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.”

Elaborating, Reprieve noted that, in a declaration submitted to the court, Mr. Rabbani “described how an improperly-inserted feeding tube caused him to develop chest pain, as a result of which he asked for a day’s rest from force-feeding.” However, his request was ignored, and the next day “he ‘vomited blood on himself three or four times’ before losing consciousness — yet was still taken to the feeding chair by the FCE team.”

He also “described how an improperly-inserted feeding tube led to his airways being blocked with liquid, and considerable pain from the repeated insertion and withdrawal of the tube, often multiple times in each feeding session.”

Cori Crider, Rabbani’s lawyer at Reprieve, said, “Mr. Rabbani has repeatedly reported disturbing abuse at the hands of the Guantánamo authorities, as have so many of his fellow hunger-strikers. Yet the prison denies it, and has flatly refused even the smallest requests to make the force-feeding process more humane. These videos can only help us get to the truth. The court must be allowed to see exactly what is going on daily at Guantánamo Bay.”

Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s renewed complaints

The day after, Abu Wa’el Dhiab complained that he was “once again being subjected to harsh treatment amounting to torture,” as the Guardian described it.

In a supplemental declaration, another of his lawyers, Jon B. Eisenberg, explained what his client had told him in a phone call on June 1:

“After the court ruling they are using a new method on me.” This new method is that some of his FCEs appear to be done by a team that is brought from another camp. He says “this is the rough team,” which he describes as “really evil.” This team “takes you very roughly, with torture.” This team did his FCEs on the evening of May 29, the morning of May 30, and the evening of May 30, and each time he was harshly choked. He says: “I thought they would choke me to death because they were handling me so roughly.” He asked the members of the new team for their numbers so that he could complain, but they refused to give them to him.

Eisenberg also wrote:

Petitioner reiterates that he does not object to being force-fed in order to keep him alive, as long as the force-feeding is “civilized.” He states: “I am willing to be force-fed in a humane manner.” His recent force-feedings, however, have not been humane. He asks: “Is it necessary for them to torture me? Is it necessary for them to choke me every day with the tube? Is it necessary for them to make my throat so swollen every day? Do I have to suffer every day? Is it necessary for them to put me on the torture chair in order to feed me?”

As the Guardian noted, although the Defense Department “insists that it only force feeds Guantánamo prisoners to keep them alive when they are at risk of death,” Judge Kessler was not convinced, and reminded the government that, “according to the Pentagon’s own standard operating protocols, enteral feeding should only be practiced on Dhiab when he is facing an ‘imminent risk of death or great bodily injury.'”

Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s lawyers begin to review the videotapes

When Mohammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani sought an order requiring the government to release videotapes of his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions,” his lawyers had hoped that an order would oblige the government to hand over the tapes at the same time as the Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s 34 tapes, for which the handover date set by Judge Kessler was June 13.

As the Associated Press reported yesterday, Dhiab’s lawyers have begun to examine the videotapes, at the secure facility in Washington D.C., where lawyers for the prisoners must travel to view all classified material relating to their clients.

Dhiab’s lawyers, who, as the AP explained, “have never been allowed to witness the procedure in person,” were expecting to view around ten hours of videotapes over the weekend, as the first batch of released tapes, and are seeking evidence of brutality and abuse in their client’s force-feeding, and in his “forcible cell extractions.” Jon Eisenberg explained, “It’s really kind of a modest thing to ask a court to order our military not to torture these men.”

The AP also explained that, as well as seeking the release of videos on Mohammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani’s behalf, the lawyers also plan to ask for the release of videos in some other cases.

Asked what she expected to see, Cori Crider said, “Of course, I expect it to be upsetting.” She added that the DoD “say it’s humane, but that’s totally not the way Dhiab and dozens of other people have reported it to me.”

Unfeasibly, the prison’s commander, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, told the AP, “We don’t force feed anyone.”

The prisoners and their lawyers disagree. Crider told the AP, that, of the 149 men still held, Dhiab’s legal team “believes about 34 are still on hunger strike and about 18 meet the guidelines for the feedings.”

On Monday morning, there will be a status conference in Dhiab’s case, set by Judge Kessler three weeks ago,“to address any outstanding discovery issues and set a date for a Motion Hearing,” as Reprieve explained in a press release, adding that the Motion Hearing will determine “[t]he wider issue of whether force-feeding at Guantánamo is illegal … once the tapes and other key evidence have been reviewed.”

I look forward to more news that keeps this important story in the public eye — and that keeps pressure on the government to release prisoners. Abu Wa’el Dhiab, lest we forget, is only on a hunger strike because he despairs of ever being released, despite being one of 75 men still held who had their release approved by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force over four years ago, in January 2010. Last month President Mujica of Uruguay offered a new home to him, and to five other men long cleared for release but who cannot be safely repatriated, and what would make sense now — both in terms of justice, and, more cynically, in terms of digging the Obama administration out of the hole dug by Judge Kessler — would be for Dhiab and these five other men to be sent to Montevideo as soon as is possible.

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, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Jennifer Benitez wrote:

    This man is treated worse than any American prisoner who has had a trial and been convicted of murder yet he’s had no trial and even if he did what story would they have to make up. Where is the justice !?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Jennifer, for that heartfelt cry. Where is the justice indeed? Sadly it went missing nearly 12 and a half years ago when the prison at Guantanamo Bay was established, and now far too few people with power and responsibility care enough to make sure it is closed down once and for all, so that the only people deprived of their liberty are those convicted of crimes in federal courts, or those held unmolested as prisoners of war according to the Geneva Conventions.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennifer Benitez wrote:

    People just go on about their lives , and turn their heads. Most Americans buy all the labels that have been put on people by the media. It’s really quite pathetic how easily they are fooled. Meanwhile these men are being tortured year after year. I’m not sure how it will end.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Jennifer, people have the opportunity to question what they are told – possibly more than ever before, through a judicious use of the internet – and yet so many are questioning nothing, and just taking their information from right-wing liars masquerading as media outlets.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennifer Benitez wrote:

    I guess it just goes to show, when Snowden told us of all the spying being done on us, nobody blinked. So who would care for these men ? Basic rights are being taken away from all of us in one way or another.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Jennifer. It is disturbing how few people care about the extent of surveillance. “I’ve done nothing wrong” is many people’s approach, forgetting that the main questions should be, “Why should my government be doing this? Why should I trust them? Whose agenda are they serving?”

  7. Sherene says...

    Well…now we know they REALLY ARE GOING TO HATE US! And justifiably So! Didn’t Bush and Cheney know anything about the law when they threw these men in here? Also the Congress that has Stopped the President from closing it, Every Freaking Day We Hold These Men It Just Gets WORSE AND WORSE! Oh they will go out and fight against American…Probably. But You CAN’T Continue this Craziness!!! It is going to take YEARS AND YEARS for us be trusted again by the rest of the world…At least Obama has started the process or at least is trying to.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Sherene. Good to hear from you.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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