United States - Six years after Guantanamo was turned into a prison camp, Reporters Without Borders calls again for its closure and for Al-Jazeera cameraman's release

    MONTREAL, Jan. 10 /CNW Telbec/ - On the eve of the sixth anniversary of
the arrival of the first detainees at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in
eastern Cuba, Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its call for the
camp's closure and the release of Sami Al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman with the
pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera who has been held there without charge since
June 2002.
    Several hundred persons captured by the US army during "Operation
Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan were transferred to Guantanamo Bay on 11
January 2002, thereby turning the naval base into a prison camp where at one
point 770 people were held without any of the legal guarantees envisaged by
the US constitution or by the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war.
    Al-Haj is one of the roughly 300 people still being held at the camp,
which Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard visited last
week without being allowed to see him. Ménard's visit will be the subject of
an article in the next issue of the French magazine Médias.
    "We appeal for Al-Haj's release or his transfer to his home country,"
Reporters Without Borders said. "Negotiations on his transfer are currently
under way. We went to Guantanamo in the hope of meeting him but we not allowed
to do this. However, we were able to visit the detention centres inside the
camp and to talk to guards, hospital staff, military officers in charge of the
Annual Administrative Reviews and Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, the head of the
Guantanamo Joint Task Force.
    "Guantanamo is a legal and humanitarian scandal that has now dragged on
for six years. What has been achieved? In the absence of charges, 500 of its
detainees have been removed and in most cases sent back to their country of
origin. It is hard to understand why around 300 are still being held there,
especially as the authorities plan to try only 60-80 of them. The US supreme
court rightly ruled on 30 June 2006 that the special military tribunals set up
to try these "enemy combatants" were unconstitutional, and the US senate
judiciary committee said on 7 June 2007 that they should be restored their
right to habeas corpus.
    "This is not enough," Reporters Without Borders added. "The winner of the
7 November presidential election, who will take office in January 2009, must
put an end to a situation that is humanely intolerable and legally untenable.
We call on all the candidates competing for their party's nomination in the
primaries to undertake to close Guantanamo."
    Arrested by the Pakistani army on the Afghan border in December 2001,
Al-Haj was handed over to the US military a month later and was transferred to
Guantanamo on 13 June 2002. The US military claimed that he secretly
interviewed Osama Bin Laden, trafficked in arms for Al-Qaeda and ran an
Islamist website but no evidence was ever produced to support these
allegations and he was never formally charged.
    Regularly tortured and interrogated about 200 times by his guards, Al-Haj
began a hunger strike on 7 January 2007 to protest against his detention and
to demand respect for his rights. In reprisal, he was force-fed several times.
His lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, who visited him in July, said he had lost
18 kilos and had serious intestinal problems. He also has paranoia attacks and
has more and more difficulty in communicating normally.
    Two of the nine Sudanese prisoners in Guantanamo were released last
month. In a recent memo to the Sudanese government, the US authorities said
they would return Al-Haj to Sudan only if he were banned from leaving the
country and were banned from working as journalist.
    The CIA announced on 15 December that it destroyed videos of detainees
being interrogated in Guantanamo and in its secret prisons, despite a court
order to preserve them. A criminal investigation into their destruction began
on 2 January, but federal judge Henry H. Kennedy said a week later that he
would not insist on questioning José Rodriguez, the former CIA officer who
reportedly ordered their destruction. In response to congressional protests,
Kennedy said he would await the results of a justice department internal
probe. The New York Times reported last month that four White House legal
advisers endorsed their destruction.
    Reporters Without Borders established a system of sponsorship 18 years
ago in which international media are encouraged to adopt imprisoned
journalists. More than 200 news organisations, journalists' associations,
press clubs and other entities throughout the world are currently supporting
journalists by regularly calling on the authorities to release them and by
publicising their cases.
    Al Haj has been adopted by four Spanish media (La Sexta, IPS-Comunica, La
Voz del Occidente, and the Colexio de Xornalistas de Galicia) and six Canadian
media (Corriere Canadese, Atlas media, Magazine de Saint-Lambert, Mouton Noir,
CIBL and Radio Canada Sudbury).

For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, secretary general, Reporters
Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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