Al-Jazeera has the first interview with Sami al-Haj since his return to the Sudan from Guantánamo late last night. The journalist, seized while on assignment for al-Jazeera in December 2001, had been on hunger strike for the last 16 months of his 76-month imprisonment without charge or trial by the United States, and looked, as was to be expected, thinner and considerably older than his 39 years. His brother, Asim, was shocked by his appearance, and said that he looked like a man in his 80s.
Speaking to reporters from a hospital bed, Sami said, “I’m very happy to be in Sudan, but I’m very sad because of the situation of our brothers who remain in Guantánamo. Conditions in Guantánamo are very, very bad and they get worse by the day. Our human condition, our human dignity was violated, and the American administration went beyond all human values, all moral values, all religious values.”
He added, “In Guantánamo, you have animals that are called iguanas, and rats that are treated with more humanity. But we have people from more than 50 countries that are completely deprived of all rights and privileges. And they will not give them the rights that they give to animals.” “For more than seven years,” he continued, the prisoners “did not get a chance to be brought before a civil court to defend their just case, and to get the freedom they were deprived of. They [the Americans] ignored every kind of law, every kind of religion, but thank God I was lucky because God allowed that I be released.”
“Although I’m happy,” he continued, “there is part of me that is not, because my brothers remain behind, and they are in the hands of people that claim to be champions of peace and protectors of rights and freedoms, but the true, just peace doesn’t come from military force, or threats to use smart or stupid bombs, or to threaten with economic sanctions. Justice comes from lifting oppression, and guaranteeing rights and freedoms, and respecting the will of the people, and not to interfere in a country’s internal politics.”
Wadah Khanfar, the director general of al-Jazeera, who was in Khartoum to welcome Sami back, was “overwhelmed with joy” at Sami’s safe return, but was critical of how the US military had treated him, persistently attempting to recruit him to spy on al-Jazeera, to “prove” a link between the network and Osama bin Laden that does not exist.
“We are concerned about the way the Americans dealt with Sami, and we are concerned about the way they could deal with others as well,” he said, adding, perhaps in response to rumours that, as a condition of his release, the US administration had stipulated that Sami must not leave Sudan, and must not work as a journalist, “Sami will continue with al-Jazeera, he will continue as a professional person who has done great jobs during his work with al-Jazeera. We congratulate his family and all those who knew Sami and loved Sami and worked for this moment.”
To watch the interview with Sami on YouTube, see below:
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
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Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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