Disappointment as US Judge Upholds Force-Feeding of Hunger Striking Guantánamo Prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab

Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab, and District Judge Gladys Kessler, who, earlier this year, ordered the government to preserve all videotapes of his force-feeding and "forcible cell extractions," and who, last month, ordered those videotapes to be publicly released. On November 7, 2014, unfortunately, she refused to order the government to change the way it force-feeds him, and to make it more humane.On Friday, in the latest twist in the legal challenge mounted by Abu Wa’el Dhiab,  a hunger striker at Guantánamo, District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C., disappointed Mr. Dhiab, his lawyers and everyone who wants personnel at Guantánamo to be accountable for their actions by denying his request “to significantly change the manner in which the US military transfers, restrains and forcibly feeds detainees on hunger strike to protest their confinement,” as the Guardian described it.

Mr Dhiab, a father of four who is in a wheelchair because of the decline in his health during 12 years in US custody, was cleared for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed when he first took office, but he is still held because of Congressional opposition to the release of prisoners, and because he needs a third country to take him in (and although Uruguay has offered him new home, that deal has not yet materialized). Last year, he embarked on a hunger strike because of his despair that he would never be released, along with two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, and he also asked a judge to order the government to feed him in a more humane manner.

That request was turned down last summer, because of legislation passed under President Bush that was cynically designed to prevent judges from interfering in the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, but in February this year the court of appeals — the D.C. Circuit Court — overturned that ruling and an allied ruling, determining that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, as the New York Times described it, that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” and that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fawzi Al-Odah Freed from Guantánamo, Returns Home to Kuwait

In this photo released by the al-Odah family, Fawzi al-Odah is shown with an unidentified relative on the left and his father Khalid on the right on his arrival in Kuwait on November 6, 2014.Congratulations to the Obama administration for arranging for Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, to be sent home, a free man, on the day after the US mid-term elections — although he will be held in Kuwaiti custody for a year and required to take part in a year-long rehabilitation program.

With control of the Senate passing from the Democrats to the Republicans, and the House of Representatives maintaining its Republican majority, it may be difficult for President Obama to engage constructively with lawmakers on the eventual closure of the prison during his last two years in office.

However, by releasing al-Odah, leaving 148 men still held at the prison, including the last Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, the president has sent a clear signal that his administration remains committed to releasing prisoners approved for release by governmental review boards, following the rules laid down by Congress, which require the administration to give them 30 days’ notice prior to any release, and for the defense secretary to certify that he is satisfied that it is safe for the prisoner or prisoners in question to be released.

Al-Odah, who was born on May 6, 1977 and is 37 years old, was seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to US custody on January 2, 2002. He arrived at Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, and, as a result, spent over a third of his life at the prison, without ever having been charged or tried. Read the rest of this entry »

76 US Lawmakers Ask Obama to Let Them See Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos

Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who sent a letter to President Obama on October 30, 2014, asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantanamo.

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 Thursday, 76 members of the US Congress — the Congressional Progressive Caucus, represented by co-chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison — sent a letter to President Obama asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantánamo.

In May, District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered videotapes of the force-feeding — and “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) — of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at the legal action charity 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,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.”

On October 3, in response to a motion submitted in June by 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Associated Press and others, Judge Kessler ordered the videotapes — eleven hours of footage, consisting of 28 tapes in total — to be publicly released, once they have been “redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab.” Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Grants Government a Month’s Delay in Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videotapes

Last Thursday, in the latest development in Guantánamo prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s quest to stop his force-feeding, District Judge Gladys Kessler gave the US government a one-month delay in complying with her recent order for videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding and his “forcible cell extractions” — in which armored guards violently remove prisoners from their cells — to be publicly released.

The challenge by Mr. Dhiab — one of 80 prisoners approved for release but still held — has been putting pressure on the Guantánamo authorities, and on the Obama administration, for many months, as I explained at the time of the ruling about releasing the videotapes, three weeks ago, when I wrote:

This ruling is the latest in a string of powerful rulings by Judge Kessler, who, in May, briefly ordered the government to stop force-feeding Mr. Dhiab. This order was swiftly rescinded, as Judge Kessler feared for his life, but she also ordered videotapes of his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) and his force-feeding to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at 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,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.” Read the rest of this entry »

Experts Deliver Damning Testimony at Guantánamo Force-Feeding Trial

For an update on October 9, see below.

This week, a historic and unprecedented trial has been taking place in Washington D.C., as lawyers for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner at Guantánamo, have been challenging the government’s claimed legality for force-feeding prisoners.

