Video: On the 12th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo, Former Prisoner Sami Al-Haj Speaks


A hallucinatory image of force-feeding at Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis PeakeLate last year, as the coalition of groups calling for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba began deliberations for this year’s protest on the anniversary of the prison’s opening (on January 11), I reached out — as part of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign — to Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity, founded and led by Clive Stafford Smith, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo.

As we discussed ways to publicize the plight of the prisoners on the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, Reprieve suggested asking Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese prisoner released in 2008, to record a video statement that could be used, and I’m delighted to note that Sami agreed, and his video message to President Obama is posted below.

Sami is the only journalist to have been held at Guantánamo, and he was working as a cameraman for Al-Jazeera when he was seized on assignment crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan in December 2001. I subsequently covered his story, in particular in the months before his release, when he had embarked on a hunger strike and was providing information to the world about it via Clive. In this period, he also made a number of drawings about the hunger strike. When these were seized by the Pentagon’s censors, Reprieve described them to a British cartoonist, Lewis Peake, who recreated them based on the descriptions, and I told Sami’s story, and reproduced the drawings, in an article entitled, “Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo.”

Shortly after, Sami was released (also see here, here, here and here), and soon after a new position was created for him at Al-Jazeera, as the head of the broadcaster’s new Public Liberties and Human Rights Desk. He remains an authoritative commentator on the injustices of Guantánamo, and the need for the prison to close, and I am happy to be able to play my part in publicizing his thoughts, as, lamentably, the prison at Guantánamo begins its 13th year of operations.

In his statement, Sami appeals to President Obama to fulfill his promise to close Guantánamo, calling his record worse than that of President Bush, and also addresses the American people, noting the difference between the officials who opened Guantánamo and those who are keeping it open and certain Americans who have worked to oppose those actions, singling out the attorneys who have represented the prisoners for particular praise. Sami also send messages to the people of the world, and to the victims of injustice around the world.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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 of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Former Guantanamo prisoner Sami Al-Haj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman who now heads the broadcaster’s Human Rights Desk, made this video for the 12 anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo yesterday, calling on President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison. I was unable to post it until now because I’ve been busy on my US tour!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m obviously a bit tired. That should have read “the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo.” I flew to San Francisco from Washington D.C. this morning, after the fourth night in a row that I haven’t really had enough sleep! Now here safely, preparing for dinner with friends out here in the Bay Area who I haven’t seen since January 2012. Public events resume tomorrow with an appearance on Rose Aguilar’s radio show in the morning and a panel at Stanford University at 5.30, with Jeffrey Kaye and Michael Kearns. Full itinerary here:
    Rose’s show here, 10-11am tomorrow:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Zoon Imran wrote:

    Andy can u plz post the link to this video with this post please … if it’s you tube i will be unable to watch as it’s banned for no apparent reason in Pakistan … least i can do is share this post with the link please & thank you & looking fwd to your tour video’s 🙂

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Zoon, here’s the direct link to the video. It is on YouTube, however:

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Zoon Imran wrote:

    Thank you … i know but youtube banned in Pakistan so i cannot access any page showing this video !

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    I had a quick look for it via other sources, Zoon, but it only appears to be available via YouTube.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Zoon Imran wrote:

    I tried it too, thank you Andy ,i have shared your post with the link , i missing out on everything of this cause i hold so close to my heart , nearly all vid’s of this cause on youtube … so for me , utter 🙁

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Sorry to hear that, Zoon. 🙁

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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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