Interview With Al Jazeera Journalist

From Jan:

“An interview you won’t see on CNN and probably on none of the mainstream US media for that matter. The Swiss-Italian journalist Silvia Cattori interviewing El Jazeera journalist Sami El Haj, who was recently released from Guantanamo after 6 and a half years without any charges.”

* HELD HOSTAGE BY BUSH FOR SIX AND A HALF YEARS IN GUANTANAMO *
Sami El Haj, Al Jazeera journalist, tells his story * *

Standing straight and tall, an impressive and deeply introspective
man, Sami El Haj walks with a limp and the help of a walking
stick. Neither laughter nor smiles light up the refined face of
this man, old before his time. A deep sadness pervades him. He was
32 years old when, in December 2001, his life, like that of tens
of thousands of other Muslims, became a horrific nightmare.

30 July 2008 |

**/ Sami El Haj /**/ /

He endured horrendous suffering. Weakened by a hunger strike which
lasted 438 days, set free on the 1st May 2008, he greets you
attentively and with a gentle manner. He calmly tells you of a
world whose paralyzing, suffocating horror is beyond your
comprehension.

He is the first of the released detainees from the camps built by
the Bush administration at the Guantánamo Bay naval base to be
authorised to travel.

“/I came to Geneva, the city of the United Nations and freedom, [
1 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb1#nb1
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb1%23nb1>

>] to ask

for the law to be respected, to demand the closure of the
Guantánamo camp and secret prisons, and to demand that this
illegal situation be brought to an end/”, he says calmly. The word
has been uttered. Everything is “illegal”; everything is false,
manipulated, absurd and Kafka-esque in this war waged essentially
against those of the Muslim faith.

We now know many things; most notably that many of the terrorist
attacks since 1996 which have been attributed to Muslims were
financed and manipulated by secret agents of MI6, the CIA and
Mossad. It was brave witnesses like the former German minister,
Andreas Von Bülow [ 2
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb2#nb2

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb2%23nb2>>] in

– Show quoted text –
particular, who discovered and denounced this kind of criminal
activity, practiced by the superpowers. Apart from the new media,
which journalist has ever spoken of the revelations made by this
great man, Andreas Von Bülow?

In Guantánamo, spurred on by his passion for justice and his
conviction that every journalist’s mission is to bear witness to
what he sees, Sami El Haj had the psychological strength to carry
on, resisting the worse abuses and putting his own suffering to
one side. His experiences were extremely painful but he was able,
even in the worst moments, to cling to the hope that he would get
out alive. And knowing that he had to observe everything in order
to be able to tell the world helped him to bear the unbearable.

Moreover, it was through viewing this horrific place which could
have been his tomb, created by President Bush, with the objective
eye of the journalist that Sami El Haj was able to survive and
remain sane. Others, who were not as lucky as he was, died or
became insane, and so were unable to recount their experience.

With neither pencil nor paper, Sami El Haj forced himself to
memorise everything in order, even in a cage, to carry on his work
as “an Al Jazeera journalist covering a story”, as he put it.

Today he is driven by the idea of bringing to the world’s
attention these tens of thousands of prisoners who are still
suffering inhuman treatment in the prisons of Guantánamo, Bagram
and Kandahar . He replies tirelessly and with good humour to all
the journalists who interview him, hoping that his words will
allow those who no longer have a voice to be heard.

His account is crucial. Like the other detainees, also wrongly
labelled as “terrorists”, Sami El Haj was never tried and was
never informed of the charges against him. Which demonstrates that
President Bush, and the journalists who supported his theories,
must have invented the “Islamic terrorists”. Human beings like
Sami El Haj could never have been arrested or remained hostages of
this barbarism, for the simple reason that they are Muslims,
without the complicity of European governments and those
Islamophobic propagandists under the orders of Tel Aviv and
Washington who, for decades, have been misinforming public opinion
and influencing the powers that be with their lies.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /How do you feel, just a few short weeks
after your liberation?/

** Sami El Haj ** : I feel fine, thank you. When I see people
committing themselves to saving human beings and fighting to
defend their rights, it gives me great comfort. Of course, when I
left Guantánamo, two months ago, I was in a very bad way. But now
I feel better, discovering that people outside are fighting and
not losing sight of the main goal – achieving peace and freedom
for everyone.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /After those painful years spent in the
camps, what are your strongest feelings and greatest hopes?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Of course, I am happy to be free again. I have
been reunited with my family, my wife and my son. For six and a
half years he did not see me, and had to go to school without me.
He waited for me and said,” Dad, I have missed you for so long! I
was so unhappy, especially when I saw my school friends, with
their fathers, and they asked me where my father was. I had no
answer to give them. That’s why I asked my mum to take me to
school in the car, because I didn’t want them to keep asking me
that question”.

