The U.S. government has released a Sudanese cameraman detained in Guantanamo Bay since 2002, according to al Jazeera. The only confirmed journalist to be imprisoned in Guantanamo, Sami al-Hajj was working for the satellite network al Jazeera when he was detained in Afghanistan by Pakistani troops, later being moved to Guantanamo. He is currently being flown to Sudan from the U.S. military prison in Cuba.
The Committee to Protect Journalists applauded his release but expressed dismay at the U.S. policy that can keep a journalist, and others, locked up for six years without charges
“Sami al-Hajj is the latest journalist to be freed by the U.S. military after spending years behind bars on the basis of secret evidence and without formal charge or trial,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We are delighted that Sami al-Hajj can finally be reunited with his family and friends. But his detention for six years, without the most basic due process, is a grave injustice and represents a threat to all journalists working in conflict areas.”
Al Hajj has been detained since December 2001, when he was arrested traveling between Afghanistan and Pakistan during the U.S. military assault on the Taliban. He was taken into Pakistani custody on the 16th, where after 16 days, he was handed over to U.S. troops. Al Hajj was held at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, where he claims U.S. forces beat him and accused him of working with al Qaeda. After another move to Kandahar in the custody of the US government, he was flown to Guantanamo Bay on June 16th, 2002, where he remained until his release.
Beyond the continuing concern about torture at the U.S.-run jail, al-Hajj has faced medical problems while in US custody. During his time at Guantanamo, he reportedly received 130 interrogations, which mostly focused on his involvement at al Jazeera and its relationship to alleged terrorists. Since January 2007, he has been on a hunger strike against conditions in the prison leading him to lose over 50 pounds, and Reporters Without Borders claims that he has throat cancer that has gone untreated in his time at Guantanamo.
The exact cause of al-Hajj’s long detention has never been determined. He has been accused of running money for Chechen rebels when at a previous job working for the soda company Union Beverages. When questioned at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the order leading to his arrest referred to the number of a Sudanese passport al-Hajj lost two years previously, raising the possibility of a mistaken identification.
An ongoing US crusade against the al Jazeera network has attracted speculation as a cause of his apprehension. During an interview with Democracy Now! , al-Hajj’s brother said that “Sami Al-Haj is a victim of a political operation against Al Jazeera, which Washington does not approve of.” The US has twice bombed al Jazeera stations during military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq , and President Bush publicly accused the outlet of supporting terrorists.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 1, 2008