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Interview with Amy Goodman, January 8-9, 2013

Democracy Now!
January 8-9, 2013                                                                                                        Get video interview Part 1 | Part 2


Part 1

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with a Democracy Now! exclusive. As protesters mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and in this week of renewed discussions about Bush-era policies carried over into the Obama administration with the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, we turn to the story of one prisoner whose case we have followed for years: Sami al-Hajj, the only journalist held at Guantánamo.

The U.S. military held him without charge in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo for more than six years. The Al Jazeera cameraman was arrested in Pakistan in December of 2001 while traveling to Afghanistan on a work assignment. He was then transferred to U.S. custody, first held at U.S. prisons in Kandahar and Bagram, then six months later transferred to Guantánamo.

At Guantánamo, he was repeatedly beaten and tortured. In both Afghanistan and in Guantánamo, he was attacked. He was attacked by dogs. He was hooded. He was hung from the ceiling. He was prevented from sleeping for days. Interrogators questioned him more than a hundred times. A number of those interrogations included questions about who his bosses were at Al Jazeera.

In January of 2007, Sami al-Hajj began a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. The hunger strike continued for 438 days until his release in May of 2008.

A few weeks ago, when Democracy Now! was in Doha to cover the U.N. climate change talks, we went over to Al Jazeera’s headquarters so that I could sit down with Sami al-Hajj in person. Sami al-Hajj heads the Al Jazeera human rights and public liberties desk, a new position that they have created for him. He began by describing how he was arrested trying to cross the border from Pakistan back into Afghanistan.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: We are inside Kandahar for one month, and then we return back to Pakistan after the situation became very bad in Kandahar, and we stay in Quetta, in Pakistan. And after Taliban is over, so our people here in Doha ask us to cross the border again to covering the situation there. On 15 of December, me and my colleague Sadah Abdelhaq, the correspondent of Al Jazeera, we are trying to cross the border in Chaman. And at that time, as I remember, there is more than 70 journalists from other agents came for same purpose, to cross the border to cover the situation in Kandahar. But myself only, they stopped me there.

And when I asked why, they told me there is some paper came from the intelligence to stop Sami, a cameraman for Al Jazeera. And I think the guy who stopped me there, he told me, "I know you because you crossed this border twice time. And I know you are a journalist. But I think some mistake." After they returned to their intelligence agency, they told me that there is some paper come from U.S. people to stop a cameraman of Al Jazeera; his name is Sami.

Later on, in Guantánamo, and even in Bagram, the interrogator, when he asked about my—me about my story, he said for me, "You are came to this point by wrong. We need actually another man." And later on, I understand that the U.S.A. intelligence, they ask Pakistan to stop our correspondent, Tayseer Allouni, not because Tayseer Allouni had done some wrong, but they need to know some information, because he is the last journalist who make interviews with Osama bin Laden. And they want to ask Tayseer Allouni—

AMY GOODMAN: Tayseer Allouni was the last journalist to interview Osama bin Laden.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, Osama bin Laden. So, for that purpose, they want to ask him where he met Osama bin Laden and who helped him to meet Osama bin Laden. By the help of our god, Allah, Tayseer safely he arrived in Doha. And I think that American intelligence, they know the cameraman of Tayseer, his name is Sami. Yes, he have a cameraman; his name is Sami. But that’s Sami from Morocco. I’m from Sudan. So, by mistake, they asked the intelligence of Pakistan to stop the cameraman of Tayseer whose name is Sami. And they stopped me.

But when I arrived at Bagram, the first point, and they interrogated me, the interrogator, he asked me, "Why are you filming Osama bin Laden?" I told him, "I’m not the person who filming Osama bin Laden, because at that time I was in Doha. And my passport says that, and my ticket with you also saying that. I’m not the person. And I’m not afraid to say I filmed Osama bin Laden. This is my job, and this is my business. If I get chance now to film Osama bin Laden, I will do. I will not be ashamed, because this is my business. But really, I didn’t done that things." So he said for me, "OK, you are—came first by—we need someone. You are the wrong man. But if we release you, what you said about us?" I told him I will tell the whole world about what you are doing for detainees, because in Bagram they torture people. They beat them. They deal with them very, very bad things.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami al-Hajj, were you tortured at Bagram?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. When we—as I remember, in the middle of night or the very—at 12, early morning, on 7th of January, the Pakistan intelligence, they pass us—me and with other people—to U.S.A. people in the airport of Quetta. They searched us at the point of airport. They put the black bag on our heads. They cover our eyes. They put the shackles in our hands back and also in our legs.

