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Middle East
Freed Sami al-Hajj returns to Doha
Al Jazeera cameraman who spent six years in Guantanamo is given rousing reception.
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2008 11:37 GMT
Al-Hajj returns to Doha after more than six years in the US-run Guantanamo prison [Omar Chatriwala]

Sami al-Hajj, the Al Jazeera cameraman held at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for more than six years, has returned to Doha.
 
Al-Hajj arrived in the Qatari capital, headquarters of Al Jazeera, on Saturday by a private jet from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.
 
US authorities released him into Sudanese custody earlier in May.
Al-Hajj, who was greeted by senior Al Jazeera staff, expressed gratitude to Qatar and Al Jazeera for the warm hospitality he received upon his arrival, Al Jazeera journalist Omar Chatriwala said.
 
Wadah Khanfar, director-general of Al Jazeera, heralded al-Hajj's return as "a triumph of freedom".
"This is a great day in the history of Al Jazeera and free media. The effort of all who believed in Sami's cause and his innocence made this a great moment of joy and happiness."
 
Support hailed
 
Chatriwala quoted al-Hajj as saying on his arrival at the airport that the support he got was "a support for freedom of speech and free journalism".
 
"By honouring me, Al Jazeera meant to honour all journalists," al-Hajj said.
 
Al-Hajj later addressed around 200 people gathered at the airport grounds to celebrate his return with balloons and white doves.
 
"Six years and seven months were stolen from my life in Guantanamo camp under torture and inhuman treatment by those who call themselves a democratic people," al-Hajj said.
 

"This captivity has made me more steadfast in defending the values of truth and righteousness because people deserve to live with dignity.

 

"We are all attached to the principles of freedom and peace. These are human principle and values that are dictated by international law by religious values and by principle all over the world."

 

Asserting that "being a journalist is not a crime", al-Hajj said he would return to work at Al Jazeera, though Khanfar said in what role that would be is still being discussed.

 

Al-Hajj said he has no problems with Americans and several of the guards at Guantanamo Bay became his friends.

 

"It has been more than 2,500 days that I had been dreaming of this moment," al-Hajj said.

 

Al-Hajj was later driven to the Al Jazeera network's compound for a company reception, Chatriwala said.


US imprisonment

 
Al-Hajj was the only known journalist held at the US's Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, where he was never formally charged.
 
He was arrested on the Pakistani border with Afghanistan in December of 2001 while trying to cover the US-led invasion, and was sent to Guantanamo in early 2002.
 
Al-Hajj was welcomed by Khanfar and other
senior Al Jazeera staff [Omar Chatriwala]
After years of international outcry, al-Hajj was released to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, his native country, from Guantanamo Bay on May 2.
 
Al Jazeera and the Organisation of Sudanese Civil Aid held a ceremony at that time for him and two other freed Sudanese nationals entitled "Freedom Wedding".

The ceremony was attended among others by Mustafa Osman Ismail, adviser to Omar Hassan Bashir, the Sudanese president, and Khanfar.
 
Al-Hajj has said that during his long captivity, he was subjected to various kinds of psychological and physical torture.

 

This included US troops tearing and desecrating the Quran.

He said that soldiers forced detainees in the camp to break Islamic fasts and often assaulted them.

 

Interrogation sessions

 

Al-Hajj said he was subjected to 130 interrogation sessions, 95 of them to probe the professional work he did for Al Jazeera.

 

He accused the US administration of pressuring him to "betray" his profession and work as a spy.

During his imprisonment, al-Hajj went on hunger strike for nearly 16 months to protest against his detention without trial and the treatment of the camp's detainees.

 

The US administration denies any torture charges and has said that it doubts al-Hajj's credibility.

 

Guantanamo Bay has been run by the US as a detention centre for "enemy combatants" and those considered a security threat since 2002.

 

Although more than 500 prisoners have been released from the camp, about 250 people still remain at the detention facility.
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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