Judge orders Guantánamo Bay force-feeding videos to be released

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From The Guardian (source link):

A US federal judge has ordered the disclosure of videotapes that show the force feeding of an inmate on hunger strike at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.

Days before the first legal challenge to the force feeding was due to begin, Judge Gladys Kessler of the Washington DC district court on Friday ordered the US government to prepare public versions of 28 videos showing a Syrian detainee, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, forcibly removed from his cell and fed through a tube inserted through his nose into his stomach.

Kessler’s ruling came after a coalition of media organisations, including the Guardian, applied for disclosure of unclassified versions of tapes that the US government has never made available.

The Justice Department and the military only acknowledged the existence of the tapes last year in filings to Kessler.

The tapes will provide unprecedented visibility into a practice that Dhiab and other detainees says amounts to torture, a claim categorically rejected by the Obama administration and the military.

While the government is expected to appeal the decision later on Friday, Kessler ordered that the public versions of the tapes to be released obscure “all faces other than Mr Dhiab’s, voices, names, etc.” The unclassified version of the videos “may then be entered on the public docket,” Kessler wrote.

The government contended that keeping the tapes under seal was necessary to protect national security, but Kessler found that its arguments were “unacceptably vague, speculative, lack specificity or are just plain implausible.”

An argument that the detainees would learn how to develop “countermeasures” to defeat forcefeeding – to which they have been subjected for months or years – “strains credulity,” Kessler wrote.

Kessler’s ruling, a major setback for the Obama administration, came a day after the judge rejected out of hand the government’s request to block the public from viewing almost all aspects of the legal challenge to the force-feeding.

Opening arguments in Dhiab’s effort to stop the forced feedings and cell removals are expected on Monday. Government challenges to Kessler’s ruling on the partial disclosure of the videotapes may prompt a delay.

In a court filing through his attorneys, Dhiab said he wanted the American public to see the force-feeding and cell removals “to see what is going on at the prison today, so they will understand why we are hunger-striking, and why the prison should be closed. If the American people stand for freedom, they should watch these tapes. If they truly believe in human rights, they need to see these tapes.”

Despite Dhiab’s explicit desire to make the videos public, the former commander of Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Richard Butler, argued that exposing the videos would violate the US obligation under the third Geneva convention to “protect detainees from public curiosity”. Guantánamo authorities have used that contention for years to block press access to various aspects of the facility’s operations.

But Kessler wrote that Butler’s argument “would turn the third Geneva convention on its head.”

“Rather than a source of rights to humane treatment, Article 13 would become a means to shield from public view treatment that Mr Dhiab (and undoubtedly other detainees) view as inhumane,” she ruled.

Dhiab has been detained without charge at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, despite the US government clearing him for release since 2009. He and an undisclosed number of detainees have launched hunger strikes to protest their prolonged confinement and their treatment.

After they garnered global attention and outrage through a hunger strike that last year encompassed nearly all Guantánamo detainees, the military command at the facility stopped releasing practically any information relating to the strikes.

Royce Christyn
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