AMY GOODMAN: What did they put on your hands?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Shackles.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, the shackles.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, shackles.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this was three weeks after you were first arrested by the Pakistanis.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You stayed at Quetta airport for three weeks?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: No, the three week, I was staying in intelligence office in Quetta, in a normal room, but it’s not allowed for me to leave that building. But after that, they passed me to U.S. people in the airport.

AMY GOODMAN: Was it the Americans who put the black bags over your heads and put the shackles on your feet and your hands?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. And then they searched me, and then they took me with other people to aircraft, as—the aircraft which is for cargo; it’s not for human beings. There is no seat. They put us in the floor, and they rope us also by rope. And they didn’t allow for us to speak or to ask for anything, like toilet or water or anything. If you ask about anything, they start beat you and insult you by very bad words.

AMY GOODMAN: How many of you were in this plane?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: We are about 20, 25 peoples. And then the flight is take off from Quetta, and as I remember, it stopped somewhere, and they put another peoples and continues to Bagram. We arrived at Bagram early 2007—2001—2002, at 7 of January, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So it was the 7th of January, 2002.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s now exactly three months—


AMY GOODMAN: —after the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan.


AMY GOODMAN: And you’re brought to the Bagram base in Afghanistan.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Bagram base, yes. And there, when we arrived there, because the journey take about three hours or four hours, and they start take everybody down. So we think there is an aircraft stopped in Bagram, Bagram, and they starting take one by one. And when they reached the door of aircraft, they pushed the people from there. So, at that point, they take out our legs shackles.

AMY GOODMAN: They took the shackles off your legs.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, shackles. So when I come from up, I think it is far away, so I come by one legs, so my legs twist, and my band is broken, and I fall down in the ground. And at that time, January is very cold. The weather is under zero. And so, you hear the cry of people and shouting and dogs there, and they start beating everybody. And they ask me, "Why you came to fight U.S.A.?" I told them, "I’m not come to fight anybody. I’m from—I’m journalist." They ask me, "From where?" I told him, "From Sudan." And he understand I’m from Saudi. He said, "Why you came from Saudi to fight us?" And he start beat me also. And when I feel have bend in my legs, so he beat me in same place. And after that, they tried to stand up everybody and put us in one line. And they put the rope in the hand, and one pull us from front and one from out, last of line. Like that, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So they tied your arms to each other—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —all of the people in the row.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: In one line.

AMY GOODMAN: In one line. But to understand, they took the shackles off your feet when they brought you to the opening of the plane.


AMY GOODMAN: And then they pushed you out of the plane.


AMY GOODMAN: Did you still have the black bag over your head?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Still we have a bag, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re blinded at this point.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. We didn’t—

AMY GOODMAN: You can’t see anything.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: We didn’t see anything.

AMY GOODMAN: So you fall out of the plane, and you broke your leg?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. And some of—some of the people, they can’t move. They can’t move. They beat them until stand up and move. And I hear the dog, like that. We move for 20 or 30 minutes, and they put us in one place, this open place, but we feel there is a light there in that place. And they took one by one inside a place. It is not a building but something for preparing the aircraft. Aircraft, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Like an airplane hangar.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Hangars, hangars, yes, exactly. They took on one by one. And at that time, they ask us to sit in our knees, yes, all that time, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Sit on your knees.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. And they took one by one, and they take five or 10 minutes and come and take another one. My number is 35 at that time. They come and take me after I fall down, because the weather is very cold. At same times also, my knees not help me. But why I was—have patience for one hour, because I don’t want to go inside that place because I hear people are shouting and crying. So, in my mind, I think they torture them inside, so—or kill them or put for—use cold water for them or dog—leaves the dog. After that, they came and take me inside. And my foot, it is not able for me to move, so they take me by power and inside room. When I was inside that room, they pulling out my bag.

