Detained reporter pressured to spy

NEW YORK – U.S. military interrogators have allegedly told a journalist for Al Jazeera who has been detained since December 2001 as an "enemy combatant" that he would be released if he agreed to provide U.S. intelligence authorities with inside information about the satellite news network’s activities, according to London’s Guardian newspaper.

Sami Muhyideen al-Haj, an assistant cameraman for Al Jazeera, was arrested by Pakistani authorities along the Afghan-Pakistani border while on assignment, then transferred to U.S. custody and brought to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

"There is very little against him in terms of the official allegations," his London-based lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "They are mostly trying to get Sami to become an informant against Al Jazeera."

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Loundermon, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, declined to respond to the charge or confirm al-Haj’s detainment. "I’m not going to get into an intelligence conversation," he said.

Al Jazeera first learned of the detention in 2002 from letters al-Haj, a 35-year-old Sudanese national, sent to the station and his wife. He was detained after he and another Al Jazeera reporter attempted to re-enter southern Afghanistan. In September 2002, CPJ wrote to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, calling on the Pentagon to detail the basis for al-Haj’s detention. No response was received.

"The implication here is that the military can detain a journalist in the field, as it does with other suspects, and hold him for months or years without due process or establishing a legal basis for his incarceration," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "The United States should credibly explain the basis for Sami al-Haj’s detention or release him immediately."

U.S. human rights groups have told the UN Human Rights Committee that there may be dozens of secret detention centers around the world where Washington is holding an unknown number of prisoners as part of its "war on terror," according to Inter Press Service.