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Haditha Reporter Was Jailed By US – Twice

Given the breathless coverage (actually only repetition of the same paltry facts) from our one party media about the civilian deaths in Haditha, I am surprised that we have heard nothing about the curious background of one of the first journalists to report the story, Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani, from the "restive town" of Ramadi.

It turns out Mr. al-Mashhadani might not have felt the kindliest intentions towards the US, having been imprisoned for five months mere weeks before his Haditha scoop.

Al-Mashhadani was detained because images found on his camera and because of his “ties to the insurgents," according to US officials.

Indeed, al-Mashhadani has since been detained by the US again, for two weeks. In fact he was only released today.

From his employer, Reuters:

Reuters journalist Ali al-Mashhadani (R), a television cameraman, embraces a colleague in Baghdad January 15, 2006. Mashhadani was released from U.S. military custody at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad on Thursday after 12 days in detention.

Reuters journalist freed in Iraq

By Alastair Macdonald

June 1, 2006

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An Iraqi journalist working for Reuters was released from U.S. military custody at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad on Thursday after 12 days in detention.

Ali al-Mashhadani, 37, was arrested by U.S. Marines in his home town of Ramadi on May 20 when he went to a U.S. base to retrieve Reuters telephones taken from him earlier that week.

He spent five months in U.S. custody last year before being released without charge in January.

Though again no specific allegation or charge was leveled against him, U.S. officials said last week he was held as a security threat. Marines interrogated him intensively about his work as a journalist in the restive Sunni province of Anbar.

The Marines did not contact Reuters at any stage and neither his employer, his family or lawyer had any access to Mashhadani.

Senior U.S. commanders in Baghdad were, however, in contact with Reuters and once he was transferred to their direct control two days ago, Mashhadani was released under a fast-track procedure for reviewing the detention of journalists.

That system was put in place by the military after it held Mashhadani and two other Reuters journalists last year.

Reuters’ Managing Editor David Schlesinger said the London-based news agency welcomed the cooperation of military officials in Baghdad but was concerned at the journalist’s initial arrest and lengthy interrogation in Ramadi:

"We are hoping for an explanation from the Marines of why our journalist was again subjected to this treatment for over a week when his integrity and professionalism had already been amply demonstrated to them during his previous internment."

Under U.S. rules, local commanders can hold people for 14 days before releasing them or sending them to Abu Ghraib.

EXPEDITED RELEASE

"We appreciate the critical role objective journalists play in covering events in Iraq and recognize that the execution of their responsibilities may put them at various locations on the battlefield. We clearly do not want to generate the perception that we are discouraging their presence," said Lieutenant Colonel Keir-Kevin Curry, spokesman for detainee operations.

"In cases where the individual was performing a legitimate function and not determined to be an imperative security threat an expedited release would be appropriate."

As many as seven journalists for international media groups were held by the U.S. military in Iraq at one stage last year. One such journalist, from Ramadi, is currently being held.

Mashhadani, who reports and provides video and pictures, is one of a small number of journalists providing news from Anbar province, where U.S. Marines and Sunni Arab insurgents, including al Qaeda militants, are locked in a fierce conflict.

Killings of journalists by all sides in Iraq have made it the deadliest war for the profession and reporters in Anbar, like Mashhadani, work under permanent threat from militant groups hostile to the international media.

Among Mashhadani’s recent stories was reporting from the town of Haditha in March. Following Time magazine’s revelation of accusations that U.S. Marines shot dead 24 civilians there in November, he filmed fresh interviews with local officials and residents that were widely used by international media.

A U.S. military investigation is nearing a conclusion and U.S. officials say charges, including murder, may result.

So after his first arrest, and after five months in prison at the hands of the US, Mr. al-Mashhadani was released January. Then in few weeks, he stumbles upon the story of Haditha in March.

Here is al-Mashhadani’s original report on Haditha from Reuters:

Iraqi residents say bodies in video from U.S. raid

By Ali al-Mashhadani

Tue 21 Mar 2006

HADITHA, Iraq (Reuters) – A video of civilians who may have been killed by U.S. Marines in an Iraqi town in November showed residents describing a rampage by U.S. soldiers that left a trail of bullet-riddled bodies and destruction.