AMY GOODMAN: So they took the bag off your head.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, the bag off. So I saw someone is naked, without clothes, from detainees. So I have a shock to see that guy. And then they put me in a circle, in the center of circle, and everywhere there is someone from the soldiers. Some of them, they have stock [stick?]. Some of them, they have a gun. Some of them, they have a M-16.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re in the middle of a circle of soldiers.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, in the middle, yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And they have weapons—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Soldier, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —pointed at you.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, yes. And there is someone in front of me. He talk to me, and some translators. He ask me, "Don’t move. Don’t do anything. You must follow our orders. If you try to do anything, some blood [bullet?] will be in your head, and we will kill you immediately." So they ask me to—they open my hands, and they ask me to take off my clothes, piece by piece. I do all that until I keep my underwear clothes, but they ask me also to do that. I refuse in the beginning, but they start to leave the dogs.

AMY GOODMAN: They started to release the dogs on you.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Release their dogs, yes. So, at that time, I understand I should do that things. I do it, and they make search from me. And after that, they give me new clothes, that one uniform. And they took me to another room, and they ask me, "What’s your name? And from where, which country?" And directly, they ask me, "Why are you filming Osama bin Laden?"

AMY GOODMAN: "Why are you filming Osama bin Laden?"

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, filming Osama bin Laden. I told him, "I am not doing that." He said, "Did you have anything with you?" I told him, "Yes, I have my passport and ticket and my camera and other equipment of Al Jazeera." So they give me two blanket—actually, like sheet, it’s not heavy. And they put me in one chair and ask me, "Don’t move. Don’t talk with anybody." Because that sections [sessions?] take full of night, when I reach there is the morning. The light of morning is coming. As I remember, I sleep from there. I forget to pray or to do anything. Just I sleep until afternoon, when I hearing they are shouting from the soldiers from outside of there. So when I woke up more at the afternoon, I saw many, many detainees with me in that place, and all of them, they sit down in that place, and soldiers somewhere around us.

AMY GOODMAN: How long did you stay at Bagram?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: I’m staying 17 days. They interrogated me one times, just one times. After 10 or 15—10 days or 14 days when I arrived, they take up in one room and start asking me again about my name and my nationality, and ask me, "Why are you filming Osama bin Laden?" There, I told them I am not doing that. I have many proof—my ticket, my—also, we have a correspondent in Kabul who done that interview. I didn’t visit Kabul before. I didn’t meet our correspondent also before. Then he asked me—told me, "If we release you, what do you say?" I told them, "I will tell whatever I saw it. You torture us. You insult us. You didn’t allow for us to go to toilet. Only three times in the day—morning and afternoon and evening. Also not allow for us to walk, stand up. There is no water for preparing ourself to pray. It’s not allowed for us to pray, as normal praying. There is no food. They give us only one meal for whole days. The weather is very cold. You didn’t give us blanket, enough blanket. Even the bottle of water with us, at morning we will find it like ice, becoming like ice, because the weather is under zero."

So he’s starting laughing, and he ask me, "What you need me to help?" I told him, "I need two things now. I need to go to my—to return back to my family, and I need also some paper to—for my Al Jazeera, to tell them I was there for these days." So he said, "I can do that. But now what do you need from me?" I told him I need a doctor to see my problem of my knees, and also I need more blanket. He give me one blanket, and he promise me to bring a doctor. But no doctors see me in Bagram.

AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj was transferred from Bagram to Guantánamo, where he was held for six years without charge. We continue our interview from Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha in a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: We continue our broadcast exclusive with Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj, imprisoned without charge for six years at Guantánamo, the only journalist to have been detained at Guantánamo. Here, he describes his harrowing experience, from being flown from Kandahar in Afghanistan to Guantánamo.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: So they put me in Kandahar airport with the people there. We [lived?] five months in Kandahar. And in Kandahar also they starting interrogated me, from beginning, from when I was born until they arrested me. And also, they decide that they bring me by wrong, and they told me, "We will release you, but we never send you to Qatar. We’ll send you to Sudan." And they agreed to write the papers that I was with them all this time. But they said for me, this is not for media. I told them OK. But at last, also, on 13 of June, 2002, they shift me to Guantánamo.

