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The brother who had a scoop

If you ask journalists, they will tell you Guantanamo is a secretive place that no one can break into. Yet, a Sudanese reporter saw it from the inside… as a prisoner. From hunger strike to international fame, this is the story of Sami Al Haj, an Al Jazeera journalist who spent years in the infamous prison.

[As part of the MuslimMatters x CAGE Dhul Hijjah Activism Drive: Close Guantanamo, we bring you a series, Guantanamo Memories, of stories from behind bars]

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Brothers in Guantanamo came from all walks of life, and they all had different jobs before being imprisoned.

But one stood out: he was a journalist.

I first heard about the Al Jazeera journalist when I was taken to the Kandahar prison in Afghanistan. Sami al-Hajj is from Sudan, and he had been filming and reporting on the war following the US-led invasion.

I only ever saw him briefly – he is tall man with a soft voice, and he has an even softer heart.

The Americans were holding him only because of their mistrust and disdain for the Qatari news channel due to their slightly more objective portrayal of the ‘War on Terror.’

Sami was sent to Bagram and then Guantanamo. He spent six years imprisoned without charge or trial. Sami lost 55 lbs during a hunger strike that lasted more than a year.

Like me and many others, he witnessed the Quran being thrown in the toilet. Guards also beat him severely and left scarring on his face.

I appeared in a documentary about Sami made by his colleagues at Al Jazeera called Prisoner 345.

He was eventually released in 2008. He came home to meet his son, Mohammed, who had been only a child when Sami had last seen him, and a wife who had been in limbo for all those years.

But, even though he arrived home on a stretcher, Sami was greeted like a hero in Sudan – along with the other prisoners who came home with him. The President of Sudan himself met him upon arrival in Khartoum.

Sami’s colleagues at Al Jazeera mounted an amazing campaign for his release and he became a household name in the Arab world.

Sami returned to Al Jazeera and was appointed head of Al Jazeera’s Human Rights and Public Liberties department.

He visited the UK many times and helped campaign with CAGE to seek justice for the remaining Guantanamo prisoners. He even became one of our patrons. He really did hit the ground running.

Sami is one of the most gentle, caring and forgiving people I have met. He exemplifies the verse where Allah

subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)
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says about the believers: “…They are merciful to one another” [Surah Fat’h 48:29]

He is also one of the most committed and determined. After all these years, he is still working to release the brothers still in Guantanamo.

Don’t forget to join MuslimMatters and CAGE this month as we work to Close Guantanamo. Check out how you can act today.



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Related Reading:

Dhul Hijjah Global Activism Drive: Close Guantanamo

Dhul Hijjah Global Activism Drive: Close Guantanamo

He Was Just A Kid. An Extraordinary One.

He Was Just A Kid. An Extraordinary One.

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Source: Muslim Matters