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2008-05-02

After More than Six Years, Al Jazeera Cameraman Sami al-Hajj Released from Guantanamo Bay

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Arrested in Pakistan in December 2001, Sami al-Hajj spent nearly six-and-a-half years at Guantanamo without charge or trial. He had been on a more than a year-long hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. We hear al-Hajj’s first public remarks from his hospital bed in Sudan and speak to his brother, Asim al-Hajj. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj has just been released from Guantanamo Bay. The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders issued a statement Thursday saying Sami al-Hajj had been tortured while at Guantanamo and subjected to 200 interrogation sessions. He’s lost forty pounds, is suffering from intestinal problems and bouts of paranoia, according to his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith.

Asim al-Hajj, who is Sami al-Hajj’s younger brother, told Al Jazeera he doesn’t recognize his thirty-nine-year-old brother, because he now looks like a man in his eighties. We spoke to Asim al-Hajj on Thursday night, a few hours before Sami al-Hajj landed in Khartoum.

    ASIM AL-HAJJ: [translated] First of all, we never even imagined that Sami could be arrested. Then, we had never expected that he could be taken to Guantanamo. It was a huge shock to us when we found out he was in Guantanamo, but even then, we could never have imagined that he would be kept there for more than six years.

    Today, it’s been six-and-a-half years. Now, thank God, we can barely believe he’s coming back. It feels like we’re living in a dream. With Sami’s return, we hope to find some peace again, and we hope that he can become an active member of society as soon as possible. Sami needs to get the medical attention he needs so he can recover.

    Based on the information we have from the delegation that visited Sami al-Hajj, he is in a very grave condition and is suffering from several health problems. I can’t explain them all, but he was force-fed via tube for the past year and a half. What we do know is that he has asked the delegation accompanying him to take him straight from the airport to the hospital. He knows how ill he has become. We hope that he gets the specific kind of medical care that he needs at a facility that is well known and that we agree upon, so that we can ensure Sami al-Hajj is taken care of and we can be assured that he will live and be guaranteed a good future.

    Today, I’d like to urge the United Nations, international human rights organizations and the international press to bring a serious investigation into the case of Sami al-Hajj, because we really have no idea what happened to Sami al-Hajj while he was at Guantanamo.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Asim al-Hajj, speaking to us from Sudan yesterday. He is Sami al-Hajj’s brother.

Yes, the Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj has been released from Guantanamo. He arrived in his home town of Khartoum, Sudan early this morning. He was detained in Guantanamo for nearly six-and-a-half years without a trial or any charges brought against him. He was arrested in Pakistan in December of 2001 while traveling to Afghanistan for work with Al Jazeera, then transferred to US custody, and six months later taken to Guantanamo Bay.

Today, he was flown into Sudan on a US military aircraft along with two other Sudanese men formerly imprisoned at Guantanamo, as well. They told Al Jazeera they were blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to their seats during the flight home.

The only statement from the United States came from the embassy in Khartoum confirming the “detainee transfer.” A senior Defense official in Washington, D.C. told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that al-Hajj was “not being released” but “being transferred to the Sudanese government.” But the Sudanese Justice Minister told Al Jazeera al-Hajj would not face arrest or any charges.

Al-Hajj, who’s been on a hunger strike since January of 2007, was taken to a hospital immediately after landing in Khartoum. After a tearful reunion with his family, he spoke out against the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo in an interview broadcast on Al Jazeera.

    SAMI AL-HAJJ: [translated] 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. 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, you have animals that are called iguanas, rats that are treated with more humanity. But we have people from more than fifty countries that are completely deprived of all rights and privileges, and they will not give them the rights that they give to animals.

    For more than seven years, I did not get a chance to be brought before a civil court. To defend their just case and to get the freedom that we’re deprived of, they ignored every kind of law, every kind of religion. But thank God. I was lucky, because God allowed that I be released. Although I’m happy, there is part of me that is not, because my brothers remain behind, and they are in the hands of people that claim to be champions of peace and protectors of rights and freedoms.

    But the true just peace does not come through military force or threats to use smart or stupid bombs or to threaten with economic sanctions. Justice comes from lifting oppression and guaranteeing rights and freedoms and respecting the will of the people and not to interfere with a country’s internal politics.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Sami al-Hajj, speaking from his hospital bed in Khartoum. He was held in military custody as a prisoner for more than six-and-a-half years. He has never been charged, a cameraman for Al Jazeera.

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