Saturday, October 31, 2009

War Crime Commission Hearing: Statutory Declaration by Sami El-Haj

I, SAMI EL-HAJ (Sudanese Passport No. C 0338271) of full age and a citizen of Sudan do hereby solemnly and sincerely declare as follows:

1. I am 40 years old. I am the head of Public Liberties and Human Rights Desk of Al Jazeera.

2. I live in Doha, Qatar.

3. The purpose of making this declaration is to put on record my unlawful detention in Pakistan, and subsequent torture in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

4. On 15 December 2001 when I was a cameraman for Al Jazeera news network and was with journalists from Al Jazeera wanting to cross the Pakistan border to Afghanistan to cover the news of the fall of the Taliban. When I submitted my passport for an exit visa to leave Pakistan I was stopped. The immigration passed me a letter from the Pakistani intelligence stating ‘stop Sami from Al Jazeera who is coming from Afghanistan to Pakistan’. The immigration officer said this was a mistake because I have crossed the border before as part of the media team and the immigration department at the border knew me.

5. The immigration officer called the intelligence office and said I would be allowed to cross the border unless the intelligence officers come personally to clear the case. He was told that if he did so he would be arrested.

6. An intelligence officer came and found material particulars to be different as follows: the name in my passport did not correspond with the intelligence letter, my date of birth was different and the passport number did not match. I was told there has been a mistake and he will clear it. I also had an extension Pakistan visa that was just issued by Islamabad 9 days earlier.

7. The next day I was called to the intelligence office. They told me there is a mistake and they will clear it. I waited there in a room. I was there for 3 days when the Qatar consulate named Hassan came with a letter saying that he is the acting ambassador and told the intelligence officers that he knows me as a journalist from Al Jazeera. The intelligence said they couldn’t clear me until they get clearance from the head office. The consulate went to the head office. Quetta.

8. After 2 days the consulate called me and said the head office needed papers from Islamabad and he then went to Islamabad. From Islamabad the consulate called and said he will try to get the passport file from Sudan. Unfortunately the Sudan immigration office mistyped my passport number when sending the details over. This resulted in further confusion, as there were 3 different passport numbers.

9. After 23 days the Pakistani authorities wanted to send me back to Sudan. I was taken to Quetta prison. Later I was given a prison clothes and shackled. I was taken with a few other prisoners and we were sent to the airport at 11 pm and we were handed over to the United States military.

10. We were then taken to Bagram prison in shackles and hooded. We were in the plane and bound down with harness. The flight was for possibly for 3 hours and it was cold. When we landed my feet were numb. Two soldiers dragged me and threw me out of the plane onto the ground resulting in my right knee being very badly hurt. I was then kicked in the leg. I was not given any treatment. Till today I walk with limp in my right leg with the assistance of a walking cane as a result of this injury.

11. I was in Bagram for 17 days in total. For the first 13 days was not questioned. Later I was interrogated and told that I was the cameraman when Al Jazeera interviewed Osama bin Laden after 11 September 2001. I said that I did not do so but it was different Al Jazeera crew. I was asked where I on 11 September 2001, I said I was in Syria. I came to Afghanistan on 11 October from Doha with the Al-Jazeera team. There I stayed with the CNN team. I said they could verify this with the CNN team and gave the names of the CNN crew. The interrogator actually admitted that there is mistake and that I am not the person they want and the Pakistani authorities.

12. The American interrogators asked what would I do if I were released. I said I would tell people about the fact how I was tortured, abused, denied medical treatment, no proper winter clothes, very little food that was cold. The interrogator laughed and said if I needed anything now and I said I needed medical care, blanket, to contact my family and go back home.

13. A blanket was then given to me. I was not questioned again and on 23 January 2002 I was taken to Kandahar.

14. In Kandahar I was interrogated again about my background and I was told I was there in Kandahar by mistake. I was told that that they were willing to give some money for me to go back home to Sudan. I said that would be fine.

15. British intelligence also interrogated me and asked me to cooperate and I said I was doing so. On 13 June 2002 I was taken to Guantanamo Bay.

16. After landing in Guantanamo Bay I was immediately taken for interrogation for 4 hours by the military intelligence, CIA and FBI. They asked about my background. They asked why I cooperated with the British intelligence in Kandahar. They again told me that I was there by mistake and they were looking for another person. They told me not to mix with the other prisoners and brought a photocopied picture of my son that was in my possessions when I was detained. I requested for a book in Arabic to read and I was given a book to read. They advised me to be patient and I could be the first person to be released from Guantanamo Bay.

17. After that they questioned me about Al-Jazeera and whom I knew there and such related questions about Al Jazeera. I felt that they were looking for information about my colleagues and Al Jazeera and I stopped answering their questions. At that time they released 4 Afghans. I told them that they did not keep their word about releasing me first. They said I would be the first Arab to be released not the first person.

18. Later they asked me to work with them and they would give me American citizenship and also for my family and give a house and education for my son. They promised to also give money if I gave them information useful to them such as about al-Qaeda. They brought better food and newspaper for me. And asked me to think about their offer.

19. I asked another prisoner from Sudan in a Sudanese dialect who told me that the Americans will kill me if I promised to work with them and did not do so later.

20. I later asked the interrogator that if I agreed to work with them and if I did not do so upon my release what would happen to me. I was told I would be put in prison. I told them I would not work with them.

21. They stated to abuse me further and put me solitary confinement. I would be kicked and punched regularly. I started a hunger strike on 7 January 2007 that lasted for 480 days till the day I was released. During this period they would force-feed me through the nose using a special tube. I would be strapped to a special chair where I would be unable to move. They would then force the feeding tube through my nose into my stomach. I would be given too much liquid food and I would end up throwing up. As a result of the force feeding the diaphragm in my stomach was damaged by the repeated forcing and removal of the feeding tube. The tube would not be cleaned and would be used on the other prisoners who were on hunger strike.

22. I had written a few letters to my family but I never got any replies from them. Later I learned that my plight was being publicised and that Al Jazeera, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International were pressing the United States government for my release.

23. I was released on 1 May 2008 and sent back to Sudan. I broke my hunger strike in the hospital in Sudan.

24. It is a great shame that a country like United States has perpetrated this injustice on me. I was unlawfully detained and my captors admitted their ‘mistake’ very early in my detention and yet I was not released for 6 1/2 years. I was tortured and suffer a permanent disability in my leg.

And I make this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true and by virtue of the provisions of the Statutory Declaration Act 1960.

Subscribed and solemnly declared by the above named SAMI EL-HAJ on __ October 2009 at _____.

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