AMY GOODMAN: So they flew you from Kandahar to Guantánamo. How?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Same thing. They took us, and they put the black bag on our heads. This time also, they put some—like, something to close also our [PLACES HANDS OVER EARS]—

AMY GOODMAN: Like headphones.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. And they put also, before that, some glass—can’t see.


SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, yes. And they give us gloves, but they no have—only they have one place for all fingers [SHOWS FOUR FINGERS].

AMY GOODMAN: It was a mitten.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, yes, only like that.

AMY GOODMAN: For all five fingers.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes. And also they put shackles, but this is special shackles for hands and around our—yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Your waist.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So they shackled your hands to your waist and to your legs.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: With—yes, with legs. And they put it short. Always you’ll be like that when you’ll move.

AMY GOODMAN: So when they shackled you—


AMY GOODMAN: —it made you bow down—


AMY GOODMAN: —because the chains were short.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, short. And they took us from Kandahar on 13 of June, 2002. As I remember, the aircraft stopped after four or five hours in another place, and we changed aircraft and continues until Guantánamo, without allow for us to go to toilet, no foods, no sleep also at same times. Also, there is no seat at that place.

AMY GOODMAN: So you were just laying on the ground of the plane.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, yes, on ground. There is one wood.

AMY GOODMAN: One wood pallet.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes. We sit, all of us, in one line. And behind us, there is the soldiers. If you try to sleep or like that, he starting beat you in your head from back.

AMY GOODMAN: How many—


AMY GOODMAN: —of you prisoners were there?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: I think they take 40 peoples.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this was at a point in Kandahar—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —when they had told you they were going to release you.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. They told me they are going to release me, and they told me they will release me to Sudan, not to Qatar. I told them, "No problem for me. Anywheres." But they—I don’t know why they changed their mind. But later on, in Guantánamo, after they asked me also for—the first interrogator, about my whole story, from born until they arrest me, with three interrogators in same times—one from FBI and one from CIA, one from military intelligence, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, CIA, FBI and military, three interrogators.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, three people, and one translator. And they told me, "Your story is clear. You don’t have anything. But you are now in Guantánamo, and we wait until we get some decisions from Pentagon to release you. Until that time, we want you to be patient and to cooperate with our people." Later on, someone, he came, and they told me, "You are here to preparing you to cooperate with us in future." I told him, "What that means?" He said, "You said in Kandahar you are ready to cooperate with us." I told him, "Yes, I said that. But I said that I mean by 'cooperate' to answer question, not to work with you." He said, "No, we understand you want to be with us, work with us." And they starting give me some offer to give me a U.S.A. nationality and take care about my family, if I work with them in CIA to continue my job being journalist with Al Jazeera, just send for them some information about the link between Al Jazeera and al-Qaeda and the terrorist people and some people in the Middle East. Of course, I refused to do that. I told them, "I’m journalist, and I will die as a journalist. I will never work as a work, and just only journalist."

Anyhow, I [INAUDIBLE] all that time in Guantánamo until May. The 1st of May, they released me, and I returned back to—actually, there is—during this time, they’re using torture with everybody, because the soldiers, they doesn’t know who am I. Just I have a number there: 345. And he deal with me as other peoples, as detainees in Guantánamo or in Kandahar. Kandahar, we are [INAUDIBLE] five months in Kandahar, doesn’t allow for us to take shower or like, until the bug coming in our bodies.

But the main—the main things in Guantánamo, there is a psychological team there. They advise them how to torture us. That psychological, they advise them to insult our religions by broken our holy book and put it in the flush in toilet. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you see them take the Koran and flush it down the toilet?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. I saw them by my eyes, yes. I saw them. They done that many times.


SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, to me, and—

AMY GOODMAN: And your Koran.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. And interrogator, he stand up our holy book, and he said, "I will never come down until you answer my question." They’re using dog. They’re using sexuals with the people. And they use—anything they want, they do use it.

AMY GOODMAN: How did they use dogs?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: They release the dogs, and the dogs come to detainees. They put him in one room, that interrogator rooms, and they release the dogs. And some—

AMY GOODMAN: Did they do this to you?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, some—they do it for me. But before to reach me, the man stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Before the dog would reach you—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, to come me, they stopped it.

