For First Time, US Judge Orders Government to Release Videotapes of Force-Feeding to Guantánamo Prisoner’s Lawyers

Yesterday, for the first time in Guantánamo’s long and ignoble history, a federal court judge ordered the US government to hand over videotapes recording a prisoner being forcibly dragged from his cell by a riot team, and then being force-fed.

The prisoner in question, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, is a Syrian, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, along with 74 other men who are still held. In despair at ever being released, because of Congressional obstructions and President Obama’s unwillingness to bypass Congress, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to do so, Mr. Dhiab was one of the many prisoners who embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike last year, and was soon subjected to force-feeding, a horribly painful process condemned by medical professionals.

Last Friday, Abu Wa’el Dhiab secured a momentous victory when District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the government to stop force-feeding him and to stop him being subjected to “forcible cell extractions,” and also ordered the government to preserve all videotapes recording his “forcible cell extractions” and his force-feeding. The motion on behalf of Abu Wa’el Dhiab only came about when one of his lawyers, Jon B. Eisenberg, found out through persistent questioning of a Justice Department official that the videotapes existed, and, with his fellow lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve, submitted an emergency motion. Read the rest of this entry »

Two More Guantánamo Hunger Strikers Ask Judges to Order Government to Preserve Video Evidence of Force-Feeding

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners

Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who cannot be safely repatriated, and was willing to offer new homes to five men. The BBC reported that the 78-year old president told local media, “The US president wants to solve this problem so he’s asking several countries to host them and I told him I will. They are welcome to come here.” He also told Montevideo’s El Espectador Radio that the men in question were four Syrians and a Palestinian.

Subsequently, the Global Post published an article identifying the men, after working out, from a publicly available list of the prisoners cleared for release (see my article here, for example) that there is only one Palestinian still held at Guantánamo, who has long been cleared for release, and four Syrians who have also been cleared for release.

The Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan, ISN 684), who, like the handful of other Palestinians held at Guantánamo and subsequently released, is essentially stateless, as he can only return with the blessing of the Israeli government, which has no intention of allowing any former Guantánamo prisoner to return home. I most recently profiled his case here, mentioning how he was not only cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009 (like 74 other men still held, including the four Syrians), but had also been cleared for release under President Bush in October 2007. I also mentioned how, sadly, he was one of three prisoners that the German government was planning to accept in 2010, but was the only one left behind in Guantánamo when, for political reasons, a decision was taken to accept just two men instead. Read the rest of this entry »

Breakthrough on Guantánamo: Judge Orders US Government to Stop Force-Feeding Syrian Prisoner and to Preserve Video Evidence

In a hugely important ruling in the US District Court in Washington D.C., relating to the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Judge Gladys Kessler has ordered the government to suspend the force-feeding of a hunger-striking prisoner, and to preserve video evidence of his force-feeding.

The prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a father of four, is a Syrian national, who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of his deteriorating health during his 12 years in US custody. Significantly, he was cleared for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, but is still held, along with 74 other men cleared for release by the task force. The majority of these men are Yemenis, who have not been freed because of US concerns about the security situation in Yemen, but in Dhiab’s case, he is still held because of the civil war in his home country, and the need for a third country to be found to take him in.

The fact that he is on a hunger strike, in despair at his abandonment in Guantánamo, and is being force-fed in response ought to be a source of profound shame for the administration, although it is worth noting that he is not the only prisoner cleared for release who was involved in the prison-wide hunger strike last year, and is still on a hunger strike now. Read the rest of this entry »

Long-Term Guantánamo Hunger Striker Emad Hassan Describes the Torture of Force-Feeding

Yesterday, two disturbing letters from Guantánamo were released by Reprieve US, the US branch of the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 of the 154 men still held at the prison, and I’m posting them below, because they shed light on what Reprieve described in a press release as the “escalating, brutal punishment of hunger strikers,” who continue to be force-fed, even though the World Medical Association denounced force-feeding in the Declaration of Malta, in 2006, calling it “unjustifiable,” “never ethically acceptable,” and “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment,” if inflicted on a patient — or a prisoner — who is capable of making a rational decision about his refusal to eat.

The letters were written by Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike — and force-fed — since 2007, even though he was cleared for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010. 77 of the men still held have been cleared for release — 75 by the task force, and two in recent months by a Periodic Review Board — and 57 of these men are Yemenis, but they are still held because of US fears about the security situation in Yemen — fears which may be legitimate, but which are an unacceptable basis for continuing to hold men that high-level review boards said should no longer be held.

In February, I made available a harrowing letter written by Emad, and in March he launched a historic legal challenge, becoming “the first Guantánamo Bay prisoner to have his claims of abuse at the military base considered by a US court of law,” as Reprieve described it. Read the rest of this entry »

MPs Support Alarming Citizenship-Stripping Measures Introduced by Theresa May

A UK passport and a certificate of naturalisation.Is there no end to this government’s flagrant disregard for the fundamental rights of its citizens? Today, by 305 votes to 239, the House of Commons overturned amendments to the current Immigration Bill made by the House of Lords, which concerned home secretary Theresa May’s proposals to strip naturalised British citizens of their citizenship without any form of due process, even if doing so makes the individuals in question stateless.

