By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

One good gesture deserve another

Iran has released the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi from prison.

This would be a good time for the United States to release the Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj from Guantánamo, no? According to Reporters Without Borders, al-Haj, arrested in 2001, has never been charged and has been interrogated more than 200 times.

Correction: Reporters Without Borders really needs to update its information — it turns out that al-Haj was released in 2007. Glenn Greenwald has all the details at Salon, including our continued detainment of Reuters freelance photographer Ibrahim Jassam. (Hat tip to Steve.)

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  1. cavard

    I agree! Well said!

  2. HNG

    I, too, agree on Sami al-Haj. But regarding Roxana Saberi, I’m a bit conflicted. While I’m happy she’s free, I haven’t heard anyone dispute Iran’s claim that she was working without a press pass. Showing contempt for the laws of your host country is one easy way fo a foreign journalist to make enemies of the powers that be.No one believes a stinking press pass is the reason the Iranians put her in solitary confinement, but it seems they used the press-pass issue to ensnare her so they could interrogate her regarding her “suspicious movements.” Too often, young, ambitious American reporters venture out into these “closed” societies hoping to make a name for themselves. Too often, they’re largely ignorant of the societies they’re asked to report on, and too often they’re armed only with the arrogance of hailing from what’s still seen as the most powerful country in the world. Saberi was lucky to escape with her life. She might not be so fortunate next time.

  3. Steve

    Wasn’t Sami al-Hajj released a year ago (after 6.5 years in Guantánamo)? Or is this someone else?

  4. Neil

    HNG, Saberi isn’t an example of someone “largely ignorant of the society she was asked to report on”. She didn’t just breeze into Iran all full of ambition and naivete. She’s been there since 2003. According to the BBC profile, she was writing a book about Iran and working on a master’s degree in Iranian studies. Anyway as you point out operating without a press pass doesn’t warrant imprisonment and the subsequent bump up to a charge of spying was likely done for ulterior motives (again, according to a BBC report).Good catch Steve. Even if he was still at Guantanamo I doubt the Iranians would have cared about the release of a Sudanese cameraman. Obama’s trying to close the place down as it is. But what do the Iranians care about Gitmo anyway. I don’t think there’s really any symbolic gesture available to the US that would matter to the Iranians. Our beef with them is on the policy level rather than on human rights issues.

  5. Neil

    Dan, al-Hajj was released a year ago, arriving back in Khartoum on May 2, 2008. 2007 is an error on Greenwald’s part. (See Steve’s BBC link and Greenwald’s source.) The Reporters without Frontiers 2008 annual report isn’t out of date. It covers 2007 (though it doesn’t explicitly say that in the preface), during which time al-Hajj was indeed still locked up.That said I don’t think their website or their ponderous annual reports are of much use. Here it is May and they still haven’t published the 2009 Annual Report which would describe 2008. There are more up-to-date sources for this kind of thing, most notably the terrific BBC site.As for Jassam, the US is holding like 15K detainees in Iraq, many of whom are doubtless innocent but who will have to unjustly sit incarcerated for months or even years until the clumsy mechanism of wartime justice eventually gets to them. But it’s a war zone. The fact that he took pictures for a living doesn’t seem to me to necessarily make his case more unjust than that of the guy in the next cell. Gitmo’s a different level of outrageous I think.

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