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Al Jazeera's Sami Al Hajj out of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba
It was freedom at last! The release of Sami Al Hajj after six-and-a-half years, languishing in prison on Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, is a surreal reality going to the heart of international political intrigue, media manipulation and human rights violations.

Despite what is regarded as a botched up theatrical play by the US government, Sami Al Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman who worked for world-famous Al Jazeera, was viewed as an "enemy combatant" who in the end was released without any charges despite the fact he had to endure 130 sessions of interrogations in which he claimed the authorities offered to set him free if he would spy on his own employer Al Jazeera, and the journalists working there as he says 35 of these sessions were solely related to his work at the satellite station that experts has an audience of 40 million.

The imprisonment of Sami Al Hajj, first snatched from the Pakistan/Afghan border in December 2001 to Afghanistan and then six months later to his final resting place in Guantanamo where he was to remain till early May 2008, a total of 2,340 days behind bars. It speaks abounds about the respect or lack of which many in the world have to journalism, media, freedom of speech, or simply the word and the image for it was also reported that the Americans didnt like the Al Jazeera reporting of human rights violations in Afghanistan.

Sami Al Hajj became a prisoner in an Orwellian drama that had no final ending, or destination involving torture, simulated drowning and possibly death that was in the end averted through cruel force feeding. America under the administration of George W. Bush, and its ambiance of democratic practice, continued to beat the drums of fighting terrorism as if Sami Al Hajj, and all the other 500-odd prisoners, still in Guantanamo, were the real enemy who had to stay behind bars as if they were the threat par-excellence to western civilization.

If it was frustrating to see the 'free Sami Al Hajj news ticker at the bottom of the Al Jazeera screen night after night, month-after-month and year-after-year, with its morbid sense of uselessness as if Sami Al Hajj was an aberration that did not really exist except in the eyes of lawyers who had bare-minimum access to him and to his humanely-devoid jailers who were blinkered by the words of "terrorists" and "terrorism" that head-banned all of the prisoners in Guantanamo.

At the end of his natural days, a phrase that may be justifiably given since he has already been emaciated, and only diverted through a miracle, Sami Al Hajj was in a state of delirium, had lost 40 pounds and looked like an old man of 80. In his desperate attempt to change his withering life, he had gone on hunger strike in 2007 as a form of protest.

But that did not do any good, despite international conventions banning forced feeding. Sami Al Hajj was force fed twice a day through ramming a tube down his nostrils without any lubrication so that the American boys can tell the world "hey we kept him alive" despite their open desecration of the holy Koran and despite the fact he was nearly suffocated.

Sami Al Hajj was the only media man in Guantanamo and despite the fact there was over-whelming evidence he was not the man the Americans were reputedly looking for, he was kept and bludgeoned, terrorized and held at bay, many say to teach Al Jazeera a lesson they will not forget about not to broadcast Osama Ban Laden videos as if they are monster horror movies.

Al Jazeera however never budged, it stuck to what it believed was its special exclusives and at the same time continued behind-the-scenes moves to free Al Hajj which never worked in the end. But media is a complex affair. Most of the Arab satellites and print, including those in Europe and America, began to toe-the-line, becoming very uneasy about what to print or broadcast with objective reporting taking a back seat in favor of staying on the right side of the fence and making sure of not rocking the boat as staying on the fence became interpreted as backing the wrong side.

The post-11 September climate was harsh and austere, the "terrorist in every cupboard" mentality was rife becoming the new mantra that needs to be fought regardless whether there was an ounce of truth in the finding or not. Politicians became blinded by the very fact that everyone wanted to put things right through judicious, unmitigated security, they, including and foremost the Americans hadnt yet realized that for them anyway, it was "match, set and game".

Through embedded journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan they had it all and already protecting their eagles through a lame-duck media that preferred to nod and wink to the triad of establishment positions rather than to establish independent objective positions.

And so Sami Al Hajj was lost in between, he got caught in the middle while trying to do his job as best as he can. But what he didnt realize was the world was really changing in the months following 11th September with nervous international security forces going after iotas and whiffs in a bid to search for Osama Bin Laden and his bands.

Most of those in Guantanamo are religious with long beards but they are not Bin Ladenists, and the same goes for Sami Al Hajj, but this had been a heavy price he had to pay. He was captured when he was 32 and released at 38. Towards the end, he was suffering bouts of paranoia, unwilling to trust anyone including his fellow inmates who were being subjected to the worst kinds of humiliations and treatments better than the rats they were living with. He says he was kept in the "most heinous prison mankind has ever known."

The Bush administration neednt have done this, triggering a good portion of the world to hate anything that is American. The physical scars of Sami Al Hajj will probably heal in due time yet the psychological taints will remain for good while and will probably haunt him to his natural grave with him going into bouts of questioning, to use a textbook term, about the totalitarian nature of the American system where getting lost in its security maze becomes as easy as not getting out.


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