By Opheera McDoom – KHARTOUM | Reuters – Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj returned home to Sudan on Friday after more than six years in the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay prison, urging Washington to respect human rights and branding torture as terrorism.
Haj said he and the other Guantanamo detainees had been subjected to all kinds of torture, but the worst had been when his jailers insulted Islam or desecrated the Koran in front of prisoners.
“Security and human rights are inseparable issues — you cannot have one without the other,” he told Reuters in an interview.
“Human rights are not only for times of peace — you need to hold onto them always even during difficult times and times of war,” he added.
“My last message to the U.S. administration is that torture will not stop terrorism — torture is terrorism.”
Haj looked frail but visibly stronger than 12 hours earlier, when he arrived in chains aboard a U.S. military plane from the U.S. prison in Cuba, where he spent the last 16 months on hunger strike in protest at his illegal detention.
Lying on his hospital bed he barely had enough strength to greet President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and the dozens of ministers and well-wishers ecstatic at his return.
His brother Asim collapsed with exhaustion on his arrival after the years of campaigning for his release finally drew to an end.
Al-Haj met his eight-year-old son Mohamed for the first time since his son was a year old in an emotional reunion. The cameraman was arrested near the Afghan border in 2001 and later taken to the highly criticised U.S. military base in Cuba.
“His mother was constantly sending me pictures of him … but even if I had not seen the picture I would have known him among thousands of children by my strong sense of fatherhood,” he said.
Haj will spend the next few days undergoing tests in the hospital after his hunger strike and months of force feeding twice a day left him weak and with many ailments.
“God willing our happiness and celebrations will be complete once our brothers left in Guantanamo prison are released,” he said. Four Sudanese prisoners remain in Guantanamo. (Editing by Jon Boyle)