Release time immediate
The Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) welcomes the long overdue release of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj from detention without charge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Al-Haj, who was born in Sudan, was suddenly released by the Americans with two other Sudanese nationals early yesterday morning and flown to Khartoum. He will first be taken to hospital for a full medical check-up, and then he will be reunited with his wife and son. He has not seen his son since he was a baby.
The CIoJ has objected strongly to the Americans’ illegal detention of Sami al-Haj, “a fellow journalist who was only doing his job”, according to John Szemerey, chairman of the CIoJ’s international division, who has repeatedly called on the US Government to release the Al Jazeera cameraman.
“Detaining someone who is a terrorist or a danger is one thing, but detaining someone for over six years and never finding anything with which to charge them is both illegal and immoral, as even the US Supreme Court has ruled,” said CIoJ General Secretary Dominic Cooper.
Al Jazeera is indignant that the Americans never informed it about al-Haj’s imprisonment and detention at Guantanamo Bay, although they knew clearly that he was an Al Jazeera cameraman. US military and civil officials also refused to respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for information about Sami al-Haj.
“He was doing nothing but his job,” says Al Jazeera managing director Wadah Khanfar.
“As far as we are aware,” comments Cooper, “the only accusation against al-Haj was that he worked for the Qatari television station Al Jazeera. This is no more a crime than working for CNN or Fox News. His release is long overdue.”
- Sami al-Haj had been arrested in December 2001 when trying to cross legally from Pakistan into Afghanistan with an Al Jazeera colleague reporter, covering the American defeat of the Taliban. He was then handed over to the Americans, who first took him to the Bagram air base in Afghanistan and then flew him to Guantanamo Bay. Much of his time in Guantanamo has been spent in solitary confinement. His health has deteriorated seriously during his imprisonment, but no independent doctors were allowed to see him.
- It is understood from Release, which has tried to take on the legal representation of Sami al-Haj, that the Americans used different means of interrogation and extortion to get al-Haj to admit to having direct links with Al Queda and also to incriminate Al Jazeera, that it was acting on behalf of Al Queda.
- When al-Haj refused to admit either, he was offered his freedom if he agreed to be an American spy within Al Jazeera. This he refused also.
- Al Haj had been the only journalist in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, where he had been held by the Americans as an enemy combatant, without clear charges and without being brought to court.
- He had been on hunger strike for well over a year in protest against his treatment, and he had been force fed by the Americans for 16 months. He was so weak on arrival in Sudan that he could not walk and had to be taken to hospital straight away.
- The Council of the CIoJ agreed a resolution last September deploring the illegal detention of Sami al-Haj and sent that to the US Ambassador in London and to the media. There was no reaction from the ambassador, so Dominic Cooper, CIoJ General Secretary, sent a letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, demanding al-Haj’s immediate release, or that he be charged with whatever crime the Americans alleged that he had committed.
- Formed in 1884, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) is the world’s oldest established professional body for journalists, and a representative voice of media and communications professionals throughout the UK and the Commonwealth.
Press contact: Dominic Cooper, tel. 0207 252 1187, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ), 2 Dock Offices, Surrey Quays Road, London SE16 2XU. Website www.cioj.co.uk