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Al-Jazeera cameraman detained by U.S. military

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    NMU         CUBA         Newsgathering         Oct 1, 2002    

Al-Jazeera cameraman detained by U.S. military

  • An Arab television network journalist in custody since December is now being held at a U.S. naval station in Guantanamo Bay along with suspected terrorists, the network said.

Diplomatic attempts to release a cameraman detained by the U.S. government has yielded little result, said an Arab television network in mid-September.

Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel has procured the assistance of international media organizations such as the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders in seeking the release of Sami Al-Haj, the Sudanese assistant cameraman who was arrested in December 2001 at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

“The way that the American authorities have treated Mr. Al-Haj is not compatible with international norms and what is expected when dealing with members of media organizations who were simply doing their job in foreign lands,” wrote the Qatar-based network in a Sept. 17 statement.

The network learned in April that Al-Haj was at a U.S.-operated detention camp in Afghanistan and later found that he was transferred to Camp X-Ray, where nearly 600 terrorist suspects are held at a U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the network said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York contacted another Al-Jazeera reporter who was with Al-Haj when he was apprehended by Pakistani police because of problems involving his passport, said CPJ Middle East Program Coordinator Joel Campagna.

Al-Haj reported his passport missing in 2000, Al-Jazeera said, which may have been fraudulently used by others. All the organizations agree that this may be a case of mistaken identity.

Al-Jazeera claimed to have made three contacts with the American embassy in Doha, Qatar since June and had yet to receive concrete information regarding their employee, including any specific offense.

“We don’t think this could happen to any other news organization,” the Reporters Without Borders’ Americas Desk said in a recent email, noting that Al-Jazeera has been subject to criticism by the U.S. administration.

None of the Guantanamo Bay detainees have been formally charged, but the reporters organization said that Sudanese authorities were promised information from U.S. officials in late September regarding Al-Haj and another Sudanese citizen at Camp X-Ray.

The organization further noted that Al-Haj’s detainment has been “accepted cautiously” on the international circuit as there is still some concern that he is suspected of terrorism. Al-Jazeera, however, upholds that he is “bone fide member of our crew in Afghanistan” and has been employed with the network since Oct. 7, 2001.

Campagna said CPJ will not make definitive conclusions on the matter until there is a response to the Sept. 27 letter from CPJ’s executive director to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, asking for the confirmation and clarification of Al-Haj’s case. However, Campagna said that “the allegation is extremely serious.”

“It is quite irregular for the U.S. authorities to refuse to tell the journalist’s family and friends what the charges are against him,” wrote Reporters Without Borders General Secretary Robert Menard in a Sept. 20 letter to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. “We think this continued silence is especially unfortunate because it could be seen as an intention to harass Al-Jazeera, which has already been the target of U.S. State Department pressure.”

The network received criticism for alleged biased reporting and for airing tapes of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to media reports.


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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