I said to my son, “Now, I could take you to school, but you must
understand that I have a message to give, a just cause to defend.
I want to fight for the cause of human rights, for those who have
been deprived of their freedom. I do not want to fight alone.
There are thousands of people who are standing up and fighting
wherever human dignity is attacked. Do not forget that we are
fighting for peace, to defend rights whenever they are denied, for
a better future for you. Perhaps one day we will achieve this, and
then I will be able to stay with you and take you to school”.

I do not know if he understood, because he is still very young,
but he smiled at me. My wife did not want me to leave again
either. But when I reminded her of the horrific situation those
imprisoned in Guantánamo find themselves, and that they also have
a family, sons, daughters, a wife whom they miss terribly, and
that if I do not fight these people will remain imprisoned even
longer, she understood that I must carry on travelling, adding my
voice to all the other voices, so that the detainees can return
home as soon as possible. She gave me her full support. On the way
to the airport she said to me, “I will pray for you”.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /So, by going to Afghanistan to film the
massacres of civilians, victims of President Bush’s war, you
yourself became one of his victims? Are you not afraid of what
could happen to you again?/

** Sami El Haj ** : For me, there is no question – I will continue
my work as a journalist. I must continue carrying a message of
peace, no matter what. For my part, I have spent six years and six
months in prison, far from my family, but for others it was so
much worse. I lost a very dear friend, a journalist with Al
Jazeera: he died in Baghdad , killed when the hotel where he was
staying was bombed. I also lost a colleague who was working with
me at Al Jazeera, whom I consider a sister: she too died in Baghdad .

Many people have lost their lives because of this war. You must
know that the Bush administration wanted to prevent coverage by
the free media, like Al Jazeera, in the Middle East . The Al
Jazeera offices in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed.

In 2001, when I left my son and my wife to film the war initiated
by the USA against Afghanistan , I had to expect finding death
during a bombing raid. I went there fully aware of the risks.
Every journalist knows that he is carrying out a mission and must
be ready to sacrifice himself in order to bear witness to what is
happening, through his films and writing. And to help people
understand that war brings nothing but the death of the innocent,
destruction and suffering. It is on the basis of this conviction
that my colleagues and I went to countries at war.

Now, after all these years in captivity, I can once again do
something to help bring about peace. I am going to commit myself
to this goal, until it is achieved. I am sure that one day, even
if I do not personally reap the fruits, we will succeed in
achieving peace and the respect of human rights, as well as the
protection of journalists throughout the world. I am sure that we
will see the day when journalists are no longer tortured or
injured doing their job, defending people’s rights to information
and highlighting human rights abuses.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /You said at the beginning that you are
feeling fine. But after such a terrible experience, and given that
you were released with no apology whatsoever from your torturers,
how are you able to talk about all this without resentment or
bitterness?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Of course, what happened to me was very hard
and my personal situation is difficult. But when I think of those
who are still in Guantánamo, and their families that they miss
very much and who have no news at all of them, I tell myself that
my situation, as difficult as it is, is better than theirs.

I cannot forget that in Guantánamo I have left behind brothers who
have been crushed, who have gone mad. I am thinking in particular
of a Yemeni doctor who now lives naked in his cell because he has
lost his mind.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /What kind of torture did they subject you to?/

** Sami El Haj ** : All kinds of physical and psychological
torture. As all the detainees were Muslim, the camp administration
subjected them to many forms of harassment and humiliation linked
to religion. With my own eyes I saw soldiers tearing up the Qur’an
and throwing it in the toilet. I saw them, during interrogation
sessions, sitting on the Qur’an until their questions were
answered. They insulted our families and our religion. They made
fun of us by pretending to ring our God, asking him to come and
save us. The only Imam at the camp was accused of complicity with
the detainees and was sent away, in 2005, for refusing to tell
visitors that the camp respected religious freedom.