AMY GOODMAN: —the man stops, but you’re terrorized.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: But I saw one detainees, the dog, yes, cut his fingers.

AMY GOODMAN: The dog bit his finger off.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, yes, or his fingers.

AMY GOODMAN: Cut his fingers.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes. And that happened for many, many detainees. They happened with other people, not with me, that they’re using the water.

AMY GOODMAN: Waterboarding.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, waterboard, but not for me. They happen for other people, other people. Many times, they took all our clothes off, and they keep us in one place. Because they insult our religion and that, we go on hunger strike many times in there. And if you go on hunger strike, they leave you for 30 days without feeding. After that, they’re using the—

AMY GOODMAN: Feeding tube.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Feeding, yes, feeding tube. At last, in the last years, I decide to go in hunger strike.

AMY GOODMAN: This is after you had been in Guantánamo for many years.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, many years, without any judges or anything. So, for that thing, I decide, and I continue with my hunger strike for 480 days.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you start that hunger strike?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: I started the hunger strike in October 2007.


SAMI AL-HAJJ: Seven, yes, until 2007 or '06—I don't remember, but as I remember, it’s 480 days, until get my release. And also, you know, there is no judges, no things, just—just a military. And they say they have a secret—secret things; they can’t say it for us.

AMY GOODMAN: They have secret information about you.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And they won’t tell you.


AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the feeding tubes? When you were on hunger strike after 30 days, they would put these tubes—


AMY GOODMAN: —in you, into your stomach.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what would happen.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: See, first they take you to hospital, after 30 days. They make some test to make sure that you didn’t eat any things. After that, they start feeding you first in hospital, and they put shackles in our two legs and two hands, also like that, and starting putting the tube inside your nose.

AMY GOODMAN: So they shackle you to a bed.


AMY GOODMAN: You’re lying horizontal.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. This is the first time.

AMY GOODMAN: And they stick a tube up your nose.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, they put you to tube. And when they put you to tube, they’re using force, not by [GESTURES SLOW INSERTION OF THE TUBES]—like that. They put it quickly [GESTURES FAST INSERTION OF THE TUBES]. That’s why they go to—sometimes to lungs, not to stomach. And they put—

AMY GOODMAN: So they push with force—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —and then it sometimes goes into your lung—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Lungs, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —not your stomach.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. And so, for that, when they start by water, so you start coughing like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Because the water goes into your lungs.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, yes, yes. And after the first time, they put you also in isolations. They collected all the people who are on hunger strike. And at that time, we are about 20 peoples in that camp. And they have a special chairs. They sit you in the chair, and they put shackles. They put strap heres, one; and the second here; third here. Same like that, it will be like that. And there is a two—two band like that, coming from here.

AMY GOODMAN: So they shackle your back in the chair.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, here, like this chair, in chair. And also your legs down.

AMY GOODMAN: And the legs to the chair, like this.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, down. And they put three also here, one and one heres.

AMY GOODMAN: They put bands across your chin and across your forehead.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, band here, yes, yes, yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And then pulling you back.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: You will be like that. And so they bring some people. I doubt those doctors or nurse—some people wearing a military clothes, and they start putting that. See, the person, when he make hunger strike, his stomach, he become smaller. And they give us actually two tin, small tin, and water, because that tin, you need some water, and they put it in that, and going in like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Into the tube.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And that goes down into your stomach first.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, stomach. But they give us about 20 tin and 24 bottle of waters. We are throwing up, and they put us more, give us more, more, more.

AMY GOODMAN: They keep giving you more water, and you throw it up.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, more, more, yes, and we’re throwing up.

AMY GOODMAN: You said that they sexually abused you at Guantánamo. How did they do that, Sami al-Hajj?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: They do—they do that, not for me. For me—they done it for another detainees. But they do sexuals in front of me. They bring one from soldiers, female and man, and they do it in front of me. And when they took me to interrogators room, I find that magazine. And sometimes they put video, and they put all the rooms dark, and they start putting film.

AMY GOODMAN: Did they show that to you?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, this film.

