Nov 13, 2006
The Committee to Protect Journalists is calling on the U.S. government to release Sami al-Haj, a journalist the U.S. has been holding at Guantanamo prison for the past five years.
In December 2001, shortly after the overthrow of the Taliban government by the U.S., al-Haj traveled to Afghanistan to cover the war. At the Afghan border, Pakistani intelligence officers arrested al-Haj, a Sudanese national, claiming that his papers were not in order. The Pakistanis turned al-Haj over to U.S. military authorities, who first held him in Afghanistan and then transferred him to Guantanamo.
U.S. officials claim that al-Haj was a courier for al-Qaeda. But they have provided no evidence for this accusation. Nor have they filed any charges against him.
This is not unusual – in fact, most of the over 500 prisoners at Guantanamo have been held without charges. What’s special about al-Haj, though, is that he worked for the Arab news network Al-Jazeera, a regular target of U.S. attacks. The U.S. military has bombed Al-Jazeera offices in Afghanistan and Iraq several times in the past five years. The U.S. killed Al-Jazeera reporter Tariq Ayyoub during the bombing of the network’s Baghdad office in April 2003.
Al-Jazeera has tried to report about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq independently, instead of “embedding” itself with the U.S. military and acting as its mouthpiece, as all major U.S. news networks have done. This is the “crime” for which Al-Jazeera and its journalists have been punished.
U.S. officials claim to fight these wars in the name of “freedom.” Whatever freedom they are talking about, it certainly doesn’t include freedom of the press!