Cameraman In Guantanamo: Sami al-Hajj
- 4 letters from the Al Jazeera cameraman prisoner in Guantanamo, to his
British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith
By Sami Muhydin al-Hajj, Guantanamo Bay
July 15, 2005
Health is a great concern to us in the new gulag
I hope that you are well.
Allow me to say to you that my health worries me, since it is going
from bad to worse. As you know, the Guantanamo prisoners, in the new
and now sadly, infamous gulag, suffer much from lack of medical care:
you can hear cries of pain and laments coming from the inmates in all
the cages of this prison; for example, Nayib, the Moroccan, suffers
permanent pain in one of his hands after it was fractured during the
well known events at the Yankee compound in 2001.
I am sure that you will be amazed to know that the doctors and nurses,
of the new gulag, have discovered that water is the best remedy for
all known medical conditions. Water will cure any illness and if a
prisoner complains about a cold, a backache or an allergy, the nurse
has a stock answer: "Drink water!" If you have tonsillitis: "Drink water!"
No matter what the complaint is: "Drink water!" Even the guards have
the magic prescription when they collect a sick prisoner to take him
to the emergency block: "Drink water!"
All the prisoners have toothache because during the long and frequent
punishment periods the guards take their toothbrush away from them.
The prisoners ask for medical attention for one or two weeks and they
are ignored so eventually they go on hunger strike. However, if you
protest you become invisible and it is as if you did not exist.
In the end the prisoner volunteers to be interrogated, the officer in
charge aced to the request and the inmate has to commit himself to
cooperate during the interrogation. He swears that he will answer all
the questions put to him; the ones that concern him directly as well
as the ones that will implicate others.
After that the dentist will see the prisoner. He will be very friendly
and nice to him, however, he will make sure that he extracts a good
tooth and ignores the decayed one. This way they try to ensure that he
keeps cooperating during interrogation.
Habin al-Taadiya has beaten the record of cooperation during
interrogation so far; they have extracted four perfectly good teeth
and ignored the decayed ones.
Those who have sight problems are no better. If you collaborate during
interrogation you can obtain a pair of plastic glasses with spare
lenses just in case. The problem is that the lenses are the wrong
prescription and unless you are very lucky to find someone in a
similar situation, who has collaborated during interrogation, perhaps
you will be able to use both pairs of glasses together to read the
Holy Koran. In any case, Shaij Allah, the Egyptian, has a very weak
sight and needs more than one pair of glasses to see anything at all.
The Libyan Adu Ahmad has hepatitis and after many requests for medical
attention, finally they gave him some medicines, but his condition has
been deteriorating every day. When Abu Ahmed asked them to provide the
treatment he was having before he was captured, he was told with
extreme rudeness by the doctor: that ìThe treatment he was asking for,
was very expensive and as he was a prisoner he had no right to it or
Abd al-Hadi from Syria suffers from heart disease and has problems
having an operation in Guant·namo, especially after finding out that
his "uncle" Salih Muhammad, from Yemen, had a heart operation two and
a half years ago but kept having the same pain afterwards and
eventually they told him that the operation had not been successful.
The Egyptian Abd al-Aziz was beaten up in his cage by the anti-riot
squad and they damaged two vertebrae; now, it is impossible for him to
move. He has refused an operation, especially after seeing the
condition Mashal al-Harbi, of Medina, was left in, after surgery. He
could move even less than before; as for Umran al Tayfi, his case is
hard to believe. He has endured sixteen operations in his foot, but it
is as painful and as damaged as ever.
Muhammad, from Afghanistan who is my cage mate, discovered after three
years of suffering that he had cancer and that the illness was in its
terminal stages; the medics did not hide from him the results of the
tests, which indicate that his illness started after he was made a
prisoner by the Americans. Nevertheless the new doctors were more open
than their predecessors, since they told him that Washington had
refused to treat his cancer or to allow him to return to his country
to spend his last days with his wife and children, or to be buried in
his native land.
The situation of his countryman Muhammad Alam is not a lot better,
since they have informed him that he has throat cancer, although he
can return to Afghanistan.
Not long ago, a rumor circulated that all the vaccine jabs given to
the prisoners by force during the last three years was a way to infect
them with the illnesses, which after a time came apparent. Deceases,
like AIDS, cancer, sterility and others.
