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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Prisoner 345: Campaign to free Sami Haj held in Guantanamo | Campaign to free Sami Haj an Al Jazeera cameraman held in Guantanamo

Who is Sami Haj
Submitted by ibrahima on Mon, 05/07/2007 - 13:38.

Sami al Haj is an Al Jazeera journalist, originally from the Sudan, who has been detained by the U.S. at Guantánamo for over five years without trial. He was seized whilst working as a cameraman on assignment reporting on the war in Afghanistan.

Born in Khartoum on February 15, 1969, Sami has a wife and a 6 year old son Mohammed, who was only one when Sami left on assignment. Sami’s wife only found out where he was from the Red Cross 18 months after he had been seized, and had feared him dead.

While the U.S. military will neither confirm nor deny the fact, it seems that Sami was originally seized at the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, on December 15, 2001, because the U.S. thought that he had been the cameraman at an Al Jazeera interview with Usama Bin Laden. Their intelligence was flawed.

Despite learning this, the U.S. military flew him to Bagram Airforce Base on January 7, 2002. He reports that these were the longest days of his life. He was kept in a freezing hangar with other prisoners, in a cage, with an oil drum to use as a toilet. He was given one freezing cold meal a day. He was not allowed to talk, and he severely abused.

On January 23, 2002, Sami was taken to Kandahar. There, U.S. MPs pulled the hairs of his beard out one by one. He was forced him to kneel for long periods on cold concrete (he still has marks on his knees from this). He was beaten many times. An MP stuck a finger up his anus, and another said to Sami, “I want to f**k you.” The Qu’ran was thrown in the toilet in front of him.

Sami was transferred to Guantánamo Bay on June 7, 2002. No formal charges have ever been bought against Sami. Indeed, he has been interrogated more than 100 times, and he had to ask to be interrogated about any allegations against him. The only interest that the interrogators showed was to get him to be a cooperating witness against Al Jazeera and say that Al Jazeera was partly funded and controlled by Al Qaida. Sami refuses to say this, even as the price of his freedom, since he says that it is false. The U.S. military now shows no interest in him as an alleged terrorist, and has not interrogated him about anything since he finally secured a lawyer two years ago.

“There is no evidence that Sami has committed any crime,” says his London-based attorney, Clive Stafford Smith. “Sami is no more a terrorist than my grandmother.”

Sami suffers from serious health problems both incurred and exacerbated at the hands of the U.S. Military. Sami had throat cancer in 1998 and the Sudanese doctors put him on medication which he is meant to take daily for the rest of his life, but which has been denied him for over five years, since his seizure by the U.S. Whilst at Bagram, Sami was stomped by guards and had his right knee-cap was broken so that he has no lateral support. Sami has not received a necessary operation for this. He was told by doctors at Guantánamo that he must have surgery, but that he could not expect the necessary therapy to recover the use of his knee there. Sami has constant rheumatism, as well as problems with his teeth, and has not received any treatment for either complaint.

On January 7, 2007, the fifth anniversary of his transfer by the Pakistanis to U.S. custody, Sami began a hunger strike. His patience was exhausted. All he asked for was either to be given a fair trial, or to be released to rejoin his family – a claim that has been supported by every major world leader outside the White House. On the twenty-first day of this peaceful, non-violent protest, the U.S. military began to force feed him. Now each day, at 9am and 3 pm, the military inflicts the same torturous procedure on him. He is strapped into the ‘chair’, and a 43 inch tube is inserted up his nose. For the next hour and a half, doses of Ensure liquid nutrient are forced into him, and he is left in the chair to allow refeeding if it makes him vomit. Three times to date the tube has been erroneously forced into his lung, and he has choked when the liquid was forced in. All this is in violation of the Tokyo Declaration, which mandates that a competent hunger striker should not be force fed.

For his peaceful protest, Sami has been punished. All his ‘comfort items’ have been taken away. He is left with just a thin isomat for sleeping, one blanket, his prison uniform and his Qur’an. Because his glasses have been confiscated, it is difficult for him even to read that.

“Food is not enough for life,” Sami said recently. “If there is no air, could you live on food alone? Freedom is just as important as food or air. Every day they [the U.S. Military] ask me, when will I eat. Every day, I say, ‘Tomorrow.’ It’s what Scarlett O’Hara says at the end of Gone With the Wind: ‘Tomorrow is another day.’ Give me a fair trial or freedom, and I’ll eat.”

Sami was known in school as ‘Mammoth’, because he was a large and heavy child. Desperate for signs of moral support, he has asked Al Jazeera to engineer a campaign using bumper stickers that read, “345 – The Mammoth Is Hungry”, reflecting his Guantánamo prison number.

The Sudanese government, the Qatari government, Al Jazeera, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, and the Sudanese Union of Journalists are all calling for Sami al Haj’s immediate release from Guantánamo. There is an on-going and urgent need for support for this courageous journalist.

Sami is represented by Anglo-American lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, Legal Director of the London-based charity Reprieve (clivess@mac.com). His Al Jazeera contact is Ahmad Ibrahim (ahmadi@aljazeera.net).

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