Long-held Al Jazeera journalist freed from Guantanamo

Miami HeraldMay 1, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Long-held al Jazeera cameraman Sami al Hajj has been released from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, along with at least two other detainees, his attorneys said Thursday.

The Pentagon refused to confirm the transfer of three detainees to Khartoum, Sudan, saying it only reports repatriation missions after they are complete.

The case of Hajj, 39, had been taken up by journalism advocacy organizations as well as his news channel, which is owned by the government of Qatar, a key war-on-terror ally of the United States.

Also released were Amir Yacoub al Amir, 37, and Walid Ali, 33, according to a release from the London based human rights law firm Reprieve, which filed suit on behalf of Hajj and Yacoub.

Yacoub, the release said, was imprisoned for over six years, after he was taken into custody in Pakistan in March 2002. According to Pentagon records, he celebrates his 38th birthday next week.

Pentagon panels had branded Hajj an "enemy combatant,'' disputing his claim that he had simply been a working journalist in a war zone. He had worked for al Jazeera as a cameraman.

Hajj's civil liberties lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, declared the development "a wonderful moment for Sami's wife and son.'' But, he said, "the U.S. military has a lot of explaining to do as to why an innocent journalist was held so long.''

A year ago, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said in a statement to McClatchy newspapers that Hajj "has declined to answer any questions about his alleged role in supporting terror networks'' despite "a significant amount of evidence, both unclassified and classified, which supports continued detention of Sami al Hajj by U.S. forces.''

Hajj was detained in December 2001 by Pakistani security forces near the Afghan-Pakistani border and held at the isolated U.S. Navy base on Cuba's southeast tip for nearly six years. His lawyers say he was on his way to a reporting assignment when he was seized.

Pentagon documents said Hajj was 6-foot 1-inch tall when he weighed in at the prison camps at 169 pounds on June 14, 2002.

Since then, his lawyers described him as a frequent hunger striker, who refused his detention center meals in protest of his confinement and conditions and was force-fed by military personnel.

Follow Guantanamo developments at MiamiHerald.com.

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