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 Soon after, Judge Gladys Kessler reluctantly rescinded her order, as she feared that Mr.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.

This unacceptable situation continues to drag on, poisoning America’s claims to be a nation that believes in justice, and while it now appears that Abu Wa’el Dhiab will be released in the not too distant future — to Uruguay, at the request of President Mujica, along with five other men cleared for release who cannot be safely repatriated — Mr. Dhiab is not yet a free man, and, as a result, I am delighted to make available a powerful article about his situation, written by his wife and recently published on the Huffington Post.

Umm Wa’el Dhiab’s article about her husband is below:

The Obama Administration Must Let the American People See Footage of My Husband Being Force-Fed in Their Name
By Umm Wa’el Dhiab, Huffington Post, July 15, 2014

Last week, Obama administration lawyers filed a stack of documents in a case about my husband — including sealed videos of him being taken to be force-fed at Guantánamo Bay. I don’t think I could bear to see those videos. It shocks me, though, that the American people may never be given the opportunity to see for themselves what is happening in their name.

Sixteen of America’s biggest media organizations have asked for the right to air them, judging them to be in the public