Blog Archive

Blog Archive – May, 2008

Sami Al-Haj: ex-prisoner 345

May 11, 2008

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Free. At last.

Even as journalist Sami Al-Haj displayed his joy to be home, at last, in his native land, Sudan, he remembered the unnamed and unfreed American torture victims yet imprisoned in  Guantanamo US naval base.

He declared “Torture does not end terrorism; torture is terrorism”.

How I admire this man, this journalist, this patriot.

I doubt if I could have withstood a fraction of what he did, even for a year. Could you? Al-Haj somehow survived that American hell 6 years and 5 months!

I wonder if others feel as I do:--shame over American behavior, its leadership, its collaborating psychologists, it lackey media, its stone-hearted jailers, its ignorant citizens, its spineless intellectuals.

At the same time, do you not feel esteem for this young man? Do you not feel renewed hope that public outrage by however few may still be effective to force a government to change? Is this not surely affirmation of how Islam empowers humans with immense inner strength?

How auspicious for me that somehow, last Thursday and Friday, I had access to Al-Jazeera TV. I waited up late in the night to see footage direct from Khartoum. With millions of others, even vicariously, I wanted to welcome that plane carrying the once-young journalist and two of his compatriots when it touched African land at Sudan’s airport.

Gratification; then, momentarily, anger eclipsed this wave of victory. I was forced not to forget from where he had come. I watched Al-Haj manhandled by his captors--uniformed American servicemen carrying their prisoner out of the US Air Force plane and down the steps. Three Americans, each twice Sami’s bulk, gripped him clumsily before passing him to a waiting stretcher. If this is how they treat a human being as they release him, my god, begin to imagine the prison! I glared at the image in shame. Al-Haj’s hands remained bound by his notorious captors, boney legs dangled lifelessly from their clumsy criminal arms. Finally Al-Haj was handed to comrades and laid on a nearby stretcher. There, I witnessed his wrists still bound together at his waist. Only now, firmly on African soil, his own people cut away the bonds.

The Americans had refused. (US authorities arrogantly, reprehensibly maintained they were not releasing Al-Haj as a free man, but rather handing over their prisoner to Sudanese authorities. Forever righteous, our American department of defense. We later learned Al-Haj and his companions were bound and shackled to chairs throughout the long journey.)

Humdulillah, he is home. But the freed man appeared so frail that I thought, “My God, he is sick; he is dying.” The crowd of attendants whisking him into the hospital, cameras rolling all the while, saw something else.

Hardly 20 minutes later, Sami Al-Haj managed to sit up in the hospital bed and he was speaking to the cameras. Grasping a phone, with cameras rolling above him, he was giving an interview condemning his captors, Guantanamo prison itself, the torture methods, the brutality of the Americans. His voice was unwavering and unequivocal. How readily and energetically he reentered his journalist’s voice.

Even though Sami Al-Haj was yet to meet his family, he had to send a message to the world—an urgent testimony-- denunciation of the hypocrisy of the US administration, above all else, to testify to their brutalities.

Al-Haj's firm voice and clear words, his eyes focused as his spoke, affirmed the ignorance and folly of the Americans, the beautiful energy of Islam, the integrity of Al-Jazeera TV network.

Of course one needs to recognize the hard work of many western attorneys in particular. The obstacles they faced seemed insurmountable in the early years when the US Department of Defense was stonewalling any claims of these prisoners rights.  If only shame motivates American civil rights lawyers to challenge the American will, so be it.

[ Sami Al-Haj: ex-prisoner 345 ]


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