Interview with Asim Al-Haj
January 15, 2008
AMY GOODMAN: It has been six years since the US set up the prison at Guantanamo in the so-called “war on terror.” Over 800 men and boys, so-called "enemy combatants,” have been held without charge at Guantanamo since January 11, 2002. Not one of these prisoners has been put on trial. Hundreds have been released without charge after years in detention. Four prisoners have committed suicide; many others have tried to do so. Today, 275 people are still imprisoned at Guantanamo.
We turn now to the case of one of these prisoners. His name is Sami Al-Haj. He’s thirty-eight years old, an Al Jazeera cameraman, arrested in Pakistan, December 2001, while traveling to Afghanistan for work with Al Jazeera. He was transferred to US custody, flown to Bagram Air Base—six months later, flown to Guantanamo Bay. He’s been in prison there without charge ever since. Sami Al-Haj has been on hunger strike since January 7th of last year. He’s believed to be in deteriorating health.
I just spoke to Sami Al-Haj’s younger brother,
Asim Al-Haj, from Khartoum, Sudan, in this exclusive interview. Asim
Al-Haj spoke in Arabic, with translation provided by Fuad Yahya.
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] Before I make my statement,
I would like to say that Sami Al-Haj is a victim of a political
operation against Al Jazeera, which Washington does not approve of. And
as evidence of this is the fact that he was interrogated 130 times. And
during these times, the interrogations were all about Al Jazeera and
alleged relations between Al Jazeera and al-Qaeda.
They tried to induce him to work as a spy for American
intelligence in return for US citizenship for him and for his family
and to help him even write a book, on the condition that he would spy
on his colleagues at Al Jazeera. For example, if you look at the
allegation that he was involved in sales of rockets or missiles to
Afghanistan, I mean, how could a reporter or a media person traveling
to a country he’s never been to before carry this? Would he carry these
in his luggage or what?
AMY GOODMAN: How does this make you feel about the United States, Asim?
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] We believe that what the
American administration does is apart from what the American people do
and feel. We feel that the American people are peaceful, good people,
and we love them.
And what is happening now leads to or begs the question: how
come he was never tried in a civil court? How come the evidence against
him is not presented publicly? And why does the American administration
insist on maintaining his detention, despite earlier promises of his
release? And why is it that he is being kept in Guantanamo, while many
other detainees, including leaders in al Taliban and people who had
actually carried arms, are being released?
And if Sami dies, who will be responsible for this? And to who
would we—if we were to file suit, that would be against whom? The most
difficult thing for a human being is to be subject to injustice against
which you cannot do anything, for yourself or for in support of others.
AMY GOODMAN: Asim, tell us about your brother. How is his health right now? How long has he been at Guantanamo?
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] Right now, Sami is suffering deteriorating health, both physically and mentally.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you know? How do you communicate with him in prison?
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] We have no means of
communicating with him, except through very infrequent letters. So far,
since his imprisonment, we have had about ten such letters. These
letters contain very little, other than greetings and best wishes
during the days of feasts, and all the rest is redacted.
We send most of our letters through the Red Cross, and sometimes
we send some letters through his attorney, who visits with him every
two or three months. And all the news that we have on information
regarding his deteriorating health have come to us by way of his
attorney. Every time he goes to visit, he comes back with worse news.
AMY GOODMAN: Is your brother—is Sami Al-Haj on hunger strike, and how long has it been?
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] On the 7th of January of this year, he has been on hunger strike for one year.
AMY GOODMAN: How can he survive?
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] According to his attorney, he
is fed twice a day through a nasal gastric tube. He also drinks water.
And we’re told that he is also given some pills.
AMY GOODMAN: Asim, I was talking to Clive Stafford Smith,
his attorney. He says that he sent a letter to his seven-year-old son.
Sami has sent a letter to Mohammed in the case of his death.
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] Are you asking about details of this letter?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] The letter reads, “My beloved
son Mohammed, I ask you to listen to your mom and to do well in
school.” And in this letter, he says, “If you’re asking about your
father, your father is in chains in an island that is thousands of
kilometers away.” And he also says, “I am full of hope that I will
return to see you and to be with you when you start talking.”
AMY GOODMAN: Asim Al-Haj, do you think Al Jazeera is doing enough to try to free your brother?
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] In the beginning, it seemed as
though Al Jazeera was not doing enough, and we were wondering why. Al
Jazeera then informed us that they were trying to do their work sort of
behind the scenes in as diplomatic a manner as possible in order not to
complicate things. Then, when they failed to accomplish any results,
then they started to try to get him freed in a public manner. And now
we are very satisfied with their work. In fact, we’re very grateful for
what they do.
AMY GOODMAN: What are they doing?
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] First of all, Al Jazeera
supports his family, his wife and his son, in Doha, Qatar. And they are
also waging a campaign both on the legal front and also in the media.
What we understand is that the American government has imposed
some conditions to free Sami and the other eight Sudanese prisoners out
of the original twelve, because three have been released. So they have
given the Sudanese government a list of these conditions.
AMY GOODMAN: What are these conditions?
ASIM AL-HAJ: [translated] I have had no access to this
document, but what I understand is, one of the worst things in it is
that the Sudanese government must pledge that Sami and the other
released detainees would not leave Sudan. And the other is that there
would have to be a pledge that they would not be making declarations
and statements about anything that they have suffered since their
detention, and also some guarantees that American intelligence would
have access to them at any time.
We reject these conditions. We consider this an assault on
Sami’s rights and simply an extension of his detention just being in
Now, I would like to make my statement in English.
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, please.
ASIM AL-HAJ: I don’t simply want to appeal to people’s feelings. I want them to use their minds. Why is there an information and media cover-up on Guantanamo? Why has the world and its international institutions failed to press the United States to abide by international law? Show your proof. Try us or set us free. Open all prisons connected to the so-called “war on terror” for international investigation, or shut them down now. Keep media away from politics. Why Sami Al-Haj are being punished? Free Sami Al-Haj now!
AMY GOODMAN: Asim Al-Haj, the brother of Sami Al-Haj. He’s been imprisoned at Guantanamo for more than five years, imprisoned overall for close to six years. If you’d like to see the video images, the photographs of Sami Al-Haj and his family, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. Asim Al-Haj was speaking to us from Khartoum, Sudan. I spoke to him on Friday.
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