The only known journalist currently held in Guantanamo – Al Jazeera’s Sami al-Haj – is now in ‘serious physical and mental decline’according to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith.
Stafford Smith urged British journalists to highlight al-Haj’s plight – as they did during the days of captivity of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston – claiming that ‘public embarrassment’is the only thing that shifts the US military.
He said: ‘I want you guys to insist on the same sort of justice you would like if you were held for five-and-a-half years without any charges and without being allowed any contact with your wife and child.
‘Eventually they will let him go. I just hope they don’t send him home in a box.”
Sudan-born Sami Muhyideen al-Haj, 38, a cameraman for the Arabic news channel, has been held at Guantanamo since he was picked up at the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in December 2001.
Stafford Smith, who last visited his client in July, said al-Haj, who has been on hunger strike since January, has lost 18kg (40lb), is losing his memory and is ‘fixated on his death”.
A relatively inexperienced journalist, al-Haj is alleged by the US military to have assisted al-Qaeda. He has been held on the strength of both classified and unclassified evidence and never charged.
Stafford Smith has called for a fair trial for al-Haj, insisting he is ‘no more a terrorist than my granny”.
The lawyer is convinced al-Haj’s confinement is a result of the US ‘vendetta’against Al Jazeera and the belief that it is a front for al-Qaeda.
Al-Haj was allegedly asked repeatedly to act as an informant. ‘He was interrogated over 100 times without them ever asking him questions about any allegations against him,’said Stafford Smith.
As well as wanting al-Haj to pass on details about Al Jazeera’s activities, his interrogators demanded that he state publicly that the news operation was ‘a hotbed of Islamic radicals funded by al-Qaeda”, said Stafford Smith.
Pentagon spokesman Jeremy Gordon said al-Haj had been found by the Combatant Status Review Tribunal to be an unlawful enemy combatant and, as such, the US is entitled to hold him until the end of hostilities to prevent them from returning to the ‘battlefield”.
Gordon denied al-Haj’s detention was based on ‘his status as a reporter or the content of his reporting”. ‘But there is no special category that gives members of media organisations immunity if engaged in suspicious activities against Coalition forces,’he said.