Mon, Aug 27, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Senior Guantanamo officer denies cameraman failing

AP , SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

The commander of detention operations at Guantanamo Bay denied reports that the physical and mental health of an al-Jazeera cameraman is deteriorating.

A defense attorney earlier this week said Sami al-Hajj, one of the highest-profile detainees at the US naval base in southeastern Cuba, has deteriorated sharply in recent months, losing 18kg since late last year and developing intestinal problems. Al-Hajj has been on hunger strike, lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said.

But in an e-mail sent late on Friday, US Navy Rear Admiral Mark Buzby said al-Hajj is actually 9kg heavier than when he arrived at the prison in June 2002.

"Contrary to allegations, there have been no indications that he developed intestinal problems and no indications that his mental health has recently deteriorated," Buzby said.

Buzby insisted al-Hajj is currently at "102 percent of his ideal body weight" and is seen by medical personnel daily at Guantanamo Bay, where the US holds about 355 men on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Al-Hajj was first reported to be on hunger strike in early January by his network's Arabic-language Web site, which said he may be suffering from some health problems. Buzby did not disclose al-Hajj's weight or confirm that he is one of the hunger strikers.

Long-term hunger strikers are force-fed by the military. In recent months, the number of hunger strikers at Guantanamo has grown to about two dozen.

The US military publicly acknowledged holding al-Hajj in April last year. He was first detained by Pakistani forces in December 2001.

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