They beat us up. They taunted us with racist insults. They locked
us in cold rooms, below zero, with one cold meal a day. They hung
us up by our hands. They deprived us of sleep, and when we started
to fall asleep, they beat us on the head. They showed us films of
the most horrendous torture sessions. They showed us photographs
of torture victims – dead, swollen, covered in blood. They kept us
under constant threat of being moved elsewhere to be tortured even
more. They doused us with cold water. They forced us to do the
military salute to the American national anthem. They forced us to
wear women’s clothes. They forced us to look at pornographic
images. They threatened us with rape. They would strip us naked
and make us walk like donkeys, ordering us around. They made us
sit down and stand up five hundred times in a row. They humiliated
the detainees by wrapping them up in the Israeli and American
flags, which was their way of telling us that we were imprisoned
because of a religious war.

When a detainee, filthy and riddled with fleas, is taken out of
his cell to be submitted to more torture sessions in an attempt to
make him collaborate, he ends up not knowing what he is saying or
even who he is any more.

I was interrogated and tortured more than two hundred times. 95%
of the questions were about Al Jazeera. They wanted me to work as
a spy within Al Jazeera. In exchange, they offered American
citizenship for myself and my family, and payment based on
results. I refused. I told them repeatedly that my job is a
journalist, not a spy, and that it was my duty to make the truth
known and to work for the respect of human rights.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Today, can you find it within yourself to
pardon your torturers?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Of course I will pardon them if they close
Guantánamo. But if they continue to cause suffering, I will go to
the courts and take action against them.

Although I know that the Bush administration has done so much
harm, I still think that it’s not too late for these people to
make up for their mistakes.

A distinction must be made between the administration and the
people. The Guantánamo detainees know that they have friends in
America , like the lawyer who came to Guantánamo and fought for my
case.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Am I right in thinking that they were not
able to break you?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Because I am not alone, and there are people
supporting me, this feeling gives me strength. In prison, I drew
my strength from the belief that no free man can accept being in
this position of inferiority and dehumanization. You feel pain and
sorrow but you are determined to keep alive the hope that there
will be an end to it; and the idea that even in prison, it is
possible to carry on your work as journalist, makes suffering
easier to bear.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /When you were in Guantánamo, did you know
that outside there where people who were fighting for you to be
released?/

** Sami El Haj ** : In fact I didn’t know about them, because in
prison it is very difficult to receive news, even if you have a
lawyer, because he is not allowed to tell you anything. Now I do
know those who work for human rights, and those who do not agree
with the Bush administration. I think that every day their voice
becomes stronger.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Your brother, when he saw you again, said
that you looked like an old man. Is that how you feel?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Personally, it is my heart that counts, and
not my face or my body. I feel that my heart is as young as ever,
and stronger than before.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /So it was a very painful experience, but
in fact you have emerged from it with unforeseen benefits?/

** Sami El Haj ** : That’s right. I have been able to reap some
benefits from my time spent in Guantánamo. Before going there, I
only had a small family. Now I have a large family as I have
gained hundreds of friends from around the world. This is very
positive: I may have lost six and a half years but now, I have
more friends.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Are you still considered an “enemy
combatant” [ 3
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb3#nb3

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb3%23nb3>>]?/

– Show quoted text –

** Sami El Haj ** : I don’t know, but when they released me, they
said: “Now you are no longer a danger to America “.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /And your name is not on the “terrorist
list” any more?/

** Sami El Haj ** : I don’t know. I think that for them, all the
people they labeled as “terrorists” will remain so. And that now
they are afraid of us because they made us suffer for no reason.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Do you think CIA agents will still spy on
you?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Yes. The truth is that I have nothing against
the country and its people. If the Bush administration makes
amends for its errors, I will have nothing to complain about.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Were you surprised when, as you were
leaving, an officer from the Pentagon who saw you with a walking
stick accused you of being manipulative?/

** Sami El Haj ** : The Pentagon officials claim that the
Guantánamo detainees were criminals, but in fact five hundred of
them have now returned home. How could they have been allowed to
leave if they really were criminals? They are still lying.

** Silvia Cattori ** : Two other Sudanese men were released at the
same time as you – Amir Yacoub Mohamed al Amin and Walid Mohamed.
How are they now?

** Sami El Haj ** : The Sudanese government has treated them very
well. They greeted all three of us personally at the airport.
Despite the fact that the Americans had taken my passport, I was
given a new one within two hours, and they did not prevent me from
travelling outside Sudan .

