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Alum Released from Iraqi Custody

By Elizabeth S. Widdicombe, ContributingWriter

At 1:15 p.m. yesterday afternoon, photojournalist Molly C. Bingham ’90, who disappeared from a Baghdad hotel on March 24 along with two Newsday reporters, an American peace activist and a Dutch freelance photographer, called her family from a satellite phone to let them know that she was safe.

Iraqi authorities had just released the group at the Iraq-Jordan border.

The phone call ended a week of anxiety for Bingham’s family, one that was filled with rumors and contradictory media reports concerning their daughter’s whereabouts.

Yesterday, her family told reporters that they were “overjoyed” that their daughter had been freed.

“She said she had a rough week and sounded tired, but she said she was alright,” Bingham’s father, G. Barry Bingham Jr. ’56, said in a statement during a press conference at his Louisville, Ky., office.

The office became a gathering place over the past week for the family and others concerned about Bingham’s welfare.

Bingham’s group was taken from the Palestine International Hotel last week by Iraqi authorities because they were suspected of being American spies, according to media reports.

Bingham had high-level connections which might have made her appear suspicious to the Iraqi government, said Catherine Clinton ’73, a friend of Bingham’s sister.

The detainees were interrogated for connections to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon but were not physically mistreated, editors of the two Newsday reporters told the Associated Press.

After Bingham went missing, several false reports surfaced about her condition. The State Department told Bingham’s family on Sunday that her whereabouts was still unaccounted for, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, of which Bingham’s father is the former owner.

The group was held in the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad until yesterday morning, when Iraqi authorities drove them to the Jordanian border and released them.

Anne Douglas, a staff member at Bingham’s father’s office, said that “there was great celebration and relief from everyone” yesterday. She said that the office was swamped with members of the national media, eager to get the family’s reaction.

The phone call was brief, Douglas said, and Bingham indicated she would call back after crossing the border.

“I don’t think anybody can even imagine what the family has gone through this week,” Douglas said.

Except for a brief two-and-a-half year period when she was a campaign photographer for the presidential bid of former Vice President Al Gore ’69,

Bingham has made her career through portrayals of people in dire situations.

She has taken photographs in war-torn and impoverished foreign countries including Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran Rwanda, Tibet and Siberia.

“It’s easier to gain recognition by going abroad,” Bingham told Harvard Magazine in 2000, “You get points for being able to get yourself to a foreign location, stay safe and get good pictures. You can prove up front that you have what it takes to deal with complicated situations.”

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