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Gitmo Detainee Now Back At Al Jazeera

From a joyous New York Times:

Sami al-Hajj with his son, Mohammed, and Al Jazeera’s news director, Waddah Khanfar, during a ceremony in Sudan after his release from the Guantánamo Bay detention center in May 2008.

From Guantánamo to Desk at Al Jazeera


December 23, 2009

Of the 779 known detainees who have been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — terrorism suspects, sympathizers of Al Qaeda, people deemed enemy combatants by the United States military — only one was a journalist.

The journalist, Sami al-Hajj, was working for Al Jazeera as a cameraman when he was stopped by Pakistani forces on the border with Afghanistan in late 2001. The United States military accused Mr. Hajj of, among other things, falsifying documents and delivering money to Chechen rebels, although he was never charged with a crime during his years in custody.

Now, more than a year after his release, Mr. Hajj, a 40-year-old native of Sudan, is back at work at the Arabic satellite news network, leading a new desk devoted to human rights and public liberties. The captive has become the correspondent.

“I wanted to talk for seven years, to make up for the seven years of silence,” Mr. Hajj said through an interpreter during an interview at the network’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

Among Al Jazeera’s viewers in the Arab world since the 9/11 attacks, perhaps nothing has damaged perceptions of America more than Guantánamo Bay.

Which explains the total end of terrorism against the US all across the Arab world since Mr. Obama’s announcement of its closing.

For that reason, Mr. Hajj, who did a six-part series on the prison after his release, is a potent weapon for the network, which does not always strive for journalistic objectivity on the subject of his treatment.

Unlike The Times.

In an interview, Ahmed Sheikh, the editor in chief of Al Jazeera, called Mr. Hajj “one of the victims of the human rights atrocities committed by the ex-U.S. administration.”

But Mr. Hajj has not restricted himself to Guantánamo and his own incarceration. He has expanded the network’s coverage of other rights issues, including press freedom in Iraq, Palestinians in Israeli prisons and the implications of the USA Patriot Act.

Which, oddly enough, are burning issues for the New York Times, as well.

On a Wednesday morning in mid-August, Mr. Hajj pushed Al Jazeera’s news desk to cover a hunger strike by political prisoners in Jordan, and he happily pointed to a nearby television when the Jordan news scrolled on the bottom of the screen.

Nor has his experience radicalized him: he said that, despite his upbringing in a violent and often repressive country and his experience in detention, he maintained a sustaining belief in democracy and the rule of law.

Of course he has. Most terrorists are champions of the democratic process and rule of law. They just have a peculiar way of expressing their beliefs.

Mr. Hajj’s story is well known to Al Jazeera viewers, but not to most Americans. (As with the experiences of many detainees at Guantánamo Bay, his version is uncorroborated by American officials or any documents.) After working at a beverage company and then trying to start a business in Azerbaijan, he began working as a cameraman for Al Jazeera in 2000. He was captured on Dec. 15, 2001, trying to cross the border back into Afghanistan with his camera and a correspondent.

He later came to believe that the Americans were seeking another Al Jazeera cameraman, one with a similar name who had recorded an interview with Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Ah, that explains everything. Such as his falsifying documents and giving money to (Muslim) Chechen terrorists.

After being detained by local authorities in Pakistan, Mr. Hajj was transferred into American custody and, he says, tortured and beaten at a prison at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. He was moved to Kandahar and then transported to Guantánamo Bay in mid-2002. Looking back, he says he thinks that he was sent there in part because he was a journalist.

“I had seen a lot of things that I shouldn’t have seen,” he said, citing the treatment of prisoners at Bagram in particular. Mr. Hajj claims that in lengthy interrogations he was asked for details of the network’s staff, policies and processes and that some guards started calling him “Al Jazeera” as a nickname.

He said an interrogator once asked him, “How much does bin Laden pay Al Jazeera for all the propaganda that Al Jazeera supplies?”

“You’re asking the wrong question,” he replied, emphasizing that bin Laden was not a propaganda partner of Al Jazeera, “he’s a newsmaker.”

