Sami Al-Haj Freed from Guantanamo
- ALLAHU AKBAR!
Al-Jazeera Reporter Held at Guantanamo is FREE!!!!
Fri May 2, 2008
Sami al-Hajj hits out at US captors Al-Hajj said the US would not give
inmates "the rights that they give animals"
Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj has hit out at the US treatment of
detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison where he was held for
nearly six and a half years.
Saying that "rats are treated with more humanity", al-Hajj said
inmates' "human dignity was violated".
bodyVariable350="Htmlphcontrol1_lblError"; Al-Hajj arrived in Sudan
early on Friday, was carried off the US air force jet in a stretcher
and immediately taken to hospital.
His brother, Asim al-Hajj, said he did not recognise the cameraman
because he looked like a man in his 80s.
bodyVariable300="Htmlphcontrol2_lblError"; Still, al-Hajj said: "I was
lucky because God allowed that I be released."
But his attention soon turned to the 275 inmates he left behind in the
US military prison.
"In Guantanamo ... rats are treated with more humanity. But we have
people from more than 50 countries that are completely deprived of all
rights and privileges"
Sami al-Hajj"I'm very happy to be in Sudan, but I'm very sad because
of the situation of our brothers who remain in Guantanamo. Conditions
in Guantanamo are very, very bad and they get worse by the day," he
said from his hospital bed.
"Our human condition, our human dignity was violated, and the American
administration went beyond all human values, all morale values, all
"In Guantanamo ... rats are treated with more humanity. But we have
people from more than 50 countries that are completely deprived of all
rights and privileges.
"And they will not give them the rights that they give animals," he said.
Al-Hajj complained that "for more than seven years, [inmates] did not
get a chance to be brought before a civil court to defend their just
The US embassy in Khartoum issued a brief statement confirming that a
"detainee transfer" to Sudan had taken place and saying it appreciated
Former Guantanamo detainee on al-Hajj
A senior US defence official in Washington speaking on condition of
anonymity, told Reuters that al-Hajj was "not being released [but]
being transferred to the Sudanese government".
But Sudan's justice minister told Al Jazeera that al-Hajj was a free
man and would not be arrested or face any charges.
Two other Sudanese inmates at Guantanamo, Amir Yacoub al-Amir and
Walid Ali, were freed along with al-Hajj.
The Reprieve organisation that represents some Guantanamo inmates said
Moroccan detainee Said Boujaadia was also released and flown home on
the same aircraft as the three Sudanese.
Al-Hajj was the only journalist from a major international news
organisation held at Guantanamo and many of his supporters saw his
detention as punishment for the network's broadcasts.
Seized in 2001
He was seized by Pakistani intelligence officers while travelling near
the Afghan border in December 2001.
Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external sites
Despite holding a legitimate visa to work for Al Jazeera's Arabic
channel in Afghanistan, he was handed to the US military in January
2002 and sent to Guantanamo Bay.
Al-Hajj, who is originally from Sudan, was held as an "enemy
combatant" without ever facing trial or charges.
Al-Hajj was never prosecuted at Guantanamo so the US did not make
public its full allegations against him.
But in a hearing that determined that he was an enemy combatant, US
officials alleged that in the 1990s, al-Hajj was an executive
assistant at a Qatar-based beverage company that provided support to
Muslim fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya.
The US claimed he also travelled to Azerbaijan at least eight times to
carry money on behalf of his employer to the al-Haramain Islamic
Foundation, a now defunct charity that US authorities say funded armed
The US also clamed he met Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, allegedly a senior
lieutenant to Osama bin Laden who was arrested in Germany in 1998 and
extradited to the United States.
His lawyers have always denied the allegations.
'Element of racism'
Al-Hajj had been on hunger strike since January 7, 2007.
David Remes, a lawyer for 17 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, told Al
Jazeera that the treatment al-Hajj received "was more horrific than
most" and that there was "an element of racism" in the way he was treated.
He said he had been in contact with the lawyer representing al-Hajj
and it appeared the cameraman had been "psychologically damaged".
"The Europeans would never receive this treatment," Remes said.
About 275 detainees remain at Guantanamo and the lawyer said European
detainees had all been returned to their country, leaving
nationalities such as Yemenis - who now constitute one third of the
Al Jazeera had been campaigning for al-Hajj's
release since his capture in 2001 [EPA]Remes said al-Hajj had been
released because the Bush administration "wants to flush as many men
out of Guantanamo as quickly as possible ¦'¥ as Guantanamo has
become such an international badge of shame".
"Once the Supreme Court said the men could have lawyers the pressure
increased [on the US] and condemnation isolated the US administration.
Guantanamo was a PR disaster," he said.