Back in March, as I described it in my article, “The UK’s Unacceptable Obsession with Stripping British Citizens of Their UK Nationality” MPs first voted, by 297 votes to 34, to pass the citizenship-stripping clause, which Theresa May had added to the Immigration Bill in January, and which, due to its addition at the last minute, had not received any scrutiny. Since 2002, the government has had the power to remove the citizenship of dual nationals who they believe to have done something “seriously prejudicial” to the UK, but May’s new legislation was designed to increase her powers, “allowing her to remove the nationality of those who have acquired British citizenship, even if it will make them stateless, if they have done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests’ of the UK,” as described in December by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been covering this story closely.

In April, by 242 votes to 180, the House of Lords replaced the proposal with an amendment requiring it to be further considered by a joint committee of the Commons and Lords before being implemented, an eminently sensible proposal that should not have been overturned by 305 MPs in the House of Commons. Read the rest of this entry »

Cosmetics Firm Lush Supports the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo

I’m very pleased to note that the cosmetics firm Lush has created a Charity Pot calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The 20-year old company, which has over 900 stores in over 50 countries and is a fixture on many British high streets, supports dozens of small grassroots groups dedicated to environmental issues, animal protection and human rights, raising money for them through its Charity Pots (Facebook page here).

The company’s Shaker Aamer Charity Pot supports the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, who I have worked with for many years to try and secure the release of Shaker Aamer. 100% of the profits from the pots go to the charities that Lush supports, so this is perfect opportunity for those of you who care about plight of Shaker Aamer — most recently highlighted here and here — to support the campaign by buying pots — for personal use, perhaps, or as gifts for friends and family. They cost £6.95 each.

A list of UK shops is here, and an international list is here. Read the rest of this entry »

The UK’s Unacceptable Obsession with Stripping British Citizens of Their UK Nationality

In January, Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, secured cross-party support for an alarming last-minute addition to the current Immigration Bill, allowing her to strip foreign-born British citizens of their citizenship, even if it leaves them stateless.

The timing appeared profoundly cynical. May already has the power to strip dual nationals of their citizenship, as a result of legislation passed in 2002 “enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who [have] done something ‘seriously prejudicial’ to the UK,” as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism described it in February 2013, but “the power had rarely been used before the current government.”

In December, the Bureau, which has undertaken admirable investigation into the Tory-led mission to strip people of their citizenship, further clarified the situation, pointing out that the existing powers are part of the British Nationality Act, and allow the Home Secretary to “terminate the British citizenship of dual-nationality individuals if she believes their presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’, or if they have obtained their citizenship through fraud.” The Bureau added, “Deprivation of citizenship orders can be made with no judicial approval in advance, and take immediate effect — the only route for people to argue their case is through legal appeals. In all but two known cases, the orders have been issued while the individual is overseas, leaving them stranded abroad during legal appeals that can take years” — and also, of course, raising serious questions about who is supposedly responsible for them when their British citizenship is removed. Read the rest of this entry »

Nine Years of Hunger Strikes and Force-Feeding at Guantánamo: A Declaration in Support of Emad Hassan by Clive Stafford Smith

Emad Hassan, in a photograph included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Last week, I wrote an article, “Guantánamo Prisoner Force-Fed Since 2007 Launches Historic Legal Challenge,” about Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner who is challenging the US authorities’ self-declared right to force-feed him, following a ruling in February by the appeals court in Washington D.C., allowing legal challenges to go ahead and reversing rulings made by lower court judges last summer, who believed that their hands were tied by Bush-era legislation preventing any legal challenges to the running of Guantánamo.

Emad Hassan is one of the most persistent hunger strikers at Guantánamo, and has been on a permanent hunger strike — which has also involved him being force-fed — since 2007. The irony is that, throughout most of this whole period he could have been a free man, as he — along with 74 other men, out of the 154 still held — was cleared for release from Guantánamo by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in January 2009.

That he is held at all is a disgrace, but Yemenis make up 55 of the 75 cleared prisoners, and are held because of concerns about the security situation in their homeland. This is bad enough, given that this is a form of “guilt by nationality” that makes a mockery of establishing a task force review process that is supposed to lead to the release of prisoners, but when it also transpires that some of these men — like Emad — are being force-fed instead of being freed, we are in a place of such dark and surreal injustice that it appears to have no parallel. Read the rest of this entry »

Long-Cleared Algerian Prisoner Ahmed Belbacha Released from Guantánamo

I’m delighted to report that Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian prisoner, has been released from Guantánamo. It’s always good news when a prisoner is released, and in Ahmed Belbacha’s case it is particularly reassuring, as I — and many other people around the world — have been following his case closely for many years. I first wrote about him in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and my first article mentioning him was back in June 2007. I have written about his case, and called for his release, on many occasions since.

Ahmed was cleared for release from Guantánamo twice — by a military review board under the Bush administration in February 2007, and by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by the president shortly after taking office in 2009.

Nevertheless, he was terrified of returning home, and, from 2007 onwards, tried to prevent his forced repatriation in the US courts. This seems to have annoyed the authorities in Algeria, as, in 2009, he was tried and sentenced in absentia, receiving a 20-year sentence for membership of a foreign terrorist group abroad. As his lawyers at Reprieve noted, despite repeated requests, no evidence was produced to support the conviction. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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