Anyhow, we have to admit that the surgeons are honest and totally
dedicated to their profession, since they never hesitate to amputate
hands or feet, both healthy and sick, to the prisoners. The nurses are
not any less dedicated, as they administer with generosity expensive
unknown drugs whether the patients are aware of what they (the nurses)
are doing or not!
Your sincere friend
Sami Muhyi al-Din al-Hajj
August 9, 2005
Congressmen visit Guantanamo to see the caged terrorists
These are some of my notes on the hunger strike:
The strike began on July 12 in block 4, that is, the Whisky barracks,
where all the prisoners have joined and the number is now up to 190
strikers. We were asking for two things: - That they stop treating
all prisoners so harshly, but especially the prisoners of block 5. -
A vast improvement in the quality of medical attention and the
cessation of all forced practices against prisoners, like forced
sedation and "inoculations" as well as the end of any practices that
make fun of the prisonerís mental condition.
A very large group of visitors came to Delta barracks on July 15. I
believe that they were Congressmen of the United States. For some
reasons only known to the people in charge, the delegates were not
allowed to visit block 4. Perhaps it was because of the tension that
had been created there. Anyway they visited the hospital that is next
to Whisky barracks. Frustrated and desperate, the prisoners started
shouting and screaming so that the visitors could hear, trying to make
them aware of their plight. Some were shouting: ìfreedom!î others:
ìBush is just like Hitler!î and others complained by shouting: ìthis
is a gulag!î, that is to say, a place of forced work and slavery.
At this point some visitors tried to come closer to Whisky barracks
trying to hear better what the prisoners were shouting, without paying
attention to the warnings of the guards. At the same time others were
looking at us contemptuously and the rest seemed indignant at what was
On July 17 at five o'clock in the afternoon the soldiers started
moving by force all the prisoners in barrack Whisky (we think that
they did this as a punishment for what happened during the visit of
the Congress people, two days earlier).
They moved 18 prisoners to blocks 2 and 3, where conditions are more
punitive; one of them is your client, Jamil al-Banna. As the
commanding officer seemed to detect a slight sign of resistance, he
sent for the brutal anti-riot unit.
At the end of the operation the authorities had moved 18 prisoners
from two cage blocks, while the rest of the prisoners in Whisky
barracks were demanding to be transferred with their friends to blocks
2 and 3.
Meanwhile in block 4 the conditions deteriorated. Those who were still
there, also asked to be transferred to blocks 2 and 3. In the end
approximately 40 prisoners asked for the transfer, and decided to
leave all their possessions behind and congregate at the entrance of
the block, trying to show their captors that they were determined to
be taken seriously.
At three o'clock in the afternoon of July 18 the transfer of prisoners
to blocks 2 and 3 began. Meanwhile, as the strike continued, the
prisoners started shouting together: "Why are we the enemy?" The camp
Commandant said that he had no authority to change our juridical
status. They said to us that Donald Rumsfeld - the Minister of Defence
- had written from Washington to him asking to apply the Geneva
Convention in Guantanamo.
For us the most important aim to achieve was the closure of block 5,
because there, the conditions were the most awful of all. Some
officials came and promised that they would open a shop where we could
buy supplies. They said that our families could send us money, and
that they would give 3 dollars a week to the prisoners who had no
Prisoners would be allowed to meet in assembly to debate our problems,
to define our positions and to negotiate with the authorities. But
there would be no confidential or private communication among the
prisoners, however, we managed to pass written messages between each
other, which were swallowed as soon as they were read. When the
authorities found out about it, they got into a rage.
On August 5 the case of Hisham al-Sulayti provoked serious problems.
This prisoner had resisted in an interrogation session, so the
soldiers desecrated the Koran yet again. There were many times when
the sacred Book was desecrated. For example, a military policeman had
ordered the Yemeni al-Shamrani to do something while he was praying.
He answered that he would do it as soon as he finished praying.
Immediately all the military policemen rushed forward and hit him in
the face until it was covered with blood and then they started
stamping and kicking the Koran.
That was not the first time it happened. Another Yemeni, Hakim, was
told that he represented a serious danger to his prison guards because
he had learned the Koran by heart. That was a real insult to the
There was also the case of Saad from Kuwait, dragged to an
interrogation session where he was forced to spend five hours with a
woman who was sexually explicit in front of him. And the case of the
young Canadian Omar Jadr, also forced into isolation to be questioned.
