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Haj's Release Revives Gitmo Closure
by Isma'il Kamal Kushkush
May 3, 2008

KHARTOUM — The release of Aljazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj from the Guantanamo Bay after spending six years without charge has aroused high hopes of bringing the curtains down on the notorious US detention camp.

"The Sudanese experiment is the most successful and will lead the way to close Guantanamo," Dr. Haythem Manna, of the Arab Commission for Human Rights, said.

Haj returned home early Friday, May 2, along with two other Sudanese former detainees aboard a US military aircraft.

Upon arrival, Haj was whisked away to hospital, where doctors have decided to keep him for up to a week to monitor his health.

"I am happy to be in Sudan, but very sad about the situation of our brothers in Guantanamo," said Haj.

Haj, 39, was working as cameraman for the Doha-based Al-Jazeera news channel when he was seized at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in December 2001.

He was flown to Guantanamo on January 7, 2003, and has since been detained without trial.

"We are entitled to shed tears of joy after these difficult seven years of humiliation, persecution and injustice which we went through for no reason other than that we believe in the one almighty God.

"We hope governments will speed up attempts to repatriate their nationals because they live in extremely bad conditions at Guantanamo."

The US has been holding hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo declaring them "enemy combatants" to deny them legal rights under American legal system.

Senior US officials said Friday that the Bush administration could announce plans to close Guantanamo by the end of Bush's term in January.

"A decision could be made in this administration to announce the closure of Guantanamo," a senior US official told Reuters.

"It is unlikely in the next nine months that Guantanamo could be physically (closed) but it is possible the policy decision could be taken to close it."


Haj said he and other Guantanamo detainees had been subjected to all kinds of torture, but the worst had been when US jailers insulted Islam or desecrated the Qur'an in front of detainees.

"Security and human rights are inseparable issues – you cannot have one without the other," he told Reuters in an interview.

"Human rights are not only for times of peace -- you need to hold onto them always even during difficult times and times of war.

"My last message to the US administration is that torture will not stop terrorism -- torture is terrorism."

Haj believes one reason he was detained was an attempt by the United States to abort free media reporting in the Middle East, citing the bombing of Al-Jazeera's offices in Kabul and Baghdad in 2003 as evidence.

An Al-Jazeera journalist, Jordanian Tariq Ayub, was killed by a missile which hit the channel's office in Baghdad during the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Al-Jazeera had lobbied hard for Haj's release, inviting viewers to join a campaign of solidarity with him.

The pan-Arab channel, which has often angered the US government for its reporting of the Afghan and Iraq wars, broadcast footage of rallies held in several countries in recent years to demand Haj's release.

The channel also showed Haj's emotional reunion with his only son, a seven-year-old he had last seen as a toddler.


Haj's family members could not find words to express their joy.

"We can’t actually believe he’s back," Haj's younger brother ‘Asim told IOL.

"We are extremely grateful and thankful to all that helped in this effort."

Wafa’, Haj's youngest sister, could not hold back her tears.

"Our emotions have flipped 180 degrees, from misery to joy," she said.

"He has lost a lot of weight but he is getting better, al-hamdu li Allah (thank God)."

Amir Yaqub, one of the two Sudanese former Guantanamo detainees accompanying Haj back home, described how his ordeal began.

"I was arrested by Pakistani authorities in February, 2002," he told a press conference organized by Civic Aid International Organization (CAIO), a Sudanese human rights group that has been campaigning for the release of Sudanese detainees from Guantanamo.

Yaqub was later taken to the Bagram Air base in Afghanistan.

"It was torture," said Yaqub, who was later transferred to Guantanamo.

"[We] were greeted with beatings. Then they took us to cages."

Walid Muhammad Haj, another Sudanese detainee released from Guantanamo, said they were abused by US jailers.

"The US is supposed to represent human rights; but it does the worse things."

CAIO director Hasan al-Moujammar said his group will press for the release of all remaining four Sudanese detainees from the notorious US detention camp.

"All are united for this cause; unlike in some other countries where some did not want their citizens released.

"The release of the three detainees, Sami, Amir and Walid, was the result of an unprecedented effort by civil society groups, the Sudanese government and people, and international organizations.

"We will demand that the US government pay reparations to the former detainees and deliver an apology to them."

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