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United States6 March 2007

Guantanamo authorities punish Al-Jazeera cameraman for going on hunger strike

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the mistreatment of Sudanese cameraman Sami Al-Haj of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera by the US authorities at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre after he began a hunger strike on 7 January on completing his fifth year in US custody without trial.

“Al-Haj has been held by the Americans for five years without being charged, in disgraceful conditions and in violation of all international conventions on the treatment of prisoners,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Legitimately but in vain, he tried to assert his rights to the military authorities. While we could not encourage him to pursue a hunger strike, we strongly condemn the fact that he was fed by force.”

Reiterating its call for Al-Haj’s release, Reporters Without Borders added: “We hope that the US supreme court, which is again looking at the issue of the Guantanamo detainees, will once more rule that they should be accorded constitutional guarantees.”

Al-Haj was handed over to the US army by Pakistani security forces on 7 January 2002, two weeks after he was arrested at the Afghan border, and was transferred to Guantanamo Bay on 13 June 2002 (see our previous releases). On 7 January of this year, the fifth anniversary of his transfer to US custody, he began a hunger strike with the following five demands to the military authorities:

respect for the right of detainees to practice their religion;
application of the Geneva Conventions on prisoners to the Guantanamo detainees;
the end of solitary confinement for certain detainees;
a full and impartial investigation into the deaths of three detainees on 20 June 2006, with the findings to be made public;
his release, or failing that, his appearance before a US civilian court.

The camp administration never responded to these requests. Instead the military began confiscating his personal effects - mattress, prayer mat, water bottle, toilet bag, glasses, knee prosthesis, correspondence and pen - continuing the confiscations in a manner “proportional” to the number of meals he refused, Al-Haj told his lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, when he recently visited the centre.

Al-Haj, who has lost about 10 kilos in weight, was transferred to hospital several times between 25 and 30 January on the grounds that he was “ready to die” and he was fed by force, via a tube into his stomach, before being returned to his cell, Stafford-Smith said.

Regarded as “enemy combatants,” the Guantanamo detainees are not allowed to appeal to civilian courts until they have been tried by military tribunals under a law passed by the US congress on 17 October, which also permits the use of torture.

Regarding these provisions as unconstitutional, lawyers acting for two of the detainees appealed last month to the supreme court, which has already ruled twice that the constitution should apply to the Guantanamo detainees. The US government argues that the constitution does not apply to anyone held outside US territory. The Guantanamo Bay enclave is nonetheless in practice part of the territory of the United States.

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