AMY GOODMAN: So they—pornography, in the film.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: In front of me.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, they show you a film.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes. And you’ll find magazine everywheres in the room of interrogator, because we are stopping answer questions.

AMY GOODMAN: When you refused to answer questions.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, when we refuse to answer. They say they are doing that, and they leave you. They leave you in the room for eight hours, nine hours, like that. And then they came and take you back to your—

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you said they brought male and female soldiers in front of you.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, they do that in front of me, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did they do?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: They do a whole sexuals.

AMY GOODMAN: You watch a—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, I watch him.

AMY GOODMAN: You watch a man—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: And they’re wearing their clothes, and they come and take me to my block after that.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you—men and women together?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re watching men and women have sex—


AMY GOODMAN: —in front of you.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. After that, they go out. And after that, they came and removed my—

AMY GOODMAN: Shackles.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: —shackles, and they take me to my block, the same soldiers.

AMY GOODMAN: The soldiers who were having sex—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —then take you to your block.


AMY GOODMAN: Did they ever strike your face?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, they beat me. Beating, this normally. Every day they can beat you, and they can using the force team to come inside your room and beat you and search you. And many times, they took my head and beat me by the ground until the blood coming. Many, many times; it’s not one times. This is normal, these things, for them to do it there.

AMY GOODMAN: The questions they asked you about Al Jazeera, they asked you about was there a link, who was the link, with al-Qaeda?


AMY GOODMAN: What else? Did they ask you about the heads of the organization?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, they asked me about the people who are working Al Jazeera here, the background of them, and who paid Al Jazeera money, and who help Al Jazeera, and what’s the purpose of Al Jazeera, why the Al Jazeera send people to war place.

AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj, held for six years at Guantánamo without charge.


Part 2

AMY GOODMAN: Well, when we were in Doha, Qatar, for the climate change summit, I had a chance to conduct a rare interview with Sami al-Hajj at Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, where he heads the network’s human rights and public liberties desk. In this part of the interview, I asked him to describe how officials at Guantánamo force-fed him with tubes during his hunger strike.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: They doesn’t bring a small tube, big.

AMY GOODMAN: They bring a tube that’s too big—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, too big, very big.

—to put up your nose and down into your stomach?

And there is some [inaudible]. When they take it, they take it by force, and very quick.

So they jerk it out of your nose.

Yes, some blood coming, yes. And many times they doesn’t cleaning the tube. When they feed the other guy, they come, and same thing. They give it to you by—

AMY GOODMAN: They use the tube that they used in the person they have seated next to you.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: For another, yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And then they put it into you—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: For you, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —without cleaning it.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Without cleaning. You see the blood and everything inside.

AMY GOODMAN: You see the blood.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Inside, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you say—when they would take the tube of a man next to you and put it into you, shove it down through your nose into your stomach, would you say something?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: For that, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you ask why they were doing this?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, they said—they told us, "We want you to break your hunger strike." They tell us directly like that. They ask us to break our hunger strike. They said, "We’ll never deal with you as the detainees until you break your hunger strike."

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you go on hunger strike, Sami al-Hajj?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: I go in hunger strike for many reasons. First reason is they—we are in Guantánamo without charge, without court. They doesn’t give us chance to go to court and talk about our case. Even if—even when civilian court in U.S.A. accept our case, also they put something in our way. This is the first one. Second one, also they kill three guy in Guantánamo—that Yasser al-Zahrani and Manei al-Otaibi and Ali from Yemen. Three people, they killed them in Guantánamo, and they said they killed themself.

AMY GOODMAN: They said they committed suicide.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: I told them—we told them, "You should tell us how they killed themself." And the third thing, also, they doesn’t allow for us to call our family or to do any communication with them.

AMY GOODMAN: In the seven years that you were detained, did you ever see your wife?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Nothings. No—

AMY GOODMAN: Your child?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: —not my wife. Even I didn’t saw child. When I get my release after seven years, the first child I saw it, my son. At that time, he become eight or nine years. I leave him baby and found him as nine years. The first one I saw it in hospital when they returned me back, in hospital, child is my son, Mohamed. We didn’t see child. We didn’t see family, just letter from them. And even that letters, they put crossing some words.