** Silvia Cattori ** : /In Guantánamo, did the soldiers call you
by your name or by your detainee number, “number 345”?/

** Sami El Haj ** : They never called me by my name, just “three,
four, five”, my prison number. Towards the end they called me “Al
Jazeera”. Only the Red Cross officials called me by my name.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Did these officials visit you often?/

** Sami El Haj ** : When they were authorized to visit us, every
two or three months. I talked to them and they brought me letters
from my family.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /The Bush administration and the officers
who had the job of torturing you knew that you were a good man, a
journalist merely trying to expose the brutality with which they
were treating the Afghan people, not a “terrorist”. Do you know
why they treated you so badly?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Most of the soldiers there were following
orders from their superiors. They carried out torture with no
conscience. But to be true to what happened I must say that some
of them were good men. Some soldiers did use their brains.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /The CIA agents wrote a report on the
torture in Guantánamo. When they were torturing you, did you feel
that they were observing you, carrying out experiments on you?/

** Sami El Haj ** : We were under the constant supervision of
military psychologists. They were not there to treat us, but to
take part in the interrogations, observing the tortured prisoners
so that no detail of their behaviour would escape them. The
interrogations were the responsibility of Colonel Morgan, a
specialist psychiatric doctor. This colonel was stationed in
Guantánamo from March 2002. He had served at the Afghan prison in
Bagram from November 2001. He gave instructions to the officers
who were torturing us, studied our reactions, then noted every
detail in order to be able to adapt the torture techniques to each
detainee, which had profound psychological consequences.

I spoke to them. I told them that the mission of a doctor is an
honourable one, to help people, not torture them. They replied,
“We are military personnel and we must follow the rules. When an
officer gives me an order, it is my duty to carry it out;
otherwise I will be imprisoned just like you. When I signed a
contract with the army, I realised at the time that I must obey
all orders”.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Amongst the torture techniques used at
Guantánamo, I see similarities with those used in Israel on
Palestinian political prisoners. Sleep deprivation, for example,
is their speciality./

** Sami El Haj ** : I think that most of the world’s intelligence
services came to Guantánamo. I saw British and Canadians. They
came to find out about the interrogation techniques, and also to
supply the CIA and FBI with advice on how to torture and
interrogate from what they had learned.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Are you able to sleep easily?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Not like before Guantánamo. I only sleep 3 to
4 hours now. Today, when I met people from the Red Cross, I asked
them to help me to overcome my problems and recommend a doctor who
could help me. Seven years is not a short period of time.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Wasn’t going on hunger stick a kind of
self-inflicted torture? Why did you do it for such long periods,
while your jailers took advantage of it to inflict even more
suffering and humiliation on you?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Because we felt we couldn’t stay silent – we
had to do something. That is the only way we had of making our
voices heard. Going on hunger strike is of course a very painful
way of taking action and is difficult to endure. But when your
freedom is taken away you have to fight to restore it. It was our
last resort for telling the Bush administration that a detainee
has dignity that he cannot live on bread alone and that freedom is
more important.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /What was it like when they force-fed you?/

** Sami El Haj ** : When there were more than forty detainees on
hunger strike, the administration of the camp tried to break our
resistance by subjecting us to more torture. We were locked in
cold rooms, stripped naked, and prevented from sleeping for long
periods. Twice a day the soldiers tied us to a special chair. They
put a mask over our faces and inserted a large tube into our
noses, not into the stomach. The normal ration was two cans but
they punished us by injecting twenty four cans and six bottles of
water. Having shrunk through long hunger strikes, the stomach
cannot hold such quantities. They added products which induce
diarrhoea. The detainee, now sitting on that chair for more than
three hours, would vomit continuously. They left us in the vomit
and excrement. When the session was over they would rip the tube
out violently, and when they saw the blood flowing they laughed at
us. As they use infected tubes which are never cleaned, the
detainees suffer from untreated illnesses.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Is it thanks to that long hunger strike
that you were released?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Not only because of that, but it was one of
the factors that led the administration to release me.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /What should one make of Khaled Sheik
Mohamed’s confessions [ 4
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb4#nb4

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb4%23nb4>>], where

– Show quoted text –
he admits to organising more than thirty terrorist attacks in
seventeen countries?/

