The Despair of Guantánamo’s Most Prominent Hunger Striker

Guantánamo’s most prominent hunger striker is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year old Syrian prisoner, married with four children and long cleared for release, who is in a wheelchair as a result of his treatment in US custody, and has been on a hunger strike since last spring.

Others have been on a hunger strike for longer — one man has been refusing food since 2005, and others have been starving themselves since 2007 — but Mr. Dhiab is particularly well-known because, in May, a US judge — District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C. — ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve videotaped evidence of his force-feeding, and his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), when a team of armored guards drags him out of his cell to take him to be force-fed.

Soon after, Judge Kessler reluctantly dropped her ban on Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, fearing that otherwise he would die. However, she also ordered the government to release the videotapes to Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers, and, after seeing them, one of his legal team, Cori Crider of the legal action charity Reprieve, said that she “had trouble sleeping after viewing them.” Read the rest of this entry »

US Judge Orders Guantánamo Authorities to Allow Independent Doctors to Assess Health of Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab

Last week there was some good news regarding Guantánamo in the US courts in the long-running case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a hunger striker who has spent the last 14 months attempting to get the US courts to stop him being force-fed, and who, in the last three months, briefly secured an order stopping his force-feeding, and also secured access for his lawyers to videotapes of his force-feeding and the “forcible cell extractions” used to remove him from his cell. In response, the authorities have now taken to confiscating his wheelchair, and, as Reprieve put it, “manhandling him to be force-fed.”

On August 12, District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the authorities at Guantánamo to allow two independent doctors to visit the prison to evaluate Mr. Dhiab’s health. As his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, his health “has deteriorated so much that there are now concerns for his life.” As Reprieve also explained, the doctors will “also testify, along with a force-feeding expert, at a hearing scheduled for October 6, about the medical effects of the force-feedings on Mr Dhiab.”

Mr. Dhiab is one of 75 men still held (out of the remaining 149 prisoners) who were cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force  appointed by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009. He has not been released because he cannot be safely repatriated and a third country must be found that will take him. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s Wife Calls for Videos of his Force-Feeding to be Made Public

Regular readers will know that one of the most prominent Guantánamo prisoners at present is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian national, separated from his wife and his four children for over 12 years, who recently persuaded a US judge to order the government stop force-feeding him as a response to the hunger strike that he embarked on last year. Soon after, Judge Gladys Kessler reluctantly rescinded her order, as she feared that Mr. Dhiab might die if he was not force-fed, but she also ordered the government to release videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding — and of him being forcibly extracted from his cell — to his lawyers.

This was the first time a judge had ordered evidence of force-feeding and cell extractions to be released to any of the prisoners’ lawyers, and when lawyers watched the videos, in the secure facility in Virginia where they must travel to view all classified material, one of his legal team, Cori Crider of Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them.” Although the men’s lawyers are the only people allowed to see the videos, 16 mainstream media organizations recently submitted a motion calling for them to be made public.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of his treatment in US custody, is one of 75 prisoners still held who were cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009. This disgraceful situation has arisen because of Congressional obstruction, a refusal by President Obama to spend political capital overcoming that obstruction, even though he has the means to do so, and the US establishment’s collective unwillingness to release Yemeni prisoners, who make up the majority of the cleared prisoners, because of unreasonable fears about the security situation in that country. Read the rest of this entry »

For the First Time, A Nurse at Guantánamo Refuses to Take Part in Force-Feedings, Calls Them a “Criminal Act”

Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent a number of prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay revealed yesterday that a nurse with the US military at the prison “recently refused to force-feed” prisoners “after witnessing the suffering” it caused them.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner long cleared for release from Guantánamo, who is in a wheelchair as a result of his physical deterioration after 12 years in US custody without charge or trial, told his lawyer Cori Crider during a phone call last week (on July 10) that the male nurse “recently told him he would no longer participate in force-feedings.”

Dhiab reported that the nurse said, “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act.”

He added that, “after the man made his decision known, he never saw him again,” and Reprieve noted that he had “apparently been assigned elsewhere.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Urge Obama Administration to Approve Release of Six Men to Uruguay

Lawyers for six prisoners at Guantánamo — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian, who have long been cleared for release from the prison, but are unable to return home — sent a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday calling for urgent action regarding their clients. I’m posting the full text of the letter below.

It’s now over three months since President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of five men — later expanded to six — and was willing to offer new homes to them. I wrote about the story here, where I also noted that one of the men is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian man, consigned to a wheelchair as a result of his suffering at Guantánamo. Dhiab is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, and has, in recent months, mounted a prominent legal challenge to his treatment, securing access for his lawyers to videotapes showing his force-feeding and violent cell extractions. The other Syrians are Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj), Ali Hussein al-Shaaban and Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, the Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan), and the Tunisian, whose identity is revealed for the first time, is Adel El-Ouerghi (aka Abdul Ourgy (ISN 502)).

All six men were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009, and in their letter the lawyers provided detailed explanations of how the deal has progressed since first being mooted late last year and how it appeared to be confirmed months ago, before it had first been mentioned publicly. “In February,” they wrote, “some or us were informed that, while it was not possible to ascertain precisely when transfer would occur, it was ‘a matter of weeks, not months.’” Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest News on the Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videotapes, and the Prisoners’ Ongoing Legal Challenges

A month ago, a federal court judge, Gladys Kessler, delivered a historic ruling on Guantánamo, ordering the government to stop force-feeding a hunger striking prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, and to release to his lawyers videos of his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions,” whose existence had only recently been discovered by one of his lawyers. She also ordered the government to release his medical records, and to “file a list of all current Standard Operating Procedures/Protocols directly addressing enteral feeding and/or the use of a restraint chair at Guantánamo Bay.”

Judge Kessler lifted her stay on Dhiab’s force-feeding just a few days later, fearing that otherwise he would die, but, with a precedent established regarding the release of videos, another prisoner, Mohammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, a Pakistani father of three, who was held in CIA “black sites” before his transfer to Guantánamo in 2004, asked Judge Kessler’s court, the District Court for the District of Columbia, in Washington D.C., for a second ruling ordering the government to release videotapes of his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions.”

As his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve described it, “The requested tapes are thought to document a period of particularly ‘gratuitous brutality,’ in which Mr. Rabbani contracted a chest infection as a result of botched force-feeding procedures, leading him to repeatedly vomit blood and lose consciousness.” Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Reluctantly Allows US to Resume Force-Feeding Guantánamo Hunger Striker

As I explained last week, the Guantánamo prisoners secured a massive court victory on May 16, when a federal court judge ordered the government to halt the force-feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner. He is one of 77 men still held (out of 154 in total) who have been cleared for release from the prison, and he is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, in large part because of his despair at ever being released, despite being told in January 2010 that the US government no longer wished to hold him.

The judge in question, Judge Gladys Kessler, also ordered the government to preserve video evidence of his force-feeding, to stop him being subjected to “forcible cell extractions” — in which guards in riot gear storm prisoner’s cells and move them to be force-fed if they refuse to go — and to preserve  all evidence of his “forcible cell extractions.”

This was the first time a judge had intervened to hold the government to account for its treatment of prisoners (following a helpful appeals court ruling in February), and on Wednesday Judge Kessler held a meeting with Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers and lawyers from the Justice Department at which she ordered the government to hand over videotapes and Mr. Dhiab’s medical records to his lawyers. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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