"Unfortunately Americans appreciate violations of rights but they have
no sympathy for men held at Guantanamo as the [Bush] administration
has done such a good job in portraying them as the worst of the worst
and as evil doers.
"I've met many prisoners, gotten to appreciate their suffering ... we
know them as humans not as worst of worst, we've met their families.
"I've been to Guantanamo and the human dimension of Guantanamo is a
story yet to be told," Remes said.
Al Jazeera concerns
Al Jazeera had been campaigning for al-Hajj's release since his
capture nearly six and a half years ago.
Wadah Khanfar, the network's director-general who was in Khartoum to
welcome al-Hajj, said "we are overwhelmed with joy".
But he criticised the US military for urging al-Hajj to spy on his
"We are concerned about the way the Americans dealt with Sami, and we
are concerned about the way they could deal with others as well," he said.
"Sami will continue with Al Jazeera, he will continue as a
professional person who has done great jobs during his work with Al
"We congratulate his family and all those who knew Sami and loved Sami
and worked for this moment."
A cameraman for the popular Arab television network Al Jazeera, Sami
Al-Haj has been incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay for almost 6 years.
Like most Guantanamo "detainees," he has not been charged with any
crime. But Sami's case is unique in one way. He is a journalist and
was seized by U.S. military forces while on assignment covering the
U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan. All the available evidence suggests
that his continued incarceration is part of an larger U.S. campaign to
punish Al Jazeera for its critical coverage of the Bush Administration
and its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Seizure, Torture, Interrogation
The U.S. military claimed to have seized Sami because they believed he
was the cameraman at an Al Jazeera interview with Osama Bin Laden.
According to Sami's lawyer and to Al Jazeera, their intelligence was
flawed. (Although filming an interview for Al Jazeera does not make
one an "enemy combatant", the pseudo-legal category under which all
prisoners at Guantanamo are supposedly held.)
After his illegal seizure by the U.S. military, Sami was flown to
Bagram Airforce Base and then to Kandahar in January 2002. He says
that these were the longest days of his life. He was kept in a
freezing cold cage in a hangar in the middle of winter, given one
frozen meal a day, forced to kneel for long periods of time on cold
concrete (permanently scarring his knees), and was beaten and sexually
abused by American military personnel. His right knee-cap was broken
when a guard stomped on it.
Sami was flown to Guantánamo Bay on June 7, 2002, where he was
interrogated more than 100 times. According to both Sami and his
lawyer, the interrogations focused almost entirely on obtaining
intelligence on Al Jazeera and its staff rather than on any
allegations made against Sami.
On January 7, 2006, five years into his incarceration, Sami began a
hunger strike, demanding that he either be given a fair trial or
released. He is currently being force-fed using a painful procedure
intended to discourage hunger strikes. Twice a day he is strapped into
a chair for one and a half hours and a 43 inch tube is inserted up his
nose. This is in violation of the Tokyo Declaration, which mandates
that a competent hunger striker should not be force-fed.
Even before his hunger strike, Sami suffered from serious health
problems. He has still not received the surgery necessary to fix his
right knee-cap, broken by a U.S. military guard in January 2002. He
has constant rheumatism and toothaches, and has not received treatment
for either. In addition to the ailments incurred during his
incarceration, Sami had throat cancer in 1998 and is supposed to be on
daily medication to prevent its recurrence; this medication has been
denied him since his seizure in 2001.
Sami's wife and lawyer both report that Sami seems to be losing his
mental capacities, and a team of psychiatrists in Britain has stated
that he appears to be seeking "passive suicide." He may have already
suffered permanent damage, and it is feared that he may soon become
the fifth Guantanamo detainee to take his own life.
Why has Sami not been released?
"There is no evidence that Sami has committed any crime," says his
London-based attorney, Clive Stafford Smith. "Sami is no more a
terrorist than my grandmother." Yet despite the fact that the military
has brought no charges against him and seems to have lost interest
even in interrogating him, it refuses to release him. Why?
One obvious reason is that Sami reports he has been tortured by U.S.
military personnel (see above). While numerous former detainees have
reported on their torture at Guantanamo, none have had the media
status of Sami Al-Haj, a fact which undoubtedly makes U.S. officials
Second, the Bush Administration and U.S. military are engaged in a war
against Al Jazeera intended to punish the news network for criticizing
the Bush Administration and its wars in the Middle East. In addition
to the seizure and continued incarceration of Sami Al-Haj, some
noteworthy events of this campaign include:
* October 3, 2001 U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expresses
"concern" about Al Jazeera to the emir of Qatar. Since Al Jazeera was
launched with a start-up grant from the emir for the express purpose
of providing an Arabic news channel "free from the shackles of
censorship and government control," he does not respond to this thinly
veiled request from the U.S. government to censor Al Jazeera.
