Hussein, 36, was finally handed over to colleagues from AP at a checkpoint in Baghdad. He was taken to the site aboard a prisoner bus and left U.S. custody wearing a traditional Iraqi robe. He was said to be smiling and appeared in good health.
“I want to thank all the people working in AP. I have spent two years in prison even though I was innocent. I thank everybody,” Hussein said after being freed.
AP President and CEO Tom Curley said Hussein “is safely back with AP and his family, and it is a great relief to us.”
“Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who supported us during this difficult and challenging period,” Curley said. “Bilal will now be spending some quiet time with his family and resting up.”
No formal charges ever filed
The US military had accused Hussein of links to insurgents, but did not file specific charges during his detention, preferring to spread leaks about Hussein’s supposed guilt through various sympathetic right-wing bloggers.
An internal investigation by AP last year concluded that there was no evidence at all to support the majority of the accusations. The report also revealed that the US Military had been prepared to release Hussein just a month after his arrest had he been prepared to spy for them.
In December, military authorities finally brought Hussein’s case into the Iraqi court system, 606 days after the Iraqi was first arrested by US marines at his apartment in Ramadi.
But an Iraqi judicial panel this month dismissed all proceedings against Hussein and ordered his release under an amnesty law passed in February. A US military statement on Monday said Hussein is no longer believed to be a threat.
“Thrilled” by Hussein’s release
The photographer was embraced by sobbing family members, including his brother and mother, and spoke to other well-wishers on a mobile phone as he was showered with flowers and sweets. He later was honored with a traditional feast.
“We are happy to welcome him back into our journalistic community,” said Santiago Lyon, AP’s director of photography.
In New York, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Joel Simon, said the group was “thrilled” by Hussein’s release.
“I cannot describe my happiness at seeing him again,” said his brother, Yassir Hussein, a 35-year-old university professor in Baghdad. “The family has been going through a hard time over the past two years, but now we thank God that we will have some rest.”
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