Release time: January 2008
CIOJ challenges Condoleeza Rice to prove USA respects its own Constitution
The Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) requests that the US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice free our professional colleague, Sami al-Haj.
The US authorities have held Sudanese national, al-Haj “illegally” for almost six years without charge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Cameraman, Al-Haj and reporter Abdelhaq Sadah covered the American and Afghan defeat of the Taliban for Qatari-based Al Jazeera TV News in December 2001. They needed to follow the action into Afghanistan, and applied to cross the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Although Sadah was allowed through, Pakistani border guards – acting on behalf of the USA – arrested al-Haj and handed him over to the Americans. His name was on an intelligence list of persons suspected of having links with a-Queda.
The Americans flew al-Haj from Pakistan to their island prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they interrogated him about his work, and how Al Jazeera operates. They offered al-Haj his freedom if he would spy for them on Al Jazeera but he refused.
Despite the failure to charge al-Haj with any crime, he has been imprisoned in the American “concentration camp” since June 2002, deprived of most facilities normally accorded to prisoners, and forbidden contact with his family.
The CIoJ took Sami al-Haj’s case to the US Ambassador in London in October but the ambassador did not reply. The institute is now taking its plea directly to the US Secretary of State.
Dominic Cooper, the CIoJ’s General Secretary, writes:
“We ask you to release al-Haj immediately, fly him to whichever country he wishes to go, and pay him substantial compensation for his illegal detention and for the urgent medical care that he needs.
“Alternatively, the US must charge al-Haj with the crime it believes he has committed and bring his case rapidly before an independent and objective civil court of law.”
Under the United States Constitution, the presumption of innocence is enlivened by the requirement that the government prove the charges against the defendant BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.
As al-Haj has not been charged with any crime or found guilty by a court of law, he is clearly innocent. This case, and the Americans’ treatment of prisoners of different nationalities in its Guantanamo Bay prison, is a touchstone of America’s democratic credentials.
“The USA claims to be a democratic country,” continues Cooper. “If it wishes to be taken seriously it must respect its own Constitutional law.”
All of the evidence against al-Haj is classified. In US law, the presumption of innocence is widely held to follow from the 5th, 6th and 14th amendments.
“As far as we are aware,” says Cooper, “the only accusation against al-Haj is that he worked for Al Jazeera. This is no more a crime than working for CNN or Fox News.”
Press contact: Dominic Cooper, tel. 0207 252 1187, email email@example.com
Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ), 2 Dock Offices, Surrey Quays Road, London SE16 2XU. Website www.cioj.co.uk
Notes for Editors:
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.