* November 13, 2001 Al Jazeera's office in Aghanistan is
destroyed in a U.S. missile attack. The network's managing director
says of the attack: "This office has been known by everybody. The
American airplanes know the location of the office." In a letter to Al
Jazeera dated December 6, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria
Clarke says "the building we struck was a known Al Qaeda facility in
central Kabul." Al Jazeera continues broadcasting from Afghanistan,
and one month later its cameraman Sami Al-Haj is "detained" by the
* April 8, 2003 The U.S. military bombs Al Jazeera's office in
central Baghdad, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub and wounding cameraman
Zohair al-Iraqi. Al Jazeera's Baghdad correspondent Majed Abdel Hadi
calls the U.S. missile strike a "crime." Tareq Ayyoub's widow Dima
sues the Bush administration for $30 million for the death of her husband.
Al Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub
* August 7, 2004 The Iraqi interim government shuts down the
Baghdad office of Al Jazeera for one month. "This decision was taken
to protect the people of Iraq and the interests of Iraq," Prime
Minister Iyad Allawi tells a news conference. The shutdown was
extended indefinitely in September 2004, and the offices sealed. The
bureau is still closed, but Al Jazeera continues to report from Iraq
through a network of stringers.
* November 22, 2005 A memo is leaked to the British press
claiming that President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair had
discussed bombing Al Jazeera's main headquarters in Qatar, an ally of
the United States and Britain. Two British government officials are
charged with violating the Official Secrets Act for their roles in
leaking the memo.
Al-Jazeera cameraman freed from Guantanamo after 6 years
By MOHAMED OSMAN
KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) An Al-Jazeera cameraman was released from U.S.
custody at Guantanamo Bay and returned home to Sudan early Friday
after six years of imprisonment that drew worldwide protests.
Sami al-Haj, who had been on a hunger strike for 16 months, grimaced
as he was carried off a U.S. military plane by American personnel in
Sudan's capital, Khartoum. He was put on a stretcher and taken
straight to a hospital.
Al-Jazeera showed footage of al-Haj being carried into the hospital,
looking feeble and with his eyes closed, but smiling. Some of the men
surrounding his stretcher were kissing him on the cheek.
"Thank God ... for being free again," he told Al-Jazeera from his
hospital bed. "Our eyes have the right to shed tears after we have
spent all those years in prison. ... But our joy is not going to be
complete until our brothers in Guantanamo Bay are freed," he added.
"The situation is very bad and getting worse day after day," he said
of conditions in Guantanamo. He claimed guards prevent Muslims from
practicing their religion and reading the Quran.
"Some of our brothers live without clothing," he said.
The U.S. military says it goes to great lengths to respect the
religion of detainees, issuing them Qurans, enforcing quiet among
guard staff during prayer calls throughout the day. All cells in
Guantanamo have an arrow that points toward the holy city of Mecca.
Al-Haj was released along with two other Sudanese from Guantanamo
Thursday. He was the only journalist from a major international news
organization held at Guantanamo and many of his supporters saw his
detention as punishment for a network whose broadcasts angered U.S.
The military alleged he was a courier for a militant Muslim
organization, an allegation his lawyers denied.
Al-Haj said he believed he was arrested because of U.S. hostility
toward Al-Jazeera and because the media was reporting on U.S. rights
violations in Afghanistan.
Al-Haj was detained in December 2001 by Pakistani authorities as he
tried to enter Afghanistan to cover the U.S.-led invasion. He was
turned over to the U.S. military and taken in January 2002 to
Guantanamo Bay, where the United States holds some 275 men suspected
of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, most of them without charges.
Reprieve, the British human rights group that represents 35 Guantanamo
prisoners including al-Haj, said Pakistani forces apparently seized
al-Haj at the behest of the U.S. authorities who suspected he had
interviewed Osama bin Laden.
But that "supposed intelligence" turned out to be false, Reprieve said
in a news release.
"This is wonderful news, and long overdue," said Clive Stafford Smith,
Reprieve's director, who has represented al-Haj since 2005. "The U.S.
administration has never had any reason for holding Mr. Al Haj, and
has, instead, spent six years shamelessly attempting to turn him
against his employers at Al-Jazeera."
Sudanese officials said al-Haj would not face any charges.
The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum issued a brief statement confirming the
detainee transfer with Sudan and saying it appreciated Sudan's
Al-Haj's lawyers said the 38-year-old has been on hunger strike since
January 2007 to protest conditions and indefinite confinement at the
Attorney Zachary Katznelson of Reprieve, who met al-Haj at Guantanamo
on April 11, said he was "emaciated" because of his hunger strike. and
had recently been having problems with his liver and kidneys and had
blood in his urine.