** Sami El Haj ** : It is possible that they tortured him to the
point where he was no longer himself. I never met him because they
put him in a special camp. An officer told me that he was very
badly injured. I’m sure you can imagine – they subjected him to
horrific torture.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /When America says that he is the “number 3
Al Qaida terrorist”, does that bear any resemblance to the truth?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Quite honestly I believe nothing that comes
from the Bush administration. Because I was also accused of being
a “terrorist”. And I know better than anyone what the truth is.
Those people lie too much. I never believe a single word coming
from that government. I know a prisoner who was tortured so much
that in the end he said, “I am Osama Bin Laden”. He said what they
wanted to hear so that the torture would end.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /So, is Al Qaida a creation of the western
intelligence agencies?/

** Sami El Haj ** : As far as I’m concerned, I have never in my
life met anyone who has said to me, “I belong to Al Qaida”.

In Guantánamo, I met most of the detainees because the policy of
the guards was not to allow the prisoners to live together for a
long time in the same cell. They transferred us every week. So we
got to know other people. The men I met there are all peaceful people.

Since I left, I have spoken to over a hundred of them. Those who
were married have picked up their lives again and the others have
got married.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Do those who draw strength from prayer
have a better chance of escaping madness?/

** Sami El Haj ** : Of course! If you feel that someone is there
with you, especially God, you will be patient and always aware
that God is more powerful than human beings. I must pray to God
and thank him. I must also thank all those who supported me. I
think that even if I spent my whole life saying thank you, I would
not manage to thank them all. Now, through my work concentrating
on human rights, perhaps I will be able to contribute to making
other people’s lives happier.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /I feel that the media and the NGO’s in
this country have not given the importance that was due to
defending the rights of these Muslim prisoners [ 5
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb5#nb5

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb5%23nb5>>]. For a

long time denouncing the abuses committed against them was seen as
a sign of sympathy for the “terrorists”. Did you know that the
leaders of “Reporters without borders”, for example, whose mission
is to protect journalists, were criticised for waiting five years
before talking about your case [ 6
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb6#nb6

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb6%23nb6>>]?/

– Show quoted text –

** Sami El Haj ** : Unfortunately people believed whatever the
Bush government told them Now they know this wasn’t true, they
will put the record straight. As I have already said, if someone
makes a mistake, it’s not a problem: the problem lies in pursuing
the mistake.

If journalists do not feel concerned when other journalists are
imprisoned carrying out their job, perhaps one day those very
journalists will find themselves in prison and there will be
nobody to defend them. We must work together, taking up each and
every case. So if we find out that a journalist has been
imprisoned it is our duty to support them, no matter what their
colour or religion.

As a journalist, I want to commit myself to supporting journalists
who work to defend rights and freedom. There is an enormous amount
of work to do. We must stop at nothing to ensure the liberation of
those who are locked away in Guantánamo and the countless secret
prisons where the Bush government is depriving tens of thousands
of others of their rights.

That experience in Guantánamo affected us profoundly. What I want
to focus on is the need for and the importance of the defence of
human rights. After all the damage that has been done, everyone
now feels more concerned, I think. It is not acceptable to abandon
these people who are suffering. We have an urgent responsibility
to show solidarity with them.

Al Jazeera hopes to work with the free media to gather information
relating to human rights and freedoms. I ask all journalists to
cooperate with us in this. There were more than fifty
nationalities in Guantánamo – it is a worldwide issue, and not
just about individual detainees.

It is shameful that in our society, innocent people who have been
sold find themselves locked in cages, and that this violation of
basic rights should be the doing of a country which claims to be
the guarantor of rights and freedoms.

I feel no hatred. We respect the citizens of the USA . It is their
present government which should take responsibility for the
consequences of these actions.

Human rights and security are inseparable – there can be no
security without the respect of fundamental rights.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /You are right to call on decent people and
journalists not to accept the violation of international laws and
the cruel and degrading treatment of human beings. But this policy
could not have lasted if it had not had the tacit support of the
superpower governments – it was with their consent that those
labelled “enemy combatants” were tortured [ 7
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb7#nb7

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb7%23nb7>>]. The

– Show quoted text –
“Patriot Act”, for example, passed after the 11th September in the
US , was supported by all the European countries. It was within
the framework of these secret agreements that CIA and FBI agents
were able to kidnap and torture thousands of innocent men like you
in Europe ./

