Through The Static

May 1, 2008

Al Jazeera Cameraman Released From Guantanamo

Filed under: Government,Politics,Race,Rights,World News — disciplepete @ 10:30 pm

Sami Al-Hajj, a cameraman for Al Jazeera, has finally been released from a nearly 6 and a half year imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, and he’s got some things to say about the place. First, a little background:

Sami al-Hajj had been working as a cameraman for Al Jazeera when he was arrested on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001.

Since then he has spent six years in the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

Al-Hajj had been sent to the area to cover the US war against the Taliban and held a legitimate work visa.

He was arrested after suspicions that he had links with al-Qaeda when his name and passport number came up on a list from Pakistan intelligence.

The passport number that the Pakistanis had was for an old document that al-Hajj had previously reported as having been lost in Sudan two years earlier.

He was kept prisoner in Afghanistan and Pakistan for five months before being handed over to US forces and taken to Guantanamo Bay as an “enemy combatant”…

He is the only journalist to be detained at Guantanamo Bay without being charged.

Some of his experience at Guantanamo:

Hajj says he has been beaten and interrogated about 130 times.

Like every other prisoner in Guantanamo, al-Hajj faced regular interrogations. He continued to face a wide range of accusations – all unproven.

Al-Hajj was one of about 20 prisoners who carried out hunger strikes in protest at their imprisonment and treatment.

Up to his release al-Hajj was on hunger strike, started on January 7, 2007.

The U.S. reviewed his case in 2007 and deemed that al-Hajj had received terrorist training. Exactly what type of terrorist training, you ask?

the review merely stated that “the detainee was trained by Al Jazeera in the use of cameras”.

There were also accusations that he funded Chechen rebels, which his lawyers have denied. Al-Hajj landed in his home country of Sudan early Friday in what the U.S. calls a “detainee transfer”; according to the U.S., al-Hajj is “not being released [but] being transferred to the Sudanese government”. But Sudan has said that al-Hajj is now a free man and won’t be facing any charges.

Now, free, al-Hajj has spoken out about Guanatanamo:

“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 moral values, all religious values.

 “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 case”.

Not surprisingly, racism is a very plausible factor in his case:

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 inmate population.

So why was al-Hajj released?

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.” (article)

 

I’m glad he’s free. Hopefully those who are responsible for the outrageous conditions at Guantanamo will be held accountable.

 
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