Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hearts and Minds

. Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Al Jazeera cameraman who was detained by American serviceman in Afghanistan in 2001, and held without charges for seven years before being released, is back on the air:

Among Al Jazeera’s viewers in the Arab world since the 9/11 attacks, perhaps nothing has damaged perceptions of America more than Guantánamo Bay. For that reason, Mr. Hajj, who did a six-part series on the prison after his release, is a potent weapon for the network, which does not always strive for journalistic objectivity on the subject of his treatment. In an interview, Ahmed Sheikh, the editor in chief of Al Jazeera, called Mr. Hajj “one of the victims of the human rights atrocities committed by the ex-U.S. administration.”

But Mr. Hajj has not restricted himself to Guantánamo and his own incarceration. He has expanded the network’s coverage of other rights issues, including press freedom in Iraq, Palestinians in Israeli prisons and the implications of the USA Patriot Act. On a Wednesday morning in mid-August, Mr. Hajj pushed Al Jazeera’s news desk to cover a hunger strike by political prisoners in Jordan, and he happily pointed to a nearby television when the Jordan news scrolled on the bottom of the screen.

Nor has his experience radicalized him: he said that, despite his upbringing in a violent and often repressive country and his experience in detention, he maintained a sustaining belief in democracy and the rule of law.


On the one hand, this is clear an embarrassment for the United States. And at this point only the most vehemently blind defenders of the U.S. would argue that the U.S. hadn't violated human rights on numerous occasions, including this one. On the other hand, Mr. Hajj has taken the platform that his imprisonment has given him and used it to decry human rights violations in general, not just the Bush administration in particular (although he's understandably focused on the latter).

On the other hand, these are the kinds of people that should give us hope. Mr. Hajj's story should embarrass Americans, who are still having trouble acknowledging their recent sins. But it should also embarrass those who claim that radicalization is result of -- or reaction to -- American foreign policy. As Mr. Hajj has shown, another response is to support freedom of the press and universal human rights. In other words, to support the same values and principles that the U.S. stands for. Perhaps it's ironic, but by violating these norms the U.S. may have done more to strengthen them than they could have otherwise.

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