bilal Hussein's long detention, we have grave concerns that his rights under the law continue to be ignored and even abused.'' Military officials are expected to file a formal complaint against Hussein in Iraq's Central Criminal Court.

''We are now at a point where that case is to be conveyed ...

for judicial consideration,'' Bergner said.

Hussein, 36, is just one of a number of Iraqi journalists who have been held by the US military without being charged.

Reuters journalists have also been detained by the US military for months and later released without charges.

REUTERS RSA RN2138

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