"Sami is a poster child for everything that is wrong about Guantanamo
Bay: No charges, no trial, constantly shifting allegations, brutal
treatment, no visits with family, not even a phone call home,"
Katznelson said Thursday.
"Sami was never alleged to have hurt a soul, and was never proven to
have committed any crimes. Yet, he had fewer rights than convicted
mass murderers or rapists. What has happened to American justice?"
Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar and is funded by the royal family of the
Persian Gulf nation. Its Arabic channel has been excoriated by the
Bush administration as a mouthpiece for terrorists including Osama bin
Wadah Khanfar, managing director of Al-Jazeera Arabic, said of
al-Haj's release: "We are overwhelmed with joy."
Al-Haj was never prosecuted at Guantanamo so the U.S did not make
public its full allegations against him. But in a hearing that
determined that he was an enemy combatant, U.S. officials alleged that
in the 1990s, al-Haj was an executive assistant at a Qatar-based
beverage company that provided support to Muslim fighters in Bosnia
The U.S. claimed he also traveled to Azerbaijan at least eight times
to carry money on behalf of his employer to the Al-Haramain Islamic
Foundation, a now defunct charity that U.S. authorities say funded
The officials said during this period that he met Mamdouh Mahmud
Salim, a senior lieutenant to Osama bin Laden who was arrested in
Germany in 1998 and extradited to the United States. Officials did not
Reprieve identified the two other Sudanese Guantanamo detainees who
were released as Amir Yacoub Al Amir and Walid Ali.
Reprieve also said Moroccan detainee Said Boujaadia, 39, was also
released. He was flown home on the same plane as al-Haj, which made a
stop in Morocco. The group said he was taken into custody in Morocco.
Sami al-Haj released from Guantánamo
Sami al-HajAfter four and a half months of inexplicable inertia, the
US administration has finally seen fit to release another group of
prisoners from Guantánamo, including the Sudanese al-Jazeera cameraman
and journalist Sami al-Haj. Despite claims from within the
administration that it was hoping to scale down the operation at
Guantánamo, no prisoners have been released since December 2007, when
two other Sudanese prisoners, 13 Afghans, ten Saudis and three British
residents were released.
Instead, one prisoner died of cancer and another prisoner was
actually transferred into Guantánamo from a secret prison run by the
CIA. My suspicion, which I have spoken about, but not to date written
about, was that, having announced in February that six prisoners
allegedly connected with the 9/11 attacks were to face a trial by
Military Commission at Guantánamo, the administration was happy to
drag its heels over the fate of the roughly 200 prisoners (out of the
remaining 272) who are unlikely ever to face a trial, in the probably
mistaken belief that the 9/11 trials which will, inevitably, be
wracked with allegations of torture will secure the legacy of the
Bush administration and divert attention from these other men.
The most celebrated Guantánamo prisoner in the Middle East if not in
the West Sami, whose story I reported at length here, just a few
weeks ago, was seized by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001,
apparently at the behest of the US authorities, who suspected that he
had conducted an interview with Osama bin Laden. As with much of their
supposed intelligence, this turned out to be false, but as his lawyer,
Clive Stafford Smith, the Director of the legal action charity
Reprieve (which represents Sami and 34 other Guantánamo prisoners),
explained last year, "name me a journalist who would turn down a bin
As a trained journalist, Sami's insights into the horrors of
Guantánamo have been unparalleled. Subjected to clearance by the
Pentagon's censors, his letters and his conversations with his lawyers
at Reprieve have shed light on the abuse of the Koran, suicide
attempts, hunger strikes and the number of juveniles held at the prison.
For the last 16 months of his imprisonment, Sami was himself a hunger
striker. Although the ethics of the medical profession stipulate that
a mentally competent hunger striker cannot be force-fed, the US
authorities disagreed. Twice a day, for the last 480 days, Sami was
strapped into a restraint chair, secured with 16 separate straps, and
force-fed against his will via a tube inserted into his stomach
through his nose.
Greeting the news of his release, Clive Stafford Smith said, "This is
wonderful news, and long overdue. The US administration has never had
any reason for holding Mr. al-Haj, and has, instead, spent six years
shamelessly attempting to turn him against his employers at
al-Jazeera. We at Reprieve send him our best wishes as he is reunited
with his wife and his seven-year old son Mohammed, whom he has not
seen since Mohammed was a baby."
Also released subject to final confirmation were two other
Sudanese prisoners, a Moroccan and six Afghans, whose stories I'll
report on in the following days.
Andy is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison and the Communications Officer
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