They sent prisoners to block 3, also known as Romeo, where they were
humiliated, they were forced to wear short trousers and they were left
without food or drink for 24 hours. On August 8 the camp Commandant
stopped the prisoners' assemblies because the day before blocks 2 and
3 went on hunger strike; block 1 joined the strike two days later.
As soon as the second strike began the colonel came with a megaphone.
He asked the heads of the different blocks to go out to speak with
them, but we did not pay any attention to his request. We thought we
had to go on hunger strike again, but I am not convinced that it was
the right thing to do; however, we had to show solidarity with our
fellow prisoners in block 5. I hope to come out of this one alive
and ask you to tell my wife and my son that I love them very much
Your friend and client
Sami Muhyi al-Din al-Hajj
October 20, 2005
I want back home
I would like to say to you once again that if they free me, I have
decided to return to Sudan, my beloved country. I would not want to go
I want to return to Sudan to resume a normal life with my dear family
and to look after my brothers and young sisters, who after the death
of my parents -- God the compassionate, have mercy on them -- are now
It is also my wish that my dear son Muhammad al-Habib enrolls in a
Sudanese school as I am sure that, God willing, he will have a great
I am very grateful to you for everything that you have done for me.
Your sincere and faithful friend
Sami Muhyi al-Din Muhammad al-Hajj
November 6, 2005
Punished for three grains of rice and four ants
Let me make a confession: I cannot stop asking myself this question,
why do they punish me? It is becoming an obsession, but I cannot get
it out of my head. All these punishments began when they put me in
prison in Bagram, Afghanistan.
They only allowed us to go to the athroom twice a day, the first time
just after dawn and then just before dusk. We could only go when it
was our turn. I remember that once I was very desperate and I
whispered to the man in front of me in the queue, to let me get in
front of him. The soldier, guarding us, bellowed with fury, âDo not
speak!â? and then ordered me to get out. He tied my hands to a wire
and left me there all day on my feet and shivering with the cold
weather. Eventually, I soiled my trousers, to the enjoyment of the
soldiers and the whores present.
Then to Kandahar:
In full summer, under the blazing sun and walking on the burning soil,
one soldier shouts, "You! Hold it there... the second one... the third
one and also the fourth one! Why did you speak? Get on your knees with
your hands on your head!"
We were left like this, under the torrid sun and kneeling on the
burning stones until one of us collapsed and the rest went to his aid.
One week, after arriving in Guantanamo, the soldiers got to the cages,
very early in the morning and ordered all the prisoners to put their
arms through the gap in the door that they used to get our food to us,
because, they said, they were going to vaccinate us against tetanus.
When it was my turn, I said to them that I had been vaccinated before
I left Doha, against tetanus, yellow fever, cholera and other
illnesses and that according to the doctor there that these vaccines
were active for five years. There was no point in having them again.
The officer bellowed telling me not to argue, "Get your arm out or
we'll get it out for you!" I refused.
They left me alone for the moment, and then, they returned after
finishing with the rest. However, I kept refusing again and again. As
a punishment they took all my things, from the mattress to the
toothbrush, and I had to sleep on the floor for three days and three
nights. I kept asking myself the same question that torments me: Why
do they punish me?
Are we to take medicines by force? Have we suddenly turned into a
flock of sheep? Do we have to accept everything without protest;
without objecting to the excesses - without finding out at least what
all this is about?
Many things worse than what I have described happened to me. One night
I went to bed quite early. I was exhausted after spending many hours
under interrogation. I was awakened by the shouts and commands from
the soldiers. "Get your head and your hands out of the blanket!" I was
startled so I complied. As a matter of fact, it was forbidden for us
to sleep with our heads or hands covered by the blanket.
I went to slept again. Some time later a soldier started hitting the
door of the cage as hard as he could and started bellowing, "Why did
you put the toothpaste in the place of the toothbrush?" He accused me
of refusing to obey military laws and regulations and ordered me to
get all my things together. I was punished for a whole week.
And here I am again, asking the same question. Why do they punish me?
How can they justify punishing me for a week, taking away all my
things, leaving me with no mattress or blanket, obliging me to sleep
on the floor? Another time, I was having breakfast, which consisted of
the cold contents of a can. When I finished a soldier collected the
leftovers and the plastic bags. He stopped at the door of the cage and
counted the pieces, trying to put them together again. Suddenly he
shouted, "Where is it... the piece that is missing?" I started looking
among my things but I did not find it.
