Friday, January 18, 2008

The Human Face of Torture: Sami al-Haj

From the article, Journalist at Gitmo protests confinement:

Conditions are harsh for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a hunger-striking prisoner said in a letter released Monday, although he did not provide details.

"Each of us suffers new physical pain, and our injured hearts suffer from a psychological pain that cannot be described," Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman for the Al-Jazeera TV network, said in the letter.

Al-Haj was captured by Pakistani authorities on the Afghan border in December 2001 and turned over to U.S. forces about six months later. He is believed to be the only journalist from a major international news organization held at Guantanamo. Authorities have accused him of transporting money in the 1990s for a charity that allegedly funded militant groups.

His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said the letter was written in Arabic in late December and had to be cleared by U.S. government censors before it could be released. Stafford Smith said al-Haj has been on hunger strike at the remote U.S. military prison in Cuba for 374 days.

The 38-year-old cameraman also criticized the U.S., which holds him without charges, and the public for what he perceives as a lack of interest in the plight of Guantanamo detainees.

"All of this takes place in a world which knows what is happening but remains silent and does little more than watch this sorry theater," he wrote.

On a side note, Canada's foreign ministry has now put the US and Israel on a torture watch list. I doubt that does much good to al-Haj and others trapped in similar circumstances. That said, there are at least a few of us who will continue to put a human face to those who are being imprisoned in America's gulags in the hope that more and more folks will notice and take action.

Update: See also Andy Worthington's column on Sami al-Haj.

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