A copy of the video, given to Reuters by Iraq’s Hammurabi Organisation for Monitoring Human Rights and Democracy, showed corpses lined up at the Haditha morgue. The chief doctor at Haditha’s hospital, Waleed al-Obaidi, said the victims had bullet wounds in the head and chest.

Most residents interviewed by Reuters in Haditha on Tuesday echoed accusations by residents in the video that U.S. Marines attacked houses after their patrol was hit by a roadside bomb.

They said the Marines opened fire on houses. "I saw a soldier standing outside a house and he opened fire on the house," said one resident, who did not want to be identified.

Time magazine published allegations on Monday that U.S. Marines killed civilians in Haditha after one of their comrades was killed by a roadside bomb. It published detailed accounts by people in the town, west of Baghdad.

A criminal inquiry into those deaths was launched last week. Time said the main question facing the probe was whether the "Marines killing of 15 non-combatants was an act of legitimate self-defence or negligent homicide."

Haditha, 200 km (125 miles) northwest of Baghdad, is in Anbar province, an area that has seen much activity by Sunni Arab insurgents whose campaign to topple the Iraqi government has killed thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians.

On November 20, U.S. Marines spokesman Captain Jeffrey Pool issued a statement saying that, on the previous day, a roadside bomb had killed 15 civilians and a Marine. In a later gunbattle, U.S. and Iraqi troops had killed eight insurgents, he added.

U.S. military officials have since confirmed to Reuters that that version of the events of November 19 was wrong and that the 15 civilians were not killed by the blast but were shot dead.

TRUCK PILED WITH CORPSES

Time magazine said this week the video of the corpses it provided to the military in January had prompted the revision.

Accusations that American soldiers often kill innocent people have fuelled anger at the occupation among Iraqis over the past three years.

The video given to Reuters shows bodies piled in the back of a white pickup truck outside the morgue. Among them was a girl who appeared to be about three years old.

One man wept and leaned against a wall as he identified a relative and other residents inspected bodies in the morgue. One man’s face had been torn apart by bullets, while a blackened corpse was missing legs and forearms.

The video also showed houses with bullet holes in the walls, pieces of human flesh, pools of blood and clothes and pots scattered across floors.

In one home, a young boy wept as he sat beside a corpse and said: "My father. My father."

Some residents blamed U.S. President George W. Bush, former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and President Jalal Talabani. "Is this the democracy Allawi, Talabani and Bush are talking about?" one resident asked.

Abdel Rahman al-Mashhadani, head of Hammurabi, said U.S. Marines had killed 15 people in Haditha after the roadside bomb attack. The group’s Haditha branch said it got the video from a local man.

Mashhadani said he had brought the case to the attention of the United Nations office in Baghdad. "These violations of human rights happen every day in Iraq," he told Reuters.

On Tuesday, residents of Haditha had similar accounts to those on the video.

"This room had a family of eight inside, children and their father and mother," one man said of his relatives who were killed in their home. Another resident confirmed his account, saying one of the children was three years old.

"They are all gone," he said.

This account is pretty much the same account that is still being parroted throughout our one party media worldwide now two months later. There are several particulars which are just stated as fact, such as:

U.S. military officials have since confirmed to Reuters that that version of the events of November 19 was wrong and that the 15 civilians were not killed by the blast but were shot dead.

This assertion has been repeated in almost every subsequent account of the Haditha incident. But I have never seen any confirmation of this from the US military or any named officials.

And what is the relationship if any between this news-making journalist Ali al-Mashhadani and Abdel Rahman al-Mashhadani of Iraq’s Hammurabi Organisation for Monitoring Human Rights and Democracy?

The latter al-Mashhanis is the person who first brought these "human rights violations" to public attention.

Perhaps al-Mashhadani is a very common name around those parts. (Probably being a kind of tribal or regional descriptor.) But what are the odds?

And how odd it is that Abdel Rahman al-Mashhadani just happened to be given a video by an unnamed local. And that he then turned it over to Ali al-Mashhadani who just happens to make videos for Reuters.

