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Al-Jazeera cameraman released from Guantanamo

After six years in the US military prison Guantanamo, Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj has been released and sent home. The Al-Jazeera cameraman had been held without charge after being arrested in Dec. 2001 near the Afghan border.

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A Sudanese cameraman with the Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera was released from six years of detention at Guantanamo US military prison and was due to fly home within hours, Al-Jazeera said Thursday.

"I am now in Khartoum as Sami al-Haj will probably arrive within hours," Al-Jazeera director general Waddah Khanfar told AFP when contacted by telephone from Qatar, where the channel is based.

"Sami al-Haj to arrive overnight in Khartoum after his release from Guantanamo camp," Al-Jazeera subsequently flashed on its screen.

Al-Jazeera's main night bulletin was dominated by the release of its cameraman, whose cause had been championed by several rights groups.

Haj was arrested by the Pakistani army on the Afghan border in December 2001 and had been held without charge at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba since June 2002.

The Pentagon would not immediately comment to AFP about Haj's release, but press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which has campaigned for him to be freed, voiced relief.

"Sami Al-Haj should never have been held so long," said secretary general Robert Menard in a statement released in Washington.

"US authorities never proved that he had been involved in any kind of criminal activity. This case is yet another example of the injustice reigning in Guantanamo. The base should be closed as quickly as possible."

Reporters Without Borders said Haj had been tortured and subjected to some 200 interrogation sessions. In January 2007 he launched a hunger strike and has been force-fed on several occasions, the group said in a statement.

According to his lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, Haj has lost some 40 pounds (18 kilograms), was suffering from intestinal problems and subject to bouts of paranoia, the organization added.

Al-Jazeera had lobbied hard for Haj's release, inviting its audience to join a campaign of solidarity with him.

The controversial Guantanamo camp was established after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States to house "war on terror" suspects seized in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Around 800 detainees have passed through the camp since it opened, and some 275 "terror" suspects are still held there.
  

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