Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sami Al Hajj Is Freed

In November of 2007 I wrote about the luckless Al-Jazeera cameraman, Sami Al Hajj, who was picked up by the American military while traveling to Afghanistan as a journalist, and illegally detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As of that writing, Sami Al Hajj had been imprisoned for over five years.

On May 1, 2008, the U.S. government finally released this poor man, after being held for six years. In the last years of his imprisonment, Mr. Hajj health had severely deteriorated, his mental abilities suffered, he began to loose his ability to speak English, and he became, according to his lawyer Stafford Smith, "fixated on his death" - due, in part, to him witnessing other detainees die. Finally, in January of 2007, judging his situation hopeless, Mr. Hajj began a hunger strike. Upon his release in Sudan, Mr. Hajj was rushed to a hospital, as his health was dire. He must wait even longer to see his young son who was only a baby when Mr. Hajj was kidnapped by the American military.
The despicable nature of Mr. Hajj's illegal detention is but another indictment of our political class. As the world condemns America, lawmakers do nothing, the media stays relatively silent, and Bush looks smug.
Not only was Sami Al Hajj's 6-year detention by a nation that flatters itself with claims of moral rectitude a flagrant violation of basic human rights principles, there are also reports that Mr. Hajj was physically abused during his stay at America's murky military complex: Mr. Hajj's lawyer has said that both of his clients knee-caps were broken by prison guards, and that Mr. Hajj was denied cancer medication to treat his throat cancer.
In November of last year when I wrote about Mr. Hajj, I put his imprisonment in historical perspective, remembering how the Russians in Afghanistan also illegally imprisoned thousands of suspected insurgents, denying them habeas corpus as the Americans today have done. Today on the release of Mr. Hajj I think it is also apt to put Mr. Hajj's nonexistent, or illegal and secret, trial into some sort of context, so that understanding what went wrong is made easier.
In 1945, the victorious Allied states set up the Nuremberg Trials in Nuremberg, Germany, location of the infamous Nuremberg rallies, to try Axis war criminals and bring them to justice. While the trials were not perfect, they pushed law to a new international arena that was new, and they tried the accused transparently and based on international principles of a fair trail.
Today, America greedily holds thousands of prisoners in obscure prisons away from the prying eyes of the world. Detainees are tried according to arcane principles of justice, which includes not allowing the accused to see the evidence against them, the consideration of evidence obtained under torture, the possibility of shutting down a trial without explanation, and the lack of a freedom guarantee even when the defendant is found not guilt.
Is the reason for this justice disparity between 1945 and 2007 due to the fact that the purported insurgents or terrorists, accused of, at the most, killing 3000 Americans, are more dangerous and destructive than the men of Nazi Germany who lit Europe on fire, murdering millions of people? Is it a vicious brand of racism that informs this decision? Are white Europeans more worthy of a fair trail than dark skinned people who believe in an alien religion?
The plight that Sami Al Hajj faced, and others still face, in America's illegal prison, has left an indelible mark on America's image around the world, as it should. Unfortunately, what I wrote in November about Guantanamo Bay, and Sami Al Hajj, is just as applicable now, six months later, even after Mr. Hajj has been released: "As Americans we are, unfortunately, all culpable for what has happened here. It is completely unacceptable and it needs to stop. The problem is that as long as American citizens - and presidents and presidential candidates - are not bright enough to realize the implications, then we will continue to violate international law, leaving us with no moral superiority and little pity when we get our comeuppance."

Sami Al Hajj eloquently talks about the inhumanity he experienced at Guantanamo

A report by Al-Jazeera on Sami Al Hajj's release:

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