Monday, 5 May 2008


Sami al-Hajj hits out at US captors

SATURDAY, MAY 03, 2008

Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj has hit out at the treatment
of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison where he was held
for nearly six and a half years.

He said that "rats are treated with more humanity", than the inmates,
whose "human dignity was violated".

Al-Hajj, who arrived in Sudan early on Friday, was carried off a US air
force jet on a stretcher and immediately taken to hospital.

Later, he had an emotional reunion with his wife and son. His
brother, Asim al-Hajj, said that he did not recognise the cameraman
because he looked like a man in his 80s.

In video

Still, al-Hajj said: "I was lucky because God allowed that I be released."

But his attention soon turned to the 275 inmates he left behind in
the US military prison.

'Dignity violated'

"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

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

Free man

The US embassy in Khartoum issued a brief statement confirming that a
"detainee transfer" to Sudan had taken place and saying it
appreciated Sudan's co-operation.

Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, visited al-Hajj in hospital.

A senior US defence official in Washington speaking on condition of
anonymity, told the Reuters news agency that al-Hajj was "not being
released [but] being transferred to the Sudanese government".

But Sudan's justice minister told Al Jazeera that al-Hajj was a free
man and would not be arrested or face any charges.

Two other Sudanese inmates at Guantanamo, Amir Yacoub al-Amir and
Walid Ali, were freed along with al-Hajj.

The two said they were blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to their
seats during the flight home.

The Reprieve organisation that represents some Guantanamo inmates
said Moroccan detainee Said Boujaadia was also released and flown
home on the same aircraft as the three Sudanese.

According to a US defence department statement, five detainees were
"transferred" to Afghanistan as well. It said that all those
detainees, nine in total, had been "determined to be eligible for
transfer following a comprehensive series of review proccesses".

Al-Hajj was the only journalist from a major international news
organisation held at Guantanamo and many of his supporters saw his
detention as punishment for the network's broadcasts.

Seized in 2001

He was seized by Pakistani intelligence officers while travelling
near the Afghan border in December 2001.

Despite holding a legitimate visa to work for Al Jazeera's Arabic
channel in Afghanistan, he was handed to the US military in January
2002 and sent to Guantanamo Bay.

Al-Hajj, who is originally from Sudan, was held as an "enemy
combatant" without ever facing trial or charges.

Al-Hajj was never prosecuted at Guantanamo so the US did not make
public its full allegations against him.

But in a hearing that determined that he was an enemy combatant, US
officials alleged that in the 1990s, al-Hajj was an executive
assistant at a Qatar-based beverage company that provided support to
Muslim fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya.

The US claimed he also travelled to Azerbaijan at least eight times
to carry money on behalf of his employer to the al-Haramain Islamic
Foundation, a now defunct charity that US authorities say funded
armed groups.

The US also clamed he met Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, allegedly a senior
lieutenant to Osama bin Laden who was arrested in Germany in 1998 and
extradited to the United States.

His lawyers have always denied the allegations.

'Element of racism'

Al-Hajj had been on hunger strike since January 7, 2007.

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

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.

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.

"I've met many prisoners, gotten to appreciate their suffering ... we
know them as humans not as worst of worst, we've met their families.

"I've been to Guantanamo and the human dimension of Guantanamo is a
story yet to be told," Remes said.

Al Jazeera concerns

Al Jazeera had been campaigning for al-Hajj's release since his
capture nearly six and a half years ago.

But he criticised the US military for urging al-Hajj to spy on his

"We are concerned about the way the Americans dealt with Sami, and we
are concerned about the way they could deal with others as well," he

"Sami will continue with Al Jazeera, he will continue as a
professional person who has done great jobs during his work with Al

"We congratulate his family and all those who knew Sami and loved
Sami and worked for this moment."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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