Thursday, May 1, 2008

Constitutional riots

Like so many things about Bush administration foreign policy, today's release of an al-Jazeera cameraman held without charge for six years at the U.S. Navy prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, raises a lot of very troubling questions. Of course, it's a great day for Sami al-Hajj of Sudan and his family. "I've been dreaming of this moment for the past seven years," al-Hajj told the Arabic news service, according to the Reuters international news service. Al-Hajj was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 by Pakistani intelligence officers and turned over to the United States, which accused him of being an enemy combatant and sent him to Guantanamo Bay, even though he had a work visa and al-Jazeera said he was on assignment. The United States has labeled captives being held at Guantanamo Bay as "enemy combatant" to deny them many rights under the U.S. Constitution, including access to the U.S. court system. The fact that al-Hajj was acting a journalist when he was captured raised even more questions. Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organization that had campaigned for al-Hajj's release, said the cameraman was suspected of smuggling guns for al-Qaida and running an Islamic Web site, even though he was never charged and no evidence was ever produced. "U.S. authorities never proved that he had been involved in any kind of criminal activity," the group said, according to Reuters. An attorney who visited al-Hajj three weeks ago said al-Hajj had been on a hunger strike for more than a year and was being force-fed. "We are delighted that Sami al-Hajj can finally be reunited with his family and friends," said Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "But his detention for six years, without the most basic due process, is a grave injustice and represents a threat to all journalists working in conflict areas."

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