AMY GOODMAN: The censored much of the language.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What did they censor out?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Nothings. Just they said me your son now reach this years, and this—he gets this mark in school, or like that. They doesn’t—

AMY GOODMAN: And what did the military censors cross out?


AMY GOODMAN: Did they cross out.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: [speaking Arabic] The mark of my son.

AMY GOODMAN: They would cross out—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, yes, they crossed. Yes, yes

AMY GOODMAN: —the grade that he got in school?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, yes, that word. They—if they said he ask about you, also they cross. If he said Al Jazeera done anything for you, they also [inaudible]. Sometimes they bring for me the letters, "Dear my husband. At last goodbye, your wife." All the whole—

AMY GOODMAN: The whole letter was censored.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. I have a copy of it now with me.

AMY GOODMAN: On you right now?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. I have it in my home.

AMY GOODMAN: So it just said—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes. Just only—

AMY GOODMAN: "Dear Sami" —

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And "From your wife," but the whole letter is crossed out.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, just crossed, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And did you ask your wife, when you saw her, what did she write in this letter?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: My wife, after I get it?


SAMI AL-HAJJ: Just she said for me, "I tell you our family news." Yes, nothing more.

AMY GOODMAN: So, describe the day you were released. What day was it?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: That day is the 1st of May.


SAMI AL-HAJJ: First of May.

AMY GOODMAN: First of May.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: 2008, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you know you were going to be released?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, because I met Clive Stafford Smith. He told me, before that, they decide to release you. And even I met group of people coming from government of Sudan; also they told me that things. And also group of Qatar’s government also come and visit me there.

AMY GOODMAN: Here, Qatar.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: There, yes. There in—

AMY GOODMAN: And they came to you in Guantánamo.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, in Guantánamo, and also they told me that things. Last, I met the Red Cross. They asked me, "Did you have any objection to go to Sudan, to return back?" I told them, "No." At last, I don’t know when it will be, but they said, "We deciding—decide to release you." At last, they came and take me to some military court, and they said, "We decide to release you and return you back to Sudan, but you are still our enemy. And you should sign for us a paper, you will never leave Sudan, travel out of Sudan, and you are never working in journalist field." And I didn’t sign.

AMY GOODMAN: You refused.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: I refused, yes, to sign that bit.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you still on hunger strike that day?


AMY GOODMAN: So they put a feeding tube in you that day.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes. I break my hunger strike in Sudan, after I arrived Sudan, in hospital.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what was it like? They took you onto a plane at Guantánamo?


AMY GOODMAN: They took you, put you on a plane…


AMY GOODMAN: In Guantánamo?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, in plane in Guantánamo, me and two people from Sudan, and seven people—

AMY GOODMAN: Did they put bags on your heads?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Same thing. Seven people from Afghanistan. And the aircraft, we take off from Guantánamo and landing in Baghdad, in Iraq, one journey. And then they changed their aircraft and sent me to Sudan. And we have another guy who’s also from Morocco; they sent him to Morocco from Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you landed in Khartoum—


AMY GOODMAN: —was your family there?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: My family, at that time, in Doha, but they came to me, because when I come to Sudan, because the journey was too long, and I—my situation is so I was in—I didn’t understand where I was, and I didn’t feel anything. I opened my eyes. I find myself in hospital, Sudan, yes. After five or six hours, my wife and my son arrived.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you recognize your son?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Of course. Of course. By feeling, not by face, yes. From feeling, I recognize him, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: How long were you in the hospital there?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: I spent about two weeks, and then I continues my—

AMY GOODMAN: Then you—

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, here in Qatar.

