I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.
On Friday, as I reported here, there was wonderful news from the District Court in Washington D.C., as Judge Gladys Kessler responded to an emergency motion submitted by a Syrian prisoner in Guantánamo, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who is on a hunger strike and is being force-fed, and ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve all videotapes showing his force-feeding.
The existence of the videos only came to light last week, in correspondence between the Justice Department and Jon B. Eisenberg, one of Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s lawyers. In court documents, the lawyers described how the admission that videotapes exist came about “only under persistent questioning by Petitioners’ counsel during a protracted email exchange.”
As well as recording the prisoners’ force-feeding, the videos also record the “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) undertaken by a team of guards in riot gear who violently move prisoners who refuse to leave their cells. Judge Kessler also ordered the government to preserve all videos of the “forcible cell extractions,”and also ordered the government to stop the FCEs.
The halt to the force-feeding and the FCEs is only until today (May 21), when Judge Kessler scheduled another hearing at which the government “should be prepared to say when it can turn over Mr. [Dhiab’s] medical records and the videotapes,” as the New York Times described it, but its importance should not be underrated. A report on that hearing will follow shortly.
This is the first time that a judge has directly intervened in the government’s treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo. Last summer, Judge Kessler was one of two judges obliged to turn down a motion from Abu Wa’el Dhiab and three other men asking for their force-feeding to be halted, because of a prior ruling that appeared to prevent judges from interfering in the treatment of prisoners. However, that ruling was overturned in February by the appeals court (the D.C. Circuit Court), paving the way for Friday’s momentous ruling.
Following Friday’s ruling, two more hunger-striking prisoners have submitted motions to the District Court asking judges to order videotapes of their force-feeding to be preserved. On Monday, via the legal action charity Reprieve and Jon B. Eisenberg, Emad Hassan, a Yemeni, and Ahmad Rabbani (aka Mohammed Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani), a Pakistani, asked for videos of their force-feeding to be preserved.
See Emad Hassan’s motion here, in which the lawyers explained that he sought a similar order to that issued by Judge Kessler in Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s case, but “expanded to include photographs as well as videotapes.”
A similar motion was submitted on Ahmad Rabbani’s behalf (see here), and also see Emad Hassan’s motion seeking “an order requiring disclosure of still-secret protocols and SOPs [standard operating procedures] governing force-feeding and use of restraint chairs at Guantánamo Bay.”
Emad Hassan is the prisoner who won the appeals court ruling in February, in which judges ruled that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, ruled that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” as the New York Times described it.
In addition, Emad Hassan has been on a hunger strike since 2007, and has been force-fed for all that time, even though he was cleared for release in 2009. He is still held because of Congressional obstructions (only eased in December) and fears about the security situation in Yemen, which are disgraceful. 55 of the 75 prisoners cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force but still held are Yemenis, and it is long past time that the US’s security concerns are no longer allowed to trump the need for these men to resume their lives.
For more on Emad Hassan, see “The Guantánamo Experiment: A Harrowing Letter by Yemeni Prisoner Emad Hassan” and “Long-Term Guantánamo Hunger Striker Emad Hassan Describes the Torture of Force-Feeding.”
Less is publicly known about Ahmad Rabbani, a father of three who was held in CIA “black sites” (aka torture prisons) prior to his transfer to Guantánamo, with nine other men held in secret prisons, in September 2004. He was not cleared for release by the task force, but was, instead, recommended for prosecution. However, in April 2013 he was determined to be eligible for a Periodic Review Board, a process established last year to review the cases of 71 men — 46 who had been designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the task force, and 25 others who had been recommended for prosecution.
Last May, during last year’s prison-wide hunger strike, Ahmad Rabbani said that he had lost 60 pounds since the hunger strike began, and weighed just 107 pounds. “I vomit and cough blood,” he said, adding, “I have often thought of smashing my head against the wall and cracking it because of [severe pain].”
As Reprieve explained in a press release following the submission of the motions on behalf of Emad Hassan and Ahmad Rabbani:
[The] motions request the additional preservation and maintenance of videotapes and photographs relating to the treatment of Rabbani and Hassan, while Hassan also seeks disclosure of new, secret protocols for force-feeding hunger strikers. The motions state that the Department of Defense’s response to the petition so far has “left open the possibility that evidence had in fact been destroyed and suggests that the Department of Defense did not even know and had not yet made any effort to determine whether evidence had in fact been destroyed.”
Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, said, “Inconvenient evidence has a bad habit of turning up ‘lost’ at the base, especially tapes just like these. This means there is no excuse for any ‘dog ate my homework’ moments when our clients’ challenge to force-feeding comes up in court.”
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
When I posted this on “Close Guantanamo” yesterday, I wrote:
Unless I’m mistaken, no one else has seen fit to report on this story, even though it very obviously follows on from Friday’s ruling in the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, when Judge Kessler ordered the government to stop force-feeding him and to preserve videos of his force-feeding and his “forcible cell extractions.” That story, I’m glad to say, the mainstream media picked up on extensively, so the silence on these follow-up motions is disappointing. My article on Friday’s ruling, if you missed it, is here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/05/17/breakthrough-on-guantanamo-judge-orders-us-government-to-stop-force-feeding-syrian-prisoner-and-to-preserve-video-evidence/
I am writing to ask that you plea to CAGE/Cageprisoners on behalf of the Nigerian girls. It’s essential that the girls have some actual Islamists on their side. You are in a spot where you could work on making that happen. And you’ve done more than enough for the cause that they should listen to you.
