Sami al-Haj’s Release from Guantanamo Bay
Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was finally released from Guantanamo. He arrived in his native Sudan on the evening of May 1, 2008.
After four and a half months of inexplicable inertia, the U.S. 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…
The most celebrated Guantánamo prisoner — at least in the Middle East — Sami, whose story was reported at AlterNet just a few weeks ago, was seized by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001, apparently at the behest of the U.S. 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 Laden scoop.
The same author also wrote a powerful piece on the other prisoners released with Sami al-Haj:
On the cargo plane containing Sami al-Haj that landed in Khartoum in the early hours of May 2 were Amir Yacoub al-Amir and Walid Ali, who, like Sami, were bound like beasts for their journey despite finally being transported to freedom. Both had also been held for over six years without charge or trial, but unlike Sami, whose plight was widely publicized by al-Jazeera, by his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve, and by groups campaigning for the rights of journalists, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontières, both of these men had barely registered on the media’s radar.
And here’s some other coverage of his release:
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists have been held for extended periods by the U.S. military and then released without charge. Just weeks ago in Iraq, the U.S. military released Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein after holding him without charge for two years. The military had once accused Hussein of being a “terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP.”
Andy Worthington reported just weeks before al-Haj’s release
As the years wore on, however, the irrepressible spirit recalled by all those who had met Sami before his imprisonment, and which also impressed Stafford Smith, was ground down by a particular despair that is perhaps unknowable to those who are not imprisoned without charge, without trial, with no contact with family or friends, and with no way of knowing when, if ever, this regime of almost total isolation will come to an end.
On January 7, 2007, the fifth anniversary of his detention without trial by the US, Sami embarked on a hunger strike, which continues to this day. In common with the small number of other persistent hunger strikers, he is strapped into a restraint chair twice a day and force-fed against his will. Clive Stafford Smith explained the brutality of the procedure, the reason the authorities are doing it, and also why it is illegal to do so, in an article last October.
Listen/Read the 2007 Democracy Now! program on al-Haj and fellow imprisoned journalist, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein.
The release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston earlier this month after 114 days in captivity in Gaza made headlines around the world and was hailed internationally as a victory for press freedom.
During Johnston’s nearly four months in captivity, calls for his release came from world leaders and human rights organizations alike. Over 200,000 people signed an online petition calling for him to be freed.
But perhaps the most poignant of Johnston’s supporters came from deep within the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who had been jailed without charge at Guantanamo for the past five-and-a-half years, sent a letter via his lawyer calling for Johnston’s release. He wrote, “While the United States has kidnapped me and held me for years on end, this is not a lesson that Muslims should copy.”
In comparison to journalist Alan Johnston, Sami al-Haj’s story of abduction has been largely ignored by the corporate media, kept out of the global spotlight.
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