The Bush administration has engaged in assault, intimidation, and imprisonment to limit the ability of journalists to do their jobs. Sami al-Haj is a free man today, after having been imprisoned by the U.S. military for more than six years. His crime: journalism.
Targeting journalists, the Bush administration has engaged in direct assault, intimidation, imprisonment and information blackouts to limit the ability of journalists to do their jobs. The principal target these past seven years has been Al-Jazeera, the Arabic television network based in Doha, Qatar.
In November 2001, despite the fact that Al-Jazeera had given the U.S. military the coordinates of its office in Kabul, U.S. warplanes bombed Al-Jazeera’s bureau there, destroying it. An Al-Jazeera reporter covering the George Bush-Vladimir Putin summit in Crawford, Texas, in the same month was detained by the FBI because his credit card was “linked to Afghanistan.” In spring 2003, the U.S. dropped four bombs on the Sheraton hotel in Basra, Iraq, where Al-Jazeera correspondents — the only journalists reporting from that city — were the lone guests. Another Al-Jazeera staffer showed his ID to a U.S. Marine at a Baghdad checkpoint, only to have his car fired upon by the Marines. He was unhurt. That can’t be said for Tareq Ayyoub, an Al-Jazeera correspondent who was on the roof of the network’s bureau in Baghdad on April 8, 2003, when a U.S. warplane strafed it. He was killed. His widow, Dima Tahboub, told me: “Hate breeds hate. The United States said they were doing this to rout out terrorism. Who is engaged in terrorism now?”
Then there is the story of Sami al-Haj. A cameraman for Al-Jazeera, he was reporting on the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. On Dec. 15, 2001, while in a Pakistani town near the Afghanistan border, Haj was arrested, then imprisoned in Afghanistan. Six months later, shackled and gagged, he was flown to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. Haj was held there for close to six years, repeatedly interrogated and never charged with any crime, never tried in a court. He engaged in a hunger strike for more than a year, but was force-fed by his jailers with a feeding tube sent into his stomach through his nose. Haj was abruptly released this week. The U.S. government announced that he was being transferred to the custody of Sudan, his home nation, but the government of Sudan took no action against him. He was rushed to an emergency room, and soon was seen on his old network, Al-Jazeera: