Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was released from detention at Guantanamo Bay Thursday after more than six years in custody and was being repatriated to Sudan, his lawyers said.
Reprieve, the legal action charity that represents 35 Guantanamo prisoners including al-Haj, said the Sudanese cameraman was seized by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001, apparently at the behest of the U.S. authorities who suspected he had interviewed Osama bin Laden. The group said that "supposed intelligence" turned out to be false.
"This is wonderful news, and long overdue. The U.S. administration has never had any reason for holding Mr. Al-Haj, and has, instead, spent six years shamelessly attempting to turn him against his employers at Al-Jazeera," said Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve's Director who has represented al-Haj since 2005.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, declined to comment on the report.
Al-Jazeera, which first reported the release, said al-Haj was en route to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, in a U.S. military plane.
"We are in a state of high expectation and we are overwhelmed with joy," said Wadah Khanfar, managing director of Al-Jazeera Arabic.
Khanfar added that al-Haj's wife and child were flying from Doha, Qatar to Khartoum immediately to see him.
Al-Haj had been on hunger strike for about 16 months and the military had been force-feeding him through a tube inserted into his nose, said attorney Zachary Katznelson, who met with al-Haj at Guantanamo on April 11.
Shortly after the meeting, Katznelson said the cameraman was "emaciated" because of his hunger strike. The lawyer also said al-Haj had recently been having problems with his liver and kidneys and had blood in his urine.
"He looks really ill," Katznelson said at an interview at the base hours after their meeting.