Reporters Without Borders expressed huge relief today at the release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj, who had been held at Guantanamo Bay since June 2002. The Sudanese reporter has arrived in Khartoum on May 2.
“Our first thoughts are for Sami Al-Haj’s family, whom we met in Khartoum, Sudan, and who have been waiting for him to return for more than six years,” the worldwide press freedom organization said. “We thank everyone who has campaigned for his freedom, particularly within the European institutions,” said Robert Ménard, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders.
“Sami Al-Haj should never have been held so long. U.S. authorities never proved that he had been involved in any kind of criminal activity. This case is yet another example of the injustice reigning in Guantanamo. The base should be closed as quickly as possible,” Reporters Without Borders added.
A Reporters Without Borders’ delegation went to the Guantanamo camp early in 2008. Members of the organization were not permitted to see Sami Al-Haj, but they were able to discuss his case with the Commander of the Joint Task Force, Rear Admiral, Mark H. Buzby.
Reporters Without Borders, with the support of Al-Jazeera, campaigned for the cameraman’s release, and met with his family in Sudan in the spring of 2007. The organization also launched a large number of protests, in Paris and elsewhere, with the cooperation of the Qatari-based satellite channel and the journalist’s support committee.
Pakistani security forces arrested him at the Afghan-Pakistan border in December 2001. He was handed over to the US Army one month later and transferred to Guantanamo on June 13, 2002.
The U.S. Army accused him of secretly interviewing Osama Bin Laden, gun-smuggling for al-Qaeda, and running an Islamist website. No evidence has ever been produced to back up these allegations, and no charges have ever been brought against the journalist.
Regularly tortured and subjected to close to 200 interrogation sessions by his jailers, Sami Al-Haj began a hunger strike on January 7, 2007, in protest against his detention and to demand that his rights be respected. In retaliation, his jailers force-fed him on several occasions. His lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, who visited him in July last year, said he had lost about 40 pounds and was suffering from serious intestinal problems. He was also subject to bouts of paranoia and was finding it increasingly difficult to communicate normally.
Two of the nine Sudanese prisoners in Guantanamo were freed in December 2007. A note issued to the Sudanese government by the U.S. administration, reportedly said that, in exchange for his freedom, Sami Al-Haj will be banned for resuming his work as a journalist and leaving Sudanese territory.