Iraqi forces rescue Britain’s Butler

AP's Bilal Hussein freed by U.S. military

BAGHDAD — It’s been a good week for journalists in Iraq for a change.

British photographer Richard Butler, who was kidnapped Feb. 10 in Basra while working for CBS, was rescued by Iraqi forces, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was freed by the U.S. military.

Fortune finally favored Butler when Iraqi troops conducting security sweeps as part of a crackdown on Shiite militiamen chanced upon a house in a Basra neighborhood that was crowded with gunmen.

After a 30-minute shootout, three gunmen fled and a fourth was arrested.

When troops entered the house, they found Butler in a room handcuffed with a hood over his head.

Butler and his Iraqi interpreter, whose name has not been officially released, were kidnapped from Basra’s Palace Sultan hotel by 10 armed and masked men.

The Basra office of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr struck a deal with the kidnappers, who released the interpreter three days after the abductions, but efforts to secure the release of the Briton became unstuck.

“We are incredibly grateful that our colleague Richard Butler has been released and is safe,” CBS said in a statement.

Hussein, meanwhile, was freed on Wednesday by the U.S. military in Iraq that had held him for two years without trial.

The U.S. military said it was releasing Hussein following an amnesty ordered by Iraqi authorities.

“After the action by the Iraqi judicial committees, we reviewed the circumstances of Hussein’s detention and determined that he no longer presents an imperative threat to security,” said Major General Douglas Stone, the deputy commander for detainee operations in Iraq.

“I have therefore ordered that he be released from coalition force custody,” Stone said.

Hussein was detained April 12, 2006, after Marines entered his house in Ramadi to establish a temporary observation post and allegedly found bomb-making materials, insurgent propaganda and a surveillance photograph of a U.S. military installation.

The U.S. military presented evidence against him to an Iraqi investigative judge in November 2007, and Hussein was referred to trial last month on a charge of terrorism, as well as a new Iraqi charge of kidnapping.

But the terrorism charge was dismissed April 7 by an Iraqi judicial committee responsible for implementing an amnesty law, and the kidnapping charge was dismissed by a separate judicial committee on April 13.

AP executives, defending Hussein as a journalist doing his job, have argued that the U.S. military detained Hussein because his photographs showed things they did not want the public to see.

Hussein was part of an AP photography team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for their coverage of the Iraq war.

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that last year 25 journalists and media assistants were kidnapped in Iraq and that a total of 208 have been killed in connection with their work since the U.S.-led invasion began in 2003.

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