Sami al-Haj released from Guantánamo


Sami al-HajAfter four and a half months of inexplicable inertia, the US administration has finally seen fit to release another group of prisoners from Guantánamo, including the Sudanese al-Jazeera cameraman and journalist Sami al-Haj. Despite claims from within the administration that it was hoping to scale down the operation at Guantánamo, no prisoners have been released since December 2007, when two other Sudanese prisoners, 13 Afghans, ten Saudis and three British residents were released.

Instead, one prisoner died — of cancer — and another prisoner was actually transferred into Guantánamo from a secret prison run by the CIA. My suspicion, which I have spoken about, but not to date written about, was that, having announced in February that six prisoners allegedly connected with the 9/11 attacks were to face a trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo, the administration was happy to drag its heels over the fate of the roughly 200 prisoners (out of the remaining 272) who are unlikely ever to face a trial, in the probably mistaken belief that the 9/11 trials — which will, inevitably, be wracked with allegations of torture — will secure the legacy of the Bush administration and divert attention from these other men.

The most celebrated Guantánamo prisoner in the Middle East — if not in the West — Sami, whose story I reported at length here, just a few weeks ago, was seized by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001, apparently at the behest of the US authorities, who suspected that he had conducted an interview with Osama bin Laden. As with much of their supposed intelligence, this turned out to be false, but as his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the Director of the legal action charity Reprieve (which represents Sami and 34 other Guantánamo prisoners), explained last year, “name me a journalist who would turn down a bin Laden scoop.”

As a trained journalist, Sami’s insights into the horrors of Guantánamo have been unparalleled. Subjected to clearance by the Pentagon’s censors, his letters and his conversations with his lawyers at Reprieve have shed light on the abuse of the Koran, suicide attempts, hunger strikes and the number of juveniles held at the prison.

For the last 16 months of his imprisonment, Sami was himself a hunger striker. Although the ethics of the medical profession stipulate that a mentally competent hunger striker cannot be force-fed, the US authorities disagreed. Twice a day, for the last 480 days, Sami was strapped into a restraint chair, secured with 16 separate straps, and force-fed against his will via a tube inserted into his stomach through his nose.

Greeting the news of his release, Clive Stafford Smith said, “This is wonderful news, and long overdue. The US administration has never had any reason for holding Mr. al-Haj, and has, instead, spent six years shamelessly attempting to turn him against his employers at al-Jazeera. We at Reprieve send him our best wishes as he is reunited with his wife and his seven-year old son Mohammed, whom he has not seen since Mohammed was a baby.”

Also released — subject to final confirmation — were two other Sudanese prisoners, a Moroccan and six Afghans, whose stories I’ll report on in the following days.

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), and was the Communications Officer for Reprieve in 2008. 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.

As published on the Huffington Post.

Note: Sami’s prisoner number was ISN 345. For more on his story, see here, here and here.

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the eleven prisoners released from February to June 2009, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).

9 Responses

  1. lubna karim says...

    Hi Andy

    You seem to have forgotten the Priince in Guanto -Amir Yagoub who was recently released

  2. Linda G. Richard says...

    Yeah… this is fantastic! Also I read that al-Qosi is the third to boycott his trial – which is also fantastic!

    Wow… ! 🙂

  3. Sami al-Haj speaks, appeals for fellow prisoners in Guantánamo | says...

    […] 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 […]

  4. American Street » Blog Archive » Shining light on the Darkness at Caribbean Noon says...

    […] column also mentions newly released Sami al-Hajj. Our friend Andy tells us about Sami (in a series of posts)… in short, al-Jazeera camerman Sami al-Hajj has been […]

  5. DutyStamp says...

    Shame on America who wrongly claims to be a protector of democracy and liberal values! America has been exposed in Bagram, Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo….and no one believes the lies of the US administration anymore.

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    […] 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 […]

  8. The Stories Of The Two Somalis Freed From Guantánamo « says...

    […] 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 […]

  9. Who Are Remaining Prisoners In Guantánamo? Part Three: Captured Crossing From Afghanistan Into Pakistan » World Uyghur Congress says...

    […] halted, he weighed just 94 pounds (PDF). In March 2007, Sami al-Haj (the al-Jazeera cameraman released in 2008) mentioned that he was one of three prisoners who had been on hunger strike — and force-fed — […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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