Guantanamo Bay: Al-Jazeera cameraman force-fed during hunger strike

New York, March 5, 2007—An Al-Jazeera cameraman detained at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval station lost 36 pounds (16.3 Kilograms) while on hunger strike in January, and has since been force-fed, his lawyer confirmed to CPJ.

Sami al-Haj, of the Qatar-based satellite news channel, began his hunger strike on January 7 to protest five years of detention without trial and prison conditions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith told CPJ in an email. Al-Haj has demanded a fair trial in a U.S. civilian court or freedom.

Three weeks into his protest, al-Haj had gone from 204 lbs. to 168 lbs., according to the recently declassified information from a February 1 meeting between al-Haj and lawyer Zachary Katznelson. For the first time, CPJ has confirmed that on January 27, the U.S. military began feeding al-Haj through an IV and on January 29 through a tube inserted through his nose, connecting to his stomach.

“We are concerned about the health of Sami al-Haj and we are alarmed by the fact that after five years in U.S. custody, he has yet to be charged with a crime or given a fair trial,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

In late February, the Associated Press reported that 11 Guantanamo inmates were on hunger strike as of February 22, but that it was unknown whether al-Haj was among them. Details of Stafford Smith’s February 25 to March 4 Guantanamo Bay visit are still classified and he did not say whether al-Haj was currently on hunger strike.

Last week a Pentagon spokesman told CPJ he had no information about al-Haj and whether he was on a hunger strike.

Al-Haj, the only known journalist imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, was detained by Pakistani authorities at the Pakistan-Afghan border on December 15, 2001, while covering the U.S.-led fight to oust the Taliban. He was transferred to U.S. custody and then transported to Guantanamo Bay in June 2002, where he has remained without charge. U.S. military authorities have accused him of working as a financial courier for armed groups and assisting al-Qaeda and extremist figures. Stafford Smith has called the accusations baseless and contends that U.S. interrogators have focused almost exclusively on obtaining intelligence on Al-Jazeera and its staff. At one point, he said, military officials told al-Haj that he would be released if he agreed to inform U.S. intelligence authorities about the satellite network’s activities. Al-Haj refused, he said.

During al-Haj’s hunger strike, prison authorities gradually took away items such as soap, toothpaste, prayer beads, bed sheets, eyeglasses, a knee brace, and books, according to information provided by Stafford Smith from a February 1 meeting between lawyer Zachary Katznelson and al-Haj.

Al-Haj also noted that his September 2006 Administrative Review Board hearing, a parole-type proceeding, was rejected.

For more background on Sami al-Haj, read CPJ’s special report, “The Enemy?”