May 2nd, 2008 04:42 EST
After 6 years in prison, Sudanese TV Photographer leaves Guantanamo
The Arab satellite news channel, Al-Jazeera, says a Sudanese television photographer employed by the network has been released after more than six years in U.S. custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
A U.S. military plane flew Sami al-Haj to the Sudanese capital Khartoum early Friday, along with two other Sudanese men, Amir Yacoub Al Amir and Walid Ali, who were also released Thursday from Guantanamo.
Al-Jazeera reports that about 20 Moroccans were also released Thursday and returned home on the same plane.
Pakistani forces seized al-Haj in December 2001 at the border with Afghanistan and later turned him over to U.S. authorities. He had been held without charge at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, since June 2002. Lawyers working on his behalf said he had been suspected of interviewing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
There was no immediate confirmation from the U.S. Defense Department of al-Haj`s release, but media rights groups welcomed the news.
Al-Jazeera reports that al-Haj was taken to a hospital in Khartoum. Reports say al-Haj went on a hunger strike last year and had been force-fed.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says al-Haj is the second journalist to be freed by the U.S. military in the last month after being held for a prolonged period. Last month, an Associated Press photographer, Bilal Hussein, was freed from U.S. custody in Iraq after two years.
Reporters Without Borders said it was relieved at word of al-Haj`s release, saying he should never have been held for so long. The group said the United States never proved he had been involved in any kind of criminal activity.
This is the first transfer of Guantanamo detainees since late December, when the Pentagon said a total of 500 detainees were released. About 275 people remain in U.S. custody at the naval base.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.