** Sami El Haj ** : I want to say this to you: I do not believe in
the actions of governments. Because any government, in any
country, prefers to govern without confronting the people’s real
problems. It may, at times, speak out in support of a certain
cause, but in reality it does not support it. It is only for
opportunistic political reasons that governments speak out. And
they may even, through political expediency; claim to support
something in which they do not believe. Forget governments,
because they have their own agenda. Yes, we must keep working hard
to defend the rights and freedoms of everyone.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Is it fair to conclude that the
“terrorists” as presented to us by the Bush administration and the
media do not exist?/

** Sami El Haj ** : I can assure you that the Guantánamo detainees
that I met are not “terrorists”. I had the opportunity to talk to
them and get to know them – they are pacifists.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /So you were arrested then, because it had
to be proven to the other European countries that the Muslim
“terrorists” really existed?/

** Sami El Haj ** : We were arrested after the attacks of the 11th
September, for which no one has yet been able to find those
responsible. President Bush did not want to say: “I have made
mistakes; I was not able to maintain national security”. He said:
“We are going to start a war against terror”. The outcome is that
he has brought security to no one.

He bombed Afghanistan , sent soldiers to wage war against whole
nations, but did not arrest the people that he set out to arrest.
He paid the Pakistanis in return for starting to arrest people and
hand them over to his administration.

89% of the prisoners in Guantánamo were bought, for hard currency,
from the Pakistani authorities. Where did they find them? They
found them in Pakistan , not Afghanistan .

** Silvia Cattori ** : /These prisoners were then tortured with
the promise that it would end if they accepted becoming spies for
the CIA!? What a terrifying system!/

** Sami El Haj ** : Yes. Let’s wait for President Bush to leave
power. When he has left his seat, I am sure that many people will
have something to say about his wrongdoing.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Your testimony is very important. Your
youth has been destroyed. And yet you have the magnanimity to
transform this disaster into something constructive. You refuse to
see yourself as a victim. You are truly amazing! So many prisoners
must be hoping for help from people like you./

** Sami El Haj ** : We must work hard, so that all those who
continue to support the Bush administration feel ashamed of their
actions. At that point, no one will help them. And when no one
helps them, they will stop.

The whole Guantánamo episode is a huge black stain. The Bush
administration tried to deceive the public by saying we were
terrorists. But the great majority of those men, who were
imprisoned, are innocent, like me.

** Silvia Cattori ** : /Thank you for giving us this interview./

***

It is clear for all to see: these alleged “terrorists” that our
countries are pursuing are in fact victims.

Sami El Haj is striking by his wisdom, maturity and insight. He
reminds you of Christ on the cross, as his ordeal is not yet over:
the wounds are too deep.

His sensitivity contrasts sharply with the description of the
alleged “terrorists” that the authorities and traditional media
have given us over all these years.

There are no demands, no complaints. His account is restrained and
straightforward. He emphasises the action to be taken to ensure
the release of those who are still held captive without further
delay. He states repeatedly that he cannot rest until all the
Guantánamo detainees have been released.

There is now an urgent need, and a moral obligation to act, to
explain honestly what actually happened, and to urge our countries
to adopt a policy which ensures that the Arab and Muslim world are
not faced only with war and racism.

If the Swiss media have, on the whole, accurately reported Sami El
Haj’s arrival in Geneva , it is nevertheless true that local
television (TSR) minimised the event and chose not to invite him
into the studio. It is significant – and this may explain the
latter – that the producers at TSR have given extensive airtime,
over the last seven years, to “good Arabs”, like Antoine Basbous
or Antoine Sfeir, who continue to repeat what our producers say or
want to hear, thereby supporting the warmongering theories which
they apparently favour.

The kidnappings and torture centres like Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib,
Bagram and Kandahar are not, as we are still too often led to
believe, simply a “blunder” [ 8
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb8#nb8

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb8%23nb8>>], but

– Show quoted text –
well and truly the expression of a criminal policy which serves
the hidden interests of two states in particular – the US and
Israel. One could ask the question whether the latter is not in
fact the sole beneficiary of these wars, which have not only
devastated whole nations but also ruined the finances and the
image of the US throughout the world.

This “war against terror”, which we hear about constantly, is a
criminal war: a war manipulated by the superpowers and their
intelligence services.

More and more people are now aware that the UN sanctions, the
“terrorist lists” that Europe has also drawn up, and the smear
campaign against Muslims are instruments to manipulate public
opinion, designed to maintain an artificial climate of conflict.

The terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001 were immediately used
as a pretext by Tel Aviv and Washington to direct international
policy towards military objectives which had been planned for a
long time. In particular, they were the pretext for wiping out any
form of resistance to their criminal policies, starting with
Palestinian and Muslim resistance.

After the break up of the Soviet empire, the Islamic world was
labelled the new “axis of evil”. From the early 90’s, the US and
Israel have worked to arouse fear of and intolerance towards
Muslims, to influence secret services of different countries, to
infiltrate and finance them, to encourage the underdogs to carry
out terrorist attacks, in order to then point the finger at them
and justify coercive measures, kidnappings, torture and arbitrary
detention.

Since 2001, while the main media obligingly gave coverage of
“anti-Semitic” campaigns, for the most part imaginary, tens of
thousands of Muslims were being kidnapped, hooded, imprisoned and
crushed by torturers whose aim was to force them to accept working
as spies for the state intelligence services. All of this was
based on the methods used by the Shin Beth [ 9
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb9#nb9

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb9%23nb9>>], who

have so successfully crushed around 700 000 arbitrarily detained
Palestinians over the last forty years.

Is this the kind of society we want?

The most appalling and discouraging aspect of this sad story is
the fact that European governments have used the so-called
“Islamic threat” to rid themselves of a number of constitutional
safeguards, and in their turn bring into force Bush’s illegal
measures, thus allowing the CIA to kidnap Muslims on their
territory, in the full knowledge that they would be rendered to
illegal torture centres for indefinite periods.

There must also be a question mark over the prominence still given
by editors to the alleged “terrorism specialists” who have
maintained the fantasy of the “Islamic peril”. Specialists who
recycle US propaganda, associating Islam and “terrorism”, knowing
all the while that the strategy of Washington and Tel Aviv is to
link Muslims and “terrorists” with no proof whatsoever [ 10
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb10#nb10

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nb10%23nb10>>].

We all remember the biased campaigns designed to vilify and
destroy the careers of the two brothers, Hani and Tariq Ramadan,
in France and Switzerland in particular. Other countries were also
guilty of similar attacks.

If we do not want a perverted society, based on lies, which
authorises kidnappings, torture centres, targeted assassinations,
and infiltration strategies designed to turn people into
informers, it is time to act.

Seeing Sami El Haj, this man who has come back from hell like a
ghost, calling, without hatred or desire for revenge, for
journalists to work for the triumph of human rights and to erase
this “black stain on memory”, is a huge lesson.

Our “western civilisation”, our much vaunted “democracies” in
whose name so many wars have been waged and so many crimes
committed, and our “free” media must from now on face all these
returning ghosts who are calling on us to wake up.

* Silvia Cattori *

Translation from French for /Cageprisoners/ by Sue Bingham:
http://www.cageprisoners.com/articles.php?id=25632

Original in French: http://www.silviacattori.net/article469.html

[ 1 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh1#nh1

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh1%23nh1>>] Sami El

Haj was invited to Geneva by the “/Alkarama for Human Rights/”
Foundation. See “Sami El Haj achève une intense visite à Genève”
(“Sami El Hajj successfully ends his visit to Geneva
<http://en.alkarama.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=115&Itemid=1
<http://en.alkarama.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=115&Itemid=1>>”),
/Alkarama for Human Rights/, 1 July 2008.

[ 2 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh2#nh2

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh2%23nh2>>] See

“Andreas von Bülow: “Our priority should be the fight against
manipulation” <http://www.voltairenet.org/article133896.html> “,
/Red Voltaire/, 15 January 2006.

[ 3 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh3#nh3

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh3%23nh3>>]

According to Dick Marty, rapporteur of the Commission for Legal
Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe charged with
investigating the existence of secret CIA prisons in Europe, a
“/secret agreement, drawn up in October 2001 between the US and
their NATO allies, set up the framework which allowed the CIA to
incarcerate high profile detainees in Europe. It is this agreement
which authorises grave violations of rights, including torture/”.

[ 4 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh4#nh4

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh4%23nh4>>] Khalid

Cheikh Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in 2003. Accused of being
number 3 in Al Qaida, he was detained in various secret sites
before being placed in isolation and brutally tortured from 2006
in Guantánamo. His farcical trial before a military tribunal,
along with 14 other Al Qaida members, took place in June 2008.

