Cover-ups insult our intelligence
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer
May 7, 2008, 00:19
Sami Al Haj, the Al
Jazeera cameraman thrown into Guantanamo six years ago where he remained until
last week without charge or trial, is finally together with his wife and young
son following an emotional reunion in Khartoum. He's only 39 but his friends
say he looks like a frail old man. Al Haj has always protested his innocence.
He says he was detained to punish Al Jazeera for its independent reporting in Iraq
and Afghanistan and claims he was tortured, humiliated, force fed and made to
endure insults to his religion.
treated with more humanity" than inmates, he told reporters.
In this case, a
picture really is worth 1,000 words. Al Haj, who was whisked off to a hospital
bed upon arrival in Sudan, looks emaciated, exhausted and ill, his
psychological state as yet unknown although it is said he is clinically
According to his
British lawyer and his brother, Al Haj is suffering from intestinal problems,
deterioration in eyesight as well as pain in his back and knees. There is also
a suggestion he has throat cancer.
As an innocent person
who was arbitrarily deprived of his freedom, his health and his family for six
long years at the very least he should expect an apology from the Pentagon if
not hefty compensation.
from the US Department of Defence have gone on the attack complaining about the
former detainee's "constant drumbeat of allegations" and challenging
him to substantiate them with hard evidence.
Moreover, they have
labelled him "a manipulator and a propagandist" with the implication
he is faking his state of health so as to influence public opinion.
One thing is certain.
Al Haj didn't spend those years sunbathing, windsurfing, fishing or bowling
like US military personnel are entitled to do, according to Angela Levin author
of Greetings from Guantanamo Bay . . . and the sickest souvenir shop in
He wasn't teeing off
or watching the latest blockbuster at the cinema. He didn't shop at Wal-Mart or
order spicy drumsticks from KFC.
And he didn't take
home a souvenir T-shirt "decorated with a guard tower and barbed
wire" reading "The Taliban Towers at Guantanamo Bay, the Caribbean's
newest 5-star Resort" either.
Al Haj was initially
kept in a tiny cage, initially open to the elements, and treated with less
respect than the iguanas roaming the facility. When he went on hunger strike to
protest his open-ended incarceration, he had tubes forced through his nostrils
and down into his stomach.
Why on earth would a
person who had endured such horrendous physical and psychological treatment
through absolutely no fault of his own have to fabricate ill health to make a
point? I'm surprised he can still stand up and form coherent sentences.
In her expos�, Levin
quotes Zachary Katznelson, a human rights lawyer and spokesman for Reprieve,
thus: "When I see the conditions the prisoners have to cope with and then
think of the T-shirt slogans, I am appalled. To say I am repulsed in an
understatement. Unbelievable as it may seem the US authorities are proud of the
'souvenirs' (branded mugs, cuddly toys, T-shirts and postcards) and what they
The Israeli military
is equally as hard-hearted and duplicitous. Last week, a woman and four of her
children were eating breakfast at home in Gaza when, according to the BBC, an
Israeli missile smashed through the ceiling killing everyone at the table. Not
our fault, said the Israelis who insist their targets were two Palestinian
militants whose own explosives must have detonated causing the innocents'
Just like the
Americans who levelled Fallujah, massacred 24 civilians in Haditha, shot dead a
wounded unarmed man in a mosque and obliterated entire wedding parties with
impunity, the Israelis are never to blame for anything.
It wasn't their fault
that 1,200 Lebanese civilians -- a third of them children -- died at their
hands in the summer of 2006. It's not their fault that the people of Gaza are
imprisoned, malnourished and lacking essential medicines.
apologised for mowing down Rachel Corrie, a young American woman who stood in
front of an army bulldozer in an attempt to save a Palestinian home from being
demolished. And they've yet to apologise to the parents of Tom Hurndell, a
22-year-old British student shot as he was trying to pull Palestinian children
to safety during a demonstration. We've faced a "wall of deceit and
fabrication over the shooting", say his mother and father.
It's evident that the
US and Israeli militaries consider lies and cover-ups as integral tools in
their arsenal. The only way that Sami Al Haj and his fellow victims -- at least
those lucky enough to still be alive -- can fight back is with the truth.
Al Haj is doing just
that. He may have been beaten but he's not cowed. He's speaking out on behalf
of the 275 detainees who still wake up each day in that hellish place.
We should, at least,
give him the courtesy of listening.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
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