Cageprisoners owes you. Guantanamo released a lot of detainees still classified as enemy combatants. That wouldn’t have happened without a lot of non-Muslims creating pressure. There could still have been 300 to 400 detainees there. The key was in getting people to talk to their peers and near-peers.
Boko Haram will not be swayed by liberal activists or even ordinary Muslims. This requires pressure by some who share their ideology. Their allies need to tell them that slavery is wrong, or at least that it is counter-productive. I’m not saying that Cageprisoners is big enough by themselves, but they could make a break in the wall that could then bring in others.
Thanks for the comments, Randy. I don’t have any association with CAGE/Cageprisoners these days, but I can forward your message to them.
Hi Randy, could you please explain to me exactly what an ‘Islamist’ is?
That term seems to be increasingly used in mainstream press when dealing simply with muslims, rather than radical believers in ‘holy war’.
Looking forward to your explanation.
Thank you! Please don’t give up easily. If forceful and unambigious, their words can make a difference.
This isn’t a get-everybody-you-can message. Cageprisoners is key. There is no one else accessible.
I hope you will stress that we are all judged on where we chose to stand. Anything less than a clear opposition to slavery would be interpreted as acceptance.
When movies like “12 Years a Slave” come out, we all imagine we’d have fiercely opposed slavery. But now we see how easily people can fall into accepting it.
I used the word “Islamist” as meaning someone who believes in Islamic government under the Koran.
thanks and fair enough as a criterion.
However, I then do not understand how CAGE would be an ‘Islamist’ organisation.
I admit that I know personally only one person there, but he most certainly does not meet the criterion you set. Nor do other staff members whom I have heard speak on videos.
It seems to me, that all they want is the right to live their religion the way they wish, definitely not to impose it on the rest of the world.
I also am rather amazed at your assumption, that people like Andy are supporting the cause of lawlessly imprisoned and tortured persons -who happen to be muslim- as some sort of a favour (or even sacrifice?) to muslims in general and CAGE in particular. I cannot speak for anyone else but myself, but that support is not in any way a favour, but simple human empathy and moral obligation.
The idea, that anyone would owe any of us ‘favours’in return for doing what our conscience dictates is rather preposterous, I find no other word for it. As if humanitarian support was like the usual barter between political parties: I will do this for you, provided you will do that for me. What you intrinsically are suggesting, is that muslims and non-muslims should be segregated and not interact in any way. If interaction does occur by some miracle, is must be balanced like in a financial ledger. In this case it concerns helping each other. Would the same logic apply when it concerns something negative?
Is revenge then also OK?
I think you might have ended up at the wrong website, but if you truly think that CAGE could help in the case of the -dreadful- abduction of the Nigerian girls, I would suggest you contact them yourself and explain what exactly you have in mind.
Intermediaries, no matter how well intentioned, might misinterpret something and create more problems than solutions.
Good luck and your wish to somehow help those girls is much appreciated.
Now if you think, that educated muslims from CAGE might be able to talk sense into the heads of Boko Haram, please do suggest that to the relevant authorities. I suppose you realize, that if CAGE staff would embark on such a ‘mission’ themselves, that might land them in prison, accused of ‘conatct with persons which they could reasonably have expected, were terrorists’ or some other equally vague accusation.
I didn’t intend to argue the different views on Islam. People can believe whatever they wish as long as they don’t force it on others.
It doesn’t precisely matter how CAGE’s leadership defines Islam. What does matter is that their view is closer to what Boko Haram claims to aspire to than that of anyone else we’re able to speak with.
You took exception to my statement that CAGE owes Andy something. Well, that’s fine. But in that sense, my position would still be that they could or would feel the very same human empathy and moral obligation.
I’m not asking that CAGE mount an expedition. It is the same interaction you speak of that I’m talking about applying here. They have a website and, more importantly, can spread their word through many more websites in English and Arabic. (Look up Stanley Milgram’s “small-world experiment” on Wikipedia.) CAGE wouldn’t be the end link, but they’d be the next link.
To be clear: My point isn’t that I think they must communicate directly to Boko Haram. I just want them tossing the ball in that direction.
thanks for the clarification, which proves, that it’s always worth while asking questions when in doubt, as misunderstandings can be clarified. I believe that the best is to contact CAGE directly and see what their reaction is. Good luck, the cause is worth it!
And thank you, Anna.
I think this works best when it comes from someone they know and can relate to. Andy knows them better, and will know how best to approach them, and what their own feelings are.
Similarly, if you know someone at CAGE, then please pass it along, too. Coming from two directions, they may see the most effective way to respond that one person alone would not think of. After all, this needs to be dealt with in a way that propels the issue further forward.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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