Judge orders release of Guantánamo force-feeding footage
October 6, 2014
US federal judge Gladys Kessler has today ordered that videotapes of Reprieve client Abu Wa’el Dhiab being force-fed in Guantánamo Bay are to be made public.
Around eleven hours of previously secret video is to be redacted for “all identifiers of individuals” other than Mr. Dhiab, and then released to the public. The footage is known to show Mr. Dhiab being hauled from his cell by Guantánamo’s ‘Forcible Cell Extraction’ team – a group of military police in riot gear – and being force-fed.
The decision comes after 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, Washington Post, AP, and others, intervened in the litigation seeking to unseal the video tapes. Mr. Dhiab supported the media’s intervention and has specifically stated he wishes as many Americans as possible to see the reality of force-feeding at Guantánamo Bay.
Mr Dhiab said in a statement that is quoted in Judge Kessler’s decision today: “I want Americans 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.”
Judge Kessler, in her decision, stated: “In short, it is our responsibility, as judges, as part of our obligation under the Constitution, to ensure that any efforts to limit our First Amendment protections are scrutinized with the greatest of care. That responsibility can not be ignored or abdicated.”
She described the Government’s justifications for keeping the video evidence sealed in its entirety as “unacceptably vague, speculative, lack[ing specificity, or… just plain implausible.” She added: “It strains credulity to conclude that release of these videos has a substantial probability of causing the harm the Government predicts.”
Judge Kessler also dismissed out of hand the Government’s claim that release of the videos, because it would violate Mr. Dhiab’s right not to be held up to “public curiosity”, would violate the Geneva Conventions, stating: “The Government’s claim, if accepted, 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) believe to be inhumane.”
The Judge’s order requires identifying individuals to be redacted, and orders the Government and Petitioner’s counsel to work together to achieve this. The process is likely to take some days; while the redactions are made, Judge Kessler has ordered that the tapes shall remain under seal.
Mr. Dhiab has been waging a high-profile challenge to his abusive force-feeding at Guantánamo since June 2013, represented by attorneys at the human rights organization Reprieve. His trial, which challenges the government’s current force-feeding practices as cruel and unethical, is due to begin this Monday, October 6, at 10 A.M. in Washington, D.C.
Cori Crider, Reprieve attorney to Mr Dhiab, said: “It is high time the bright light of the truth was shone on Guantánamo’s force-feeding practices. It has always been the height of hypocrisy for the Guantánamo authorities to take media groups on ‘show tours’, while forbidding them from talking to prisoners or seeing evidence like this, which shows the grim reality of life at the prison. I look forward to the day when this evidence is made public, and I believe the outcry that results will hasten the close of Guantánamo Bay.”
Jon Eisenberg, attorney for Mr Dhiab, said: “We firmly believe that once the veil of secrecy is lifted from the abusive treatment of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the abuse will end. This decision by Judge Kessler is a big step toward lifting that veil of secrecy.”
Alka Pradhan, Reprieve attorney to Mr Dhiab, said: “This may well be the most significant court decision on Guantanamo Bay in years. No longer does the American public have to rely on propaganda and misinformation, but can finally watch the videotapes and judge for themselves whether this terrible prison should continue to be the image America projects to the world, or whether we should reclaim our values and shut it down for good.”
Notes to editors
1. For more information, please contact Katherine O’Shea at firstname.lastname@example.org/917 855 8064
2. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Judge Kessler’s full order is available at the Reprieve US site, here.
3. Mr. Dhiab will be represented at the force-feeding hearing by attorneys Jon B. Eisenberg, Eric Lewis and Elizabeth Marvin of Lewis Baach, and Cori Crider and Alka Pradhan of Reprieve.