Arab TV Station: U.S. Holding an Employee at Guantanamo Bay
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Arab satellite television Al-Jazeera says one of its employees was arrested in Afghanistan and is now being held with Al Qaeda suspects at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo.
Sudanese assistant cameraman Sami al-Haj was detained in December and is in custody at Guantanamo's Camp Delta, the Qatar-based television said in a statement faxed late on Monday to The Associated Press.
Al-Jazeera said it knew in April that al-Haj was detained in a camp operated by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. "Later, we learned through correspondence with Mr. al-Haj's wife that he is now in Guantanamo," said the statement, which the station said was also sent to human rights groups.
Some 600 detainees from 43 nations are being held in Guantanamo for suspected links with Al Qaeda, the terror network the U.S. blames for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. U.S. authorities have yet to press formal charges against the detainees.
Al-Jazeera said it was notified by the Sudanese Foreign Ministry that al-Haj had reported his passport missing in 2000 "thus making it reasonably possible that it (the passport) was subject to misuse by other people." However, the station said it is certain al-Haj is in U.S. custody at Guantanamo.
Al-Jazeera said the U.S. Embassy in Qatar promised in June to contact the State Department in Washington to clarify the situation. The statement said the embassy has not come back with an answer since that time, nor it did respond to two other letters sent in June and September.
The U.S. Embassy in the Qatari capital of Doha refused to comment.
Guantanamo officials declined to confirm if al-Haj was among the 598 detainees at Camp Delta.
"It has been our long-standing policy not to get into that level of detail concerning detainees," said mission spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Hoey.
The Qatar-based station said it had refrained from raising the issue publicly before for fear of jeopardizing al-Haj's case.
"Al-Jazeera has tried very hard to obtain his release through the quiet exchange of letters ... unfortunately, we had not received any positive response from the American side," the statement said.
The statement demanded the immediate release of al-Haj and called on "all those concerned with defending journalists' rights to join us in drawing the attention to Mr. al-Haj's plight and calling for his release without delay."
Al-Jazeera drew American criticism by airing tapes of Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden. It also aired exclusive reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In the final days of the U.S. bombardment that dislodged Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts from Afghanistan, an unoccupied Al-Jazeera office was hit during an air raid. The United States said it targeted the Al Qaeda network and didn't know the television channel had an office at the location.