Guantanamo: Al-Jazeera Journalist Close to Death
- Al-Jazeera man close to death at Guantanamo Bay 'close to death'
By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
13 September 2007
An al-Jazeera journalist captured in Afghanistan six years ago and
sent to Guantanamo Bay is close to becoming the fifth detainee at the
US naval base to take his own life, according to a medical report
written by a team of British and American psychiatrists
Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese national, is 250 days into a hunger strike
which he began in protest over his detention without charge or trial
in January 2002. But British and American doctors, who have been given
exclusive access to his interview notes, say there is very strong
evidence that he has given up his fight for life, experiencing what
doctors recognise as "passive suicide", a condition suffered by female
victims of Darfur.
Dr Dan Creson, a US psychiatrist who has worked with the United
Nations in Darfur, said Mr Haj was suffering from severe depression
and may be deteriorating to the point of imminent death.
He said the detainee's condition was similar to that of Darfuri women
in Sudan whose mind suddenly experiences an irreversible decline after
enduring months of starvation and abuse. He said: "In the midst of
rape, slow starvation, and abject humiliation, they did whatever they
could to survive and save their children; then, suddenly, something
happened in their psyche, and, without warning, they would just sit
down with their small children beneath the first small area of
available shade and with no apparent emotion wait for death."
In June this year a Saudi man became the fourth prisoner to take his
own life at Guantanamo Bay. Guards found him dead in his cell. Two
Saudis and a Yemeni prisoner were found hanged in an apparent suicide
at Guantanamo in June last year. A senior US officer caused outrage at
the time by describing the suicides of three men as an act of
asymmetric warfare and a good PR move on the part of terrorist suspects.
Mr Haj, 38, was sent on assignment by al-Jazeera television station to
cover the war in Afghanistan in October 2001. The following month,
after the fall of Kabul, Mr Haj left Afghanistan for Pakistan with the
rest of his crew.
In early December, the crew were given visas to return to Afghanistan.
But when Mr Haj tried to re-enter Afghanistan with his colleagues, he
was arrested by the Pakistani authorities apparently at the request
of the US military.
He was imprisoned, handed over to the US authorities in January 2002,
taken to the US military compound in Bagram, Afghanisatan, then
Kandahar, and finally to Guantanamo in June 2002.
His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, of the human rights charity
Reprieve, said his client had endured months of brutal force-feeding
and lost nearly a fifth of his body weight during the hunger strike.
Mr Stafford Smith said: "The US military is rightly afraid of a fifth
prisoner dying in their custody. But they wrongly respond by treating
prisoners worse. Blankets and clothes are removed in case they are
used to commit suicide. The harshest methods of forced feeding are
deployed Sami has suffered the feeding tube being forced down into
his lungs by mistake several times."
The warning about the condition of Mr Haj coincided with the release
of Guantanamo transcripts which describe the hostility between guards
and their prisoners. The transcripts includes details of guards
interrupting detainees at prayer, detainees flinging body waste at
guards and interrogators withholding medicine.
Dr Hugh Rickards, a British psychiatrist, warned in his report that
the level of Mr Haj's mental suffering "appears so acute that it is my
duty as a medical practitioner to put this in writing to ensure
appropriate assessment and treatment".
Dr Mamoun Mobayed, a British psychiatrist based in Northern Ireland,
and a third member of the team who has also been given access to
written notes of recent interviews with the prisoner, said there was
also concern about the mental health of Mr Haj's wife and
seven-year-old son, who was just one when his father went on
assignment to Afghanistan.
Who is prisoner 345? And why should you and I care about him?
Free Sami Al-Hajj
Prisoner 345 is Sami Al-Haj. Sami Al-Haj is prisoner 345 at the United
States Detainment Camp in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Sami has been on hunger
strike since 7th January, 2007.
Sami was arrested in Pakistan in December 2001 while travelling with a
legitimate visa to work in Afghanistan as a cameraman for Al Jazeera.
But he is being held as an `enemy combatant'. Al Jazeera, its offices,
and its reporters have regularly come under attack (political as well
as physical) by the Bush administration. Its crime is not becoming a
cheer leader (like many other media outlets that we shall not mention)
for the Bush administration's numerous endless wars.
The Bush administration and the Pentagon have not charged Sami with
any crime. Who gives us the right to take the freedom of people and
separate them from their families without charging them with crimes?
How would we feel if an American is subjected to such immoral and
Mr. Al-Haj must be freed and compensated for all the harm we have
caused to him and his family. Mr. Al-Haj deserves an apology. But
again, we owe this apology to the millions of innocent Iraqis and
Afghans that we have ruined their livelihoods for the terrorist crime
of 9/11 which they had no responsibility for.
I never met Sami Al-Haj. I never worked for Al-Jazeera. So why do I
care? This position is basically for three groups of people. The
first, it is for me personally. I have to be able to look at myself in
the mirror. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that one who
sees injustice and remains silent about it is a mute devil, ie a
silent partner in that injustice. I do not want to be an accomplice in
this major injustice.
The second group is my children. I have always stressed to my children
the Qur'anic teaching of speaking against injustice, especially when
it is committed by one's own. Presently, my country is engaging in
unjust practices. Remaining silent is not an option. My children need
to know that when I had the chance to speak out, I did not cower. The
Guantanamo Bay Gulag must be shut down. Those responsible for any
crimes should have their day in an independent court and if not found
guilty, they should be freed. The indefinite detention without charges
is in itself a form of terrorism (called kidnapping), let alone the
torture our government (sanctioned by our Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales) has applied in the process. This is not what America stands
for. As Americans, we have a duty to oppose those whose actions taint
our country's history, image, and credibility. Of course, our first
duty is to defend the dignity and humanity of every human being.
The third group is Sami's family: his parents, his wife, and his son
Mohammad who was born after Sami was illegally detained by our forces.
They need to know that many Americans are ashamed and appalled by the
actions of our government. We feel your pain. We pray for the day Sami
will be free and will finally get to meet his son for the first time.
As a father, I know that there is nothing that we can do to make up
for the days Sami was deprived from seeing his son grow or the days
Mohammad needed his father's love, hugs, and comfort.
For more information on Sami Al-Haj, please read:
Sami must be freed.
This poem below is an excerpt from an article which appeared in the
Independent on June 21, 2007.
Humiliated In The Shackles
By Sami al Hajj
When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees,
Hot tears covered my face.
When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed
A message for my son.
Mohammad, I am afflicted.
In my despair, I have no one but Allah for comfort.
The oppressors are playing with me,
As they move freely around the world.
They ask me to spy on my countrymen,
Claiming it would be a good deed.
They offer me money and land,
And freedom to go where I please.
Their temptations seize
My attention like lightning in the sky.
But their gift is an empty snake,
Carrying hypocrisy in its mouth like venom,
They have monuments to liberty
And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.
But I explained to them that
Architecture is not justice.
America, you ride on the backs of orphans,
And terrorize them daily.
The world recognizes an arrogant liar.
To Allah I direct my grievance and my tears.
I am homesick and oppressed.
Mohammad, do not forget me.
Support the cause of your father, a God-fearing man.
I was humiliated in the shackles.
How can I now compose verses? How can I now write?
After the shackles and the nights and the suffering and the tears,
How can I write poetry?
My soul is like a roiling sea, stirred by anguish,
Violent with passion.
I am a captive, but the crimes are my captors'.
I am overwhelmed with apprehension.
Lord, unite me with my son Mohammad.
Lord, grant success to the righteous.
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