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Al-Jazeera cameraman held six years at Gitmo is freed

  • Story Highlights
  • Sami al-Hajj arrives home in Sudan and is taken to hospital, network says
  • Pakistani intelligence officers captured him in Afghanistan in December 2001
  • Al-Hajj was transferred to U.S. custody and held without charges or trial
  • Al-Jazeera said he was on an assignment when he was apprehended
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(CNN) -- Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj arrived home in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum early Friday after nearly six years in the U.S. Navy prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj at a hospital in Khartoum after his release from Guantanamo Bay.

"I was so happy that I cried," al-Hajj told the Qatar-based Arabic news network by phone from his hospital room, where he was taken after arriving at the airport. "It is our right to be happy and to rejoice, but we also miss our brothers that we left behind and who live in very difficult conditions."

An official with the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum said the transfer brought to an end a matter that the United States and Sudan considered to be "of great mutual concern."

Al-Hajj, a Sudanese citizen in his late 30s, was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001 by Pakistani intelligence officers and handed over to the United States, which accused him of being an "enemy combatant."

A senior Pentagon official confirmed the journalist's release.

Al-Hajj was held without being charged or given a trial, Al-Jazeera reported.

The cameraman was on a legitimate assignment and carried a work visa at the time of his capture, the network said.

It also reported that the U.S. plane that carried al-Hajj had about 20 other former detainees aboard who also had been released from Guantanamo Bay. The plane dropped off a Moroccan national, identified as Al-Saeed Bou Jaadiya, the network said.

Al-Jazeera aired video showing a bearded al-Hajj being carried from the plane in Khartoum by U.S. military personnel and laid on a stretcher. He was transported to Al-Amal Hospital.

"He was brought in here by ambulance and entered to the intensive care unit on a stretcher," said Al-Jazeera Director General Wadah Khanfar from the hospital. "He was exhausted and very sick, and he's receiving the necessary care in the hospital."

Khanfar said he was awaiting word from doctors on his medical condition.

In a statement, U.S. Charge D'Affaires Alberto Fernandez of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum said the transfer "is a result of many factors and the work of many hands. An important one was the cooperation between the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum and the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Intelligence and Security Service."

Al-Hajj had been on a hunger strike for more than a year and was being force-fed, said Zachary Katznelson, a lawyer who has worked on al-Hajj's case since August 2005 and last visited him three weeks ago.

"Al-Hajj is remarkably thin," Katznelson said. "He looks like an ill man."

The journalist was conscious, but did not appear to speak to anyone as paramedics rolled his stretcher inside. Family members stooped to kiss him as the gurney passed.

"I would have hoped they were here with me now. I look forward to the moment," al-Hajj said told Al-Jazeera before being reunited with his family.

Earlier, al-Hajj's wife spoke to the network about his release.

"Now I can think differently," Asma Ismailov said. "Now I can plan my life differently. Everything will be all right, God willing."

Al-Hajj's young son, Mohammed, said he would "kiss his head" when he sees his father. "I'll tell him that I love him and I need him."

The Sudanese government told Al-Jazeera that al-Hajj faced no charges in Sudan and is a free man. The network also said the United States placed some conditions on al-Hajj's release, including one that prevents him from any political activity.

Reporters Without Borders, which campaigned for al-Hajj's release, said in a statement that the cameraman "never should have been held so long."

"U.S. authorities never proved that he had been involved in any kind of criminal activity," the worldwide press freedom group said.

The organization said al-Hajj was accused of gun-smuggling for al Qaeda and running an Islamist Web site, although no evidence supporting those charges was produced.

"We are delighted that Sami al-Hajj can finally be reunited with his family and friends," said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "But his detention for six years, without the most basic due process, is a grave injustice and represents a threat to all journalists working in conflict areas." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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