[ 5 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh5#nh5

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh5%23nh5>>] The

“/Arab Commission for Human Rights/ ” fought from the start for
the closure of Guantánamo. See http://www.achr.nu/

[ 6 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh6#nh6

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh6%23nh6>>] See

“Reporters without Borders remembers (lately) Sami Al Haj
<http://www.voltairenet.org/article136229.html>” /Red Voltaire/, 2
March 2006.

[ 7 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh7#nh7

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh7%23nh7>>] The

status of “enemy combatant” and “illegal combatant”, allowing the
US government to detain detainees categorised as such indefinitely
and without civilian jurisdiction emanates from the “/Patriot
Act/”, a law of exception designed to “unite and strengthen
America by supplying the tools necessary to seek out and oppose
terrorism” voted by US Congress and signed by George W. Bush, on
26 October 2001.

[ 8 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh8#nh8

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh8%23nh8>>] The

daily newspaper “/24 Heures/” wrote on 27 June 2008, “/Sami El Haj
is in Geneva to denounce the senseless ** blunder ** of the huge
American antiterrorist machine/”.

[ 9 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh9#nh9

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh9%23nh9>>] See

“Why did they treat me like that?
<http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/999330.html>”, by Gideon
Levy, /Haaretz/, 6 July 2008.

See also “Full account of Muhammed Omer’s hair-raising encounter
with the Shin Beth
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article466.html>”, by Khalid Amayreh
, 1 July 2008.

[ 10 <http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh10#nh10

<http://www.silviacattori.net/article491.html#nh10%23nh10>>] On

his internet site, Youssef Nada reveals the role played by some
journalists in his destruction based on lies. See:
http://www.youssefnada.ch/

All the versions of this article:
– Sami El Haj, journaliste d’Al-Jazira, témoigne
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article469.html>
– Testimonio de Sami El Haj, periodista de al-Jazira
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article478.html>
– Sami El Haj, jornalista da Al Jazeera, testemunha
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article483.html>
– Zeugenaussage von Sami al-Haj, Journalist bei Al-Jazeera
<http://www.silviacattori.net/article485.html>

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About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
This entry was posted in In the News, Interviews, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Interview With Al Jazeera Journalist

  1. David says:

    This is of course a very, very important issue, and western journalists have NOT dug into it deeply. Has this reporter? I’m not sure. I’m eager to know: For whom does he work? Whose imprimatur is on this? What else has he written?

    Then maybe I would be able to ask him some of the questions bothering me–such as, why does he ask such softball questions of El Haj?? Did he make any effort to get an official (or unofficial) reaction (yes, it would probably have been flatulent) to his charges? And how does he justify making the nakedly troublesome assertion–his own, if I read it correctly, not El Haj’s–that “We now know many things, most notably that many of the terrorist attacks since 1996 which have been attributed to Muslims were financed and manipulated by secret agents of MI6, the CIA and Mossad,” without offering any evidence? (*I* don’t know this! Am I supposed to take his word for it?) Did Cattori talk to any sources in researching El Haj’s story–other than El Haj?

    I have serious objections to Guantanamo, but I’ve seen at least one account (in the Times) of a released prisoner from Guantanamo being caught *again* fighting in Afghanistan.

    Neither Cattori nor El Haj seem to recognize it, but there is more than one evil actor in this conflict–and in the world at large.
    David P.

  2. journalismprofs says:

    Good points, David.

    You nicely lay out the inherent journalistic problems with the QA format. I’ve had debates with folks over the years about e-mail interviews, which also often result in QA formats. I’ve even seen people fawn over IM interviews — yielding even less control over the QA format.

    I’m not a fan of the QA, for the reasons you outline. No matter what the story, or where it falls on the ideological spectrum, journalists are obligated to ask the tough questions and probe and build on an interview.

    If questions are left unanswered and/or someone’s agenda ends up being served because they control the interview in a QA format — then we’ve failed in our role as truth-seekers…

    Steve

  3. David says:

    The problem is not just the QA format, but the undefined institutional source, which gets us to our favorite controversy… blogging.

  4. David says:

    It may be this is not a blogger’s work. It may come from some place reputable (and I’m not saying NO reliable reporting comes from blogs)… but I’d like to know the source when it’s posted on a place like this, or anywhere. It’s a matter of transparency.

  5. journalismprofs says:

    Good point on sourcing. This is the link that Jan sent originally:
    http://www.silviacattori.net/

    Steve

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