He immediately went away to report the problem to his superiors and
came back with his orders. I had to be made an example. Yet again,
they took away all my possessions for three days and yet again the
same old question came back...Why do they punish me? What on earth
would I want with a small piece of a plastic bag? Once more,
providence reunited me in the same cage block with Yamel from Uganda,
Mohamed from Chad and Yamel Blama from Britain. The colour of the skin
and the hated orange of our boilersuits also united us. The black of
our skins was enough to make the guards hate us and make our lives
hell. Often they woke us up during the night under the pretext of
searching the cage.
One night the soldiers woke me up for yet another search. They did not
find anything suspicious, that is, except for three grains of rice on
the floor that I had saved for the ants. This time they punished me
for seven days and yet again, the same old question came back to haunt
me - Why do they punish me?
I just couldn't understand why three grains of rice and four ants were
sufficient reason for them to punish me.
Another night two soldiers stood in front of my door. They were
carrying chains and shackles. They banged on the door very hard and I
felt afraid when I woke up. They chained me and took me to the Romeo
Barracks. They pushed me into a cage. They took my boilersuit and I
was left in my underwear. Nothing more, no soap or toothbrush or
No matter how many times I asked them why I was being punished I never
got an answer. However, sometime later I was told that I was in
solitary confinement for two weeks, because a soldier found a nail
sticking out of the vent in my cage. I asked them from where they
thought I got the nail or how did they think that I managed to stick
it onto the outside of my cage. No answers - they just turned on their
heels and left.
I spent 14 days sitting there, unable to say my prayers as I could not
do it with respect and dignity in that state of undress. I had to
sleep for 14 cold winter nights on the ground without a mattress or
The harassment and the provocations from the soldiers went from bad to
worse. Once we found out that a soldier had trampled on the Holy Koran
and left the mark of his boots on it. All prisoners rebelled and
decided to return all the copies of the holy book to the
administration office so that they were not desecrated in front of us.
The Camp Commandant promised that it would not happen again. But, of
course, the promise was not fulfilled... The prisoners decided not to
leave the cages, not even for walks or desperately needed showers,
until they collected all the copies of the Holy Koran.
As always, the culprits came back barking orders and threats. The
ruthless riot units arrived. They opened all the cages and beat up all
the prisoners before putting shackles and chains on them. They all had
their hair; moustaches and beards shaved by force and were thrown into
As it happened to all the others, when my turn came, I was sprayed
with gas, beaten up and thrown onto the floor. Once there, a soldier
got hold of my head and started banging it against the cement floor.
Another one kicked me very hard in the face and immediately blood
started pouring out of the injury. All this was happening as I was
pinned down to the floor, chained and shackled. Like the others I lost
all my hair and was thrown, drenched in blood into an isolation cage.
After an hour or so a soldier asked me through the vent if I wanted to
see a doctor. I said no and prayed to Allah, putting before Him the
injustices of those who had robbed us of our freedom and dignity. At
one point, I felt very faint and I asked to see a doctor. When the
doctor got there he gave me three stitches, put a dressing on my head
and gave me some sleeping tablets, saying they were antibiotics. All
that, through a gap of a few centimetres wide. I fell asleep knocked
down by the terrible injustice perpetrated by those men.
The following morning the same old question came back as a curse...
Why do they punish us?
Perhaps to defend my faith and my religion is a crime punishable with
prison. Is it also a crime to ask that all copies of the Holy Koran
are collected and kept in a safe place so they are not desecrated in
front of us? Why am I here? Because I travelled to Afghanistan with my
camera to film for four weeks the brutal war waged against the Afghan
people, working on behalf of Al Jazeera. Is this also a crime, which
has to be punished with (so far) more than four years in prison? Why
did they accuse me of being a terrorist?
Far too many questions are swimming in my head and tormenting my
spirit, together with all the slogans promoting deception and the
justifying so many crimes committed by those who like to see
themselves as promoters of freedom, defenders of democracy and
protectors of peace on earth.
French version : http://quibla.net/guantanamo2006/guantanamo1.htm
Spanish version : http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=25069 .
Italian version by Mirumir http://mirumir.blogspot.com/
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