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United States12 June 2006

Call for release of cameraman Sami Al-Haj as he completes fourth year in Guantanamo

Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its condemnation of the arbitrary detention of Sudanese assistant cameraman Sami Al-Haj of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera, who today completes his fourth year in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Arrested by the Pakistani army on the Afghan border in December 2001, Al-Haj was handed over on 7 January 2002 to the US military, who initially held him in Afghanistan. The fourth anniversary of his transfer to Guantanamo on 13 June 2002 comes as the controversy about the detention centre has been revived by the suicides of three prisoners on 10 June.

“This sad anniversary adds to the events of the past few days and illustrates the need to put an end to the legal and humanitarian outrage that is Guantanamo,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call for Al-Haj’s immediate release as he has been held in Guantanamo for four years without any grounds. No charges have been brought against him but he continues to be subject to indefinite imprisonment. Furthermore, his lawyer says he has throat cancer and needs treatment that he could never get in prison.”

Al-Haj’s case is covered in detail in “Where the United States imprisons journalists”, a report published by Reporters Without Borders in February about the risks the media face in Iraq and about the journalists held by the US military in Iraq and Guantanamo.

According to his British lawyer, Clive A. Stafford-Smith, he has been questioned more than 130 times during the past four years in Guantanamo, in the course of which his interrogators have voiced threats against his family, especially his daughter. The interrogations have for the most part aimed at getting him to say there is link between Al-Jazeera and Al-Qaeda. His detention is targeted at Al-Jazeera and is an expression of the US government’s open hostility towards the Qatar-based satellite news station.

The condition in which Al-Haj are being held are deplorable. He is mentally very debilitated and has been subject to torture, including torture of a sexual nature, according to Stafford-Smith, who recently voiced concern about his suicidal tendencies. “He has now been held for four years without charge, without trial, without a single visit or phone call with family or friends. He has been brutally treated. He is told by the United States that based on remarkably weak evidence, the source of which is unknown, he can be held in prison for the rest of his life. ,” Stafford-Smith said.

Al-Haj’s case is far from being isolated. Six hundred other people are also imprisoned as part of the “world war against terrorism.” Reporters Without Borders joins the many political leaders and international bodies such as the UN in calling for the closure of the Guantanamo military detention centre.

The US supreme court is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks on the legality of the special military courts set up by President George Bush to try the Guantanamo detainees. These courts were created to avoid having to bring the detainees before civilian courts because of the limited and often classified nature of the evidence against them.

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