In American custody, he tried to keep practicing journalism, he said, writing eyewitness accounts for his lawyers and family members, interpreting fellow detainees’ stories of abuse and even making drawings of forced feedings during a hunger strike.

“I felt that I needed to document this for history,” he said, “so that the next generation knows the depth of the crime that was committed.” He audibly emphasized the Arabic word for depth as he spoke.

During the interview, Mr. Hajj displayed a deep wound on his left leg, which he said he suffered when he was pinned against cell bars during a beating at Guantánamo. He reiterated that the emotional trauma was more extensive than the physical; he says he continues to see psychotherapists

Mr. Hajj’s release, back to Sudan on a stretcher, came in May 2008 after lobbying by human rights groups and the government of Sudan. The Pentagon spokesman said Mr. Hajj’s release to Sudan “indicated our belief that the government of Sudan could effectively mitigate the threat posed” by him.

Since his release, he has put on weight and honed his rhetoric. He splits his time between Al Jazeera and the Guantánamo Justice Center, a group he co-founded for former detainees. Through the center he is helping to prepare legal action against former President George W. Bush and officials of his administration.

Even during a translated interview, he remained keenly sensitive to language, calling the detainees at Guantánamo “captives,” to call attention to what he says is a “place outside of law.”

When a visitor mentioned “enhanced interrogation techniques,” an American term that characterizes harsh treatment of detainees, Mr. Hajj interrupted the interpreter and said, in Arabic, “instead of torture?”

“We are giving the wrong impression” with that term, he said. “We as journalists are violating human rights because we are changing the perception of reality.”

Oddly, while in a prison sanctioned by American authorities, Mr. Hajj put his faith in the American political system. He gathered bits of news from the guards and, leading up to the 2004 election, was sure that American voters would reject Mr. Bush, which would lead to his freedom. When the guards informed him that the president had been re-elected, he was stunned.

“I was sure I would outlive Bush,” he said.

Isn’t this wonderful?

Our only question is why he is at Al Jazeera? Is the New York Times so broke they can’t afford to hire such a uniquely qualified ‘journalist’?

On second thought, we do have another question.

If we are supposed to be closing Guantanamo because it is such a propaganda source for terrorists, why has Mr. Hajj been allowed to spread such outrageous lies about the US to the entire Middle East?

Why wasn’t he simply killed?

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

5 Responses to “Gitmo Detainee Now Back At Al Jazeera”

  1. BillK says:

    The better question is why he wasn’t offered a job as Professor of Human Rights Studies at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, UC – Berkeley, CU – Boulder or UW – Madison.

  2. Reality Bytes says:


  3. beautyofreason says:

    ““I felt that I needed to document this for history,” he said, “so that the next generation knows the depth of the crime that was committed.””

    Strong words for a guy who lives in a country where over 200,000 people have recently been slaughtered by Arab jangaweed militias in a move tantamount to genocide. Even lefties in Hollywood have noticed the Sudan / Darfur region.

    And yet I’m sure Sami feels right at home now!

    Yet only the U.S. had supposedly committed an atrocity, for water boarding three guys and locking up terrorists caught on the battlefield instead of shooting them.

    Give me a break.

    “He reiterated that the emotional trauma was more extensive than the physical”

    Nothing says trauma like having a free copy of the Koran, an arrow pointing at Mecca, access to television and newspapers, and three halal meals a day, right ? Those Uighurs even busted up a television for showing a woman’s bare arms. You get the picture.

    Just try to get a religious book if you’re a non-Muslim in jail in Saudi Arabia, or any other number of countries – Islamic or not. They sure don’t cater like we do.

  4. Liberals Demise says:

    We need to spend the price of a bullet verses the stay at Club Gitmo from now on. America is the only one who cares how prisoners of war are treated.

    Memo to the Warriors at the Front:

    No more prisoner taking will be tolerated. It isn’t cost effective and you may find yourselves charged under the UCMJ. Plus they are an ungrateful lot!
    Send them to Allah and their virgin goats.

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