A leaked US defence department cable released yesterday by WikiLeaks reveals that part of the US government’s motive for holding Sudanese cameraman Sami Al-Haj for six years at its Guantanamo Bay prison camp was the information he could provide about his employer, the Qatar-based satellite TV station Al-Jazeera.
Arrested by Pakistani security forces on the Afghan-Pakistani border in December 2001, Al-Haj was handed over to the US military a month later and was transferred to Guantanamo Bay on 13 June 2002 for alleged membership of Al-Qaeda and arms trafficking on behalf of terrorist groups.
While the leaked US defence department cable, dated 4 April 2008, identifies Al-Haj as “high risk, likely to pose a threat to the US,” it also identifies him as “high intelligence value” and reveals that part of the US military’s reasons for wanting to continue holding him was to obtain more information about an Al-Jazeera interview with Osama Bin Laden and about Al-Jazeera’s “training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations.”
Al-Haj staged several hunger strikes while held at Guantanamo and both his physical and mental health deteriorated considerably. The cable nonetheless insisted that he was in “overall good health.”
Reporters Without Borders called repeatedly for his release, which finally took place on 1 May 2008, and for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.