CPJ sends letter to Pentagon about detained journalist

The Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
The Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to express concern about the reported detention without charge of Sami Muhieddine Muhammad al-Haj, a 33-year-old assistant cameraman for the Qatar-based satellite television network Al-Jazeera.

According to information provided to CPJ by Al-Jazeera, al-Haj, a Sudanese national, is among the several hundred detainees in U.S. custody at Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Bay naval base, Cuba.

Al-Jazeera learned of al-Haj’s detention–first at a U.S. detention camp in Afghanistan and later at Camp X-ray–from letters he sent to the station and to his wife in care of Al-Jazeera that were received beginning in April 2002. His letters identify him as detainee #JJJSDE.

According to Al-Jazeera, al-Haj was detained by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001, after he and an Al-Jazeera reporter attempted to re-enter southern Afghanistan at the Chaman border crossing in Pakistan, station officials said.

The reporter who was with al-Haj at the border told CPJ that the cameraman was stopped there by order of Pakistani intelligence. According to the reporter, a Pakistani intelligence official said that there was a problem with al-Haj’s passport.

While CPJ is continuing to investigate the circumstances of al-Haj’s detention, we fear that he may be wrongly detained. Citing the letters it received from al-Haj, Al-Jazeera has expressed concern that his detention may be the result of mistaken identity. In a press release issued last week, Al-Jazeera said that after contacting the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it learned that al-Haj “had reported his passport missing in 2000, there [sic] making it reasonably possible that it was the subject of misuse by persons other than Mr. Al-Haj himself.”

The network has said that American government officials have failed to respond to written requests to the U.S. embassy in Doha for details about al-Haj’s detention.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ is extremely concerned about al-Haj. We urgently request that you clarify the details of his detention and, if in fact U.S. forces have detained him, make public the basis upon which he is being held.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your prompt reply.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director