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WAR WITH IRAQ / THE MEDIA

Freed Journalists Feared the Worst

April 03, 2003|From Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan — Four journalists detained for a week in Baghdad said Wednesday that they feared for their lives "every second" they were held in Iraq's most notorious prison.

Newsday correspondent Matt McAllester, 33, and photographer Moises Saman, 29, were freed Tuesday after a week in Abu Ghraib prison, along with Molly Bingham, a freelance photographer from Louisville, Ky., and Danish freelance photographer Johan Rydeng Spanner.

Their expulsion came amid a growing crackdown on foreign journalists in Baghdad. The Iraqi government also expelled an Australian and a South African reporter Tuesday and detained two journalists working for the Sydney newspaper The Australian.

In Amman, McAllester, a Briton, told reporters Wednesday: "From the time we realized we were being taken to prison until the time we crossed the border into Jordan, we felt our lives were in danger."

"We had no idea what they were going to do to us," Bingham said. "They kept blindfolding us and taking us away. Every day it was a question of, 'Are they going to kill me or are they just going to ask me more questions?' "

McAllester said the journalists "were aware of the screams of other prisoners, especially at night when they were taken out of their cells."

The journalists slept on the cold concrete floor in 6-by-11-foot cells, and were given three meals a day.

"They, for the most part, treated us fairly and in a humane way," Saman said.

The group had been held since March 25, said Newsday's managing editor, Charlotte Hall.

The journalists said Iraqi authorities searched their hotel rooms and drove them to Abu Ghraib prison, where they were separated and given prison clothes and two blankets each.

Iraqi opposition groups say hundreds of political dissidents have been executed in recent years at Abu Ghraib, the largest prison in the Arab world.

Saman, of Barcelona, Spain, said: "They asked me ... what kind of pictures I was taking, if I was involved with any kind of intelligence service ... just what was the purpose of me being in Baghdad at such a time."

McAllester said the journalists owed their release to the efforts of "hundreds of people we've never met."

"Friends, famous people, our editors ... we owe them our freedom and maybe our lives," he said.

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