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Homeland Security

Al-Jazeera Cameraman Freed From Guantanamo

By Al Pessin
02 May 2008

The Pentagon says it believes a former al-Jazeera cameraman sent from the Guantanamo detention center to Sudan Thursday is still dangerous, and it expects the Sudanese government to help ensure he does not resume what the Pentagon says is his involvement in terrorism. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The former cameraman flew out of Guantanamo Thursday after six years of detention along with eight other detainees who were, in the Pentagon's parlance, not released but rather were transferred to their home countries, or other countries willing to accept them.

Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman would not give details of the conditions for the release of Sami al-Haj or the other detainees, but he says in general the conditions involve a promise of humane treatment by the receiving country and some sort of action to prevent the former detainees from getting involved in terrorist activities.

"As with all these transfers, we are looking allies in the global war on terror to help us shoulder the burden and the responsibility of keeping terrorists from being able to pursue those type of activities," he said.

But the Associated Press quoted Mahjoub Fadul, an adviser to Sudan's president, as saying the former detainees will not face any restrictions on their activities. Al-Haj is one of three men sent to Sudan from Guantanamo on Thursday. The Pentagon says five others went to Afghanistan and one to Morocco. Over the years, more than 500 men have left Guantanamo under similar arrangements. About 270 detainees remain at the facility.

The case of Sami al-Haj has gotten considerable attention over the years because of his work as a journalist. Al-Jazeera claimed he was held to retaliate for unfavorable coverage the station has broadcast about various U.S. government activities, including the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere. But the Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, says al-Haj was held for a variety of activities in support of terrorism.

"The record is fairly clear with respect to those activities that the United States believes that he was involved in which made him an unlawful combatant and landed him at Guantanamo," he said.

Al-Haj was never formally charged, but transcripts of hearings at Guantanamo that determined his status, and eventually approved his transfer, allege he was a courier for large amounts of cash that went to an organization in Azerbaijan that allegedly provided support for terrorist groups in Chechnya and the Balkans.

In one transcript, al-Haj is quoted as telling a U.S. military review board his detention is "a mistake" and that he never belonged to any terrorist group or "took part in any terrorist or violent act." In the transcript, he condemns the September 11th attacks and any violence against innocent people in the name of Islam.

Al-Haj has reportedly participated in a hunger strike since January of last year. Officials say some detainees go on and off hunger strike from time to time. Al-Haj told his lawyer he was among those force fed a liquid dietary supplement to prevent them from dying of starvation.

In Khartoum Friday, al-Haj told al-Jazeera conditions at Guantanamo are "bad and getting worse," and he accused U.S. officials there of preventing the practice of Islam. Officials say conditions at Guantanamo are similar to those at regular U.S. prisons, and they say they make all necessary provisions for the practice of Islam, including providing special food. The International Committee of the Red Cross makes regular inspection trips to Guantanamo, and reports its findings to U.S. officials, but those reports are not made public.

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