US releases Sudanese cameraman

FREED: After more than six years in detainment and 16 months on hunger strike, Sami al-Haj was returned to his country, where officials said he would not face charges


Sat, May 03, 2008 - Page 6

An al-Jazeera cameraman released from US custody at Guantanamo Bay returned home to Sudan yesterday after six years of imprisonment that drew worldwide protests.

Sami al-Haj, along with two other Sudanese released from Guantanamo prison in Cuba on Thursday, arrived at the airport in Khartoum on a US military plane.

The cameraman, who had been on a hunger strike for the past 16 months was carried off the plane by US military personnel and taken straight to a hospital.

Al-Jazeera showed footage of al-Haj being carried into the hospital on a stretcher, looking feeble with his eyes closed but smiling.

“Thank God ... for being free again,” he said from his hospital bed. “Our eyes have the right to shed tears after we have spent all those years in prison. ... But our joy is not going to be complete until our brothers in Guantanamo Bay are freed.”

He claimed US guards prevent Muslims from practicing their religion and reading the Koran.

“Some of our brothers live without clothing,” he said.

The US military says it goes to great lengths to respect the religion of detainees, issuing them Korans, enforcing quiet among guard staff during prayer calls throughout the day.

Al-Haj, the only journalist from a major international news organization held at Guantanamo and many of his supporters saw his detention as punishment for a network whose broadcasts angered US officials.

The US military alleged he was a courier for a militant Muslim organization, an allegation his lawyers denied.

He was detained in December 2001 by Pakistani authorities as he tried to enter Afghanistan to cover the US-led invasion. He was turned over to the US military and taken in January 2002 to Guantanamo Bay.

Reprieve, a British human rights group said Pakistani forces apparently seized al-Haj at the behest of the US authorities who suspected he had interviewed Osama bin Laden.

But that “supposed intelligence” turned out to be false, Reprieve said.

Sudanese officials said al-Haj would not face any charges.