Mr. Dhiab has been a frequent hunger striker for the last seven years, and weighs just 152 pounds, despite being six feet five inches tall. Last February, he took part in a hunger strike that involved up to two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, who were in despair at ever being released or given justice, and he has continued his hunger strike, even though throughout this period he has been subjected to painful force-feeding. He is one of 75 of the remaining 149 prisoners who were approved for release by a government task force in 2009 — and four others have had their release approved this year through another review process, the Periodic Review Boards. He is also in a wheelchair as a result of his physical decline during his 12 years in US custody.

Last summer, Mr. Dhiab challenged the legality of his force-feeding in court, and, as I explained in an article on Sunday, in May, after some to-ing and fro-ing, Judge Gladys Kessler, in the District Court in Washington D.C., “briefly ordered the government to stop force-feeding Mr. Dhiab. This order was swiftly rescinded, as Judge Kessler feared for his life, but she also ordered videotapes of his ‘forcible cell extractions’ (FCEs) and his force-feeding to be made available to his lawyers.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Ground-Breaking Ruling, US Judge Gladys Kessler Orders Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos to be Made Public

Congratulations to Judge Gladys Kessler of the District Court in Washington D.C., who, yesterday, followed up on a powerful order prohibiting the government from holding a secret hearing in the case of Guantánamo hunger striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab, which I wrote about here, with an even more powerful order calling on the government to prepare for public release eleven hours of videotapes showing Mr. Dhiab being dragged from his cell and force-fed.

This ruling is the latest in a string of powerful rulings by Judge Kessler, who, in May, briefly ordered the government to stop force-feeding Mr. Dhiab. This order was swiftly rescinded, as Judge Kessler feared for his life, but she also ordered videotapes of his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) and his force-feeding to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at 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,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.”

In a press release, Reprieve explained that the eleven hours of video footage — consisting of 28 tapes in total — “is to be redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab,” and further explained how Judge Kessler’s ruling came in response to a motion submitted in June by 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Associated Press and others, seeking to have the videotapes unsealed. Read the rest of this entry »

Judge in Guantánamo Force-Feeding Case Rejects Government’s Call for Secret Hearing

Sometimes, when it comes to Guantánamo, the shamelessness of the US government know no bounds.

The most recent example is in the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, long cleared for release and confined to a wheelchair as a result of his treatment over the last 12 years. In despair at ever being released, Mr. Dhiab embarked on a hunger strike last year, as part of the prison-wide hunger strike that reminded many people of the existence of Guantánamo — and in May he won an unprecedented court victory, when, as I described it recently, 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), whereby 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, which was another unprecedented decision.

On August 12, as I explained in another article, Judge 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 had “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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Life Sentence for Sulaiman Abu Ghaith Discredits Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

On Tuesday, in a courtroom in New York City, a long-running chapter in the “war on terror” came to an end, when Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, 48, a Kuwaiti-born cleric who appeared in media broadcasts as a spokesman for Al-Qaeda the day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, received a life sentence based on the three counts for which he was convicted after his trial in March: conspiracy to kill Americans, providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

The life sentence came as no surprise, as it is permissible for the main conspiracy charge, although Abu Ghaith’s lead defense lawyer, Stanley L. Cohen, had, as the New York Times described it, “sought a sentence of 15 years, saying in a court submission that his client was facing ‘the harshest of penalties for talk — and only talk.'” The Times added that Cohen had likened Abu Ghaith to “an outrageous daytime ‘shock-radio’ host, or a World War II radio propagandist for a losing ideology.”

In court, as the Times also noted, Cohen “emphasized that his client had played no role in specific acts of terrorism,” but the government had argued otherwise, stating in a sentencing memorandum that there was “no fathomable reason to justify a sentence other than life.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shameful: US Judge Increases Prison Sentence of Tortured US Enemy Combatant Jose Padilla

Of the tens of thousands of victims of the Bush administration’s novel approach to detention in the “war on terror” — which involved shredding the Geneva Conventions, the use of torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial, and, in some cases, extraordinary rendition —  few of the victims were American citizens, but three particular individuals need to be remembered, because they were not only tortured and held without charge or trial for years, but their torture and lawless detention took place on US soil.

The three men are Jose Padilla, Yaser Hamdi and Ali al-Marri (the latter a legal US resident rather than a citizen), and Padilla — a former Chicago gang member who converted to Islam, and was held as an “enemy combatant” on US soil from May 2002, when he was seized after returning him from Pakistan, until November 2005 — was back in the news last week when a judge extended to 21 years the sentence of 17 years and four months he received in January 2008, when he was convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people abroad, and providing material support for terrorism.

The sentence was a disgrace, as I explained at the time in an article entitled, “Why Jose Padilla’s 17-year prison sentence should shock and disgust all Americans,” because of Padilla’s torture, which had destroyed his mind, because the judge prohibited all mention of his torture during the trial, and because the “dirty bomb plot” he had allegedly been involved in had turned out to be non-existent, and his trial and sentence was based instead on his involvement in a handful of phone calls that made reference to jihad. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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