And had anyone ever heard of Iraq’s Hammurabi Organisation for Monitoring Human Rights and Democracy before this?

But even leaving their similar names aside, did Ali al-Mashhadani have an axe to grind against the US after having just been released after being held for five months by the Americans?

Did it color his reporting, which is still the centerpiece of every report we have on the Haditha deaths to date?

  Update!

Here’s a little more information on the reason for Al-Mashhadani’s arrest last year, from the Center To Protect Journalists:

U.S. forces release two long-detained journalists

New York, January 16, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of two Iraqi journalists detained by the U.S. military without charge for several months, but calls again for U.S. officials to specify charges against at least three other journalists still in custody or to release the detainees at once…

Ali al-Mashhadani, a television cameraman working for Reuters, and Majed Hameed, a correspondent working for Reuters and the Dubai-based broadcaster Al-Arabiya, were released from Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison on Sunday, Reuters reported. They were freed without charge as part of a larger prisoner release that included around 500 Iraqi detainees.

Al-Mashhadani, a freelance photographer and cameraman, had been held incommunicado and without explanation by U.S. forces since August 8. Al-Mashhadani was taken from his home in Ramadi during a general sweep of the neighborhood by U.S. Marines who became suspicious after seeing pictures on his cameras. After his detention, a U.S.-Iraqi Combined Review and Release Board (CRRB) determined that al-Mashhadani posed a "threat" and ordered his continued detention. Officials did not publicly substantiate the basis for his detention.

Hameed was arrested along with several other men at a gathering after the funeral of a relative on September 15 in Anbar province. Both Reuters and Al-Arabiya said his arrest appeared connected to footage found on his camera by U.S. troops. U.S. officials never specified the basis for his detention.

Of course Haditha is in the Anbar province.

And then there is this from the National Press Photographers Association:

NPPA Calls For Answers From U.S. Military, Release Of Journalists Held Without Charges

DURHAM, NC (August 31, 2005) – The National Press Photographers Association joins with the Committee To Protect Journalists, the Reuters News Agency and other media and press freedom organizations in urging the United States military to explain immediately why it is holding in custody Iraqi photojournalist Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani, a freelance photojournalist who works for Reuters,..

Reuters photojournalist al-Mashhadani is still being held more than two weeks after his arrest. Reuters reports today that a “secret tribunal” has ordered him held, without charges, in Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison for up to 6 months when his case may be reviewed again.

Reuters quotes a military spokesperson who said the tribunal decided that the photojournalist is, in their opinion, “a threat to the people of Iraq.” Reuters says the military will not tell them why the photojournalist is being held and has refused all requests to detail their suspicions about Mashhadani, or to make any specific accusations. The military response to a demand for his release is that he’s “a security detainee with links to insurgents.”

Reuters journalist al-Mashhadani was arrested by U.S. troops on August 8 after a search of his Ramadi, Iraq, home; the military has refused to say why he is being held and there are no charges against him. His brother was detained with him and then released, and he says al-Mashhadani was arrested after they looked at images on his cameras…

“We’re extremely concerned when someone like al-Mashhadani, an accredited photojournalist working for a global news agency, can be held incommunicado since his arrest many days ago and simply held without any explanation,” NPPA president Alicia Wagner Calzada said today…

“Also of grave concern to us are reports from his family that Marines arrested him after finding video and still images during a routine sweep of his neighborhood,” Calzada said. “ Reuters says they have provided U.S. officials with samples of Mashhadani’s published work to help establish that the video and still images on his cameras and computers that were found during the search were gathered in the course of his employment. We are disturbed by the appearance that the U.S. military is engaged in summarily arresting journalists in Iraq for simply being journalists, and that a photojournalist would be considered a threat for merely possessing newsworthy images.

Remember, al-Mashhadani has been arrested twice now. I wonder if both times it was for his "links to insurgents." What else could it have been?

I’ve searched high and low, and while Mr. al-Mashhadani’s brother is often mentioned, his name is never given. It would be interesting to find what it is.

And if he decided to take up monitoring human rights as his life’s mission.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Thursday, June 1st, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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