Seven years after Obama’s Gitmo promise, officials weigh release of “disturbing” force-feeding footage

January 21, 2016

Tomorrow marks seven years since President Obama signed an Executive Order to close Guantánamo Bay, where nearly 100 men remain held without charge or trial. Tomorrow’s anniversary is also the final deadline for a top Justice Department official to decide whether to release ten redacted videos showing the force-feeding of a Guantánamo prisoner.

The videos of Reprieve client Abu Wa’el Dhiab are subject to a Federal court order for their release; Solicitor General Donald Verrilli has until January 22 to appeal this decision – or the footage must be made public.

On January 22nd 2009, when signing the order, President Obama said that he hoped “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.” Fourteen years since the first detainees were sent to the prison, and seven years after President Obama signed the Executive Order to close it, 93 men are still detained at the prison. President Obama’s staff are expected to deliver a plan to shutter the prison in the coming weeks, which could involve moving men to prisons on US soil.

The Guantánamo authorities have long faced criticism for the force-feeding of detainees engaged in peaceful hunger-strikes in protest against their detention without trial. After it emerged that the prison had been video-taping such procedures, one detainee, who has since been released, had those videos disclosed to his Reprieve lawyers. Sixteen major media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, AP and Reuters, are seeking release of the tapes.

So far, only the court and the prisoner’s security-cleared lawyers have been allowed to review the tapes.  Reprieve lawyers who watched them have described them as “disturbing”, “eye-watering”, and reported losing sleep after the first viewing.

Cori Crider, attorney for detainees at Guantanamo and Reprieve’s Strategic Director, said: “Every cleared man in Gitmo today remembers Obama’s promise and the hope he felt – that in a year he would finally be able to go home. Seven years later, many of those men are still there. Some are so desperate they are hunger-striking – and the abuse I watched in those force-feeding tapes goes on to this day. President Obama has called his administration ‘the most transparent in history’ and yet his government has been fighting tooth and nail to stop the tapes showing abuse of my client being released to the public. People need to know what still goes on in their name at Gitmo – President Obama must stop hiding the truth and release the tapes.”