AMY GOODMAN: And you resumed your work at Al Jazeera?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, I was working Al Jazeera. I continues my work with Al Jazeera. And Al Jazeera established a new department. It’s called the public liberty and human rights. And that take care about human rights news and also make training for our people of Al Jazeera about human rights. And we have also cooperated with organization who are working human right and liberties, like International Red Cross and U.N. and UNESCO. And also we have agreement with them and cooperated.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami, how do you cope with what you have been through?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: When I was in Guantánamo, I ask myself—it is a bad situation, but I ask myself, maybe it is a good chance for me to be a journalist inside Guantánamo, to see the situation there and to be a witness of that section, about that things. And when I get my release, I will tell the outside people about that thing. But also, it is that things—seven years, it is harm myself, but at same time also I find some positive things, like I believe in journalist, but after that, after that things, also I am believing now in human rights. I’m believing in freedoms. I know the situation of people who are losing their freedoms and the sufferings, really. So I’m happy when I get my release to return back to my field and my family and Al Jazeera. And also I work in the field of protect journalists and to help the people who are looking for help, for freedom of human being or like that things.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you suffer from flashbacks?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Of course. Of course, seven years, it’s not easy to forget everything. Still I—in dream, I woke up at the middle night, and I saw some dream I am still inside Guantánamo or like that. And also, because I missed my family for seven years, still the relationship between me and my wife and between me, my son, it’s not like a normal people’s. Still I like to be sitting in place quiet. There is no—because we are—seven years, we are under the light. It’s not allowed for us to close the light at night. Even the shouting. I didn’t like dog at all. Some things, psychological things happening.

But for myself, if I comparative myself with the other detainees, I find me is very betters than the other people. I returned to my family, and I found them are OK, and Al Jazeera take care about them. I find job. But other detainees, they doesn’t find job. They doesn’t return back to their family. I know one journal—I know one from Algeria. They keep him in Guantánamo for six years. And he returned back to Algeria now. And he’s free, but he’s far away from his wife. His wife in Pakistan, and he’s in—he doesn’t saw their family until now. Some of them are suffering from some illness, but they doesn’t find someone to help them. And many of them, they doesn’t have job. Some of them, they lock them again in jail in their country. And many, many, many sufferings people. Rehabitation for them, it’s not completed until now. Nobody want to help them. Everybody he knows, "Those people are terrorists and coming from Guantánamo." Nobody allowed for them to travel. Even they doesn’t have a passport or some document to leave their country or to go pass somewhere. Still they consider them are terrorist people.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you plan to sue the U.S. government for what happened to you?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Of course. Of course, if I am trying to open a case against Bush administration and Bush himself, we established an organization in Geneva. It’s called Guantánamo Justice Centre. And we established that—

AMY GOODMAN: Guantánamo Justice Centre.

SAMI AL-HAJJ: We have three reason for that. The first reason, to help the people still locked in Guantánamo to find another country to accept them. Second, rehabitation for the other people who are get released. Third thing, to make justice for the people, by following Bush and his administration. And now we open a case against Bush in Geneva, when he trying to visit Geneva. But he’s canceled that in March 2011.

AMY GOODMAN: He canceled his trip?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, he canceled. And we’re trying to make for him case when he went to visit Canada. But Canada doesn’t accepted our case. Now we have a case against Canada also. And we tried to open for him a case, he also, Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan. He is now in London. We tried to open a case against him.

But also, me and other people, they understand that what has happened for us in Guantánamo, that not means all American are same like Bush and his administration. There, some people are good, like Clive Stafford Smith, like Cori, like Zachary. There came for us a thousand miles from their family to help us. They didn’t get any payment for that help. They believe that is wrong. And many of them, I met him—I met him after I get my release. And they said, "We are against what is going there in Guantánamo."

But I surprise at same times, when Obama get—become a president. He promised first to close Guantánamo, but he doesn’t keep his promise. I wish he keep his promise in this period, during these years.

AMY GOODMAN: What else do you have to say to President Obama?

SAMI AL-HAJJ: I ask—I ask him to keep his promise to close Guantánamo. Guantánamo is a shame for U.S.A. Obama, he come to clear Bush administration history, bad history for. I respect U.S.A. before Guantánamo. I respected U.S.A. because I believed U.S.A. is a democracy country, and they’re fighting for democracy. The people who are created U.S.A., they created for democracy, for freedoms. I read the history of U.S.A. before Guantánamo and after Guantánamo. But I think what is done by Bush administration, they destroyed all the honest of U.S.A. at that time. Obama, he tried to clear that things. But he promised to close Guantánamo, but he doesn’t close it.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami al-Hajj, the only journalist ever detained at Guantánamo, spent six years there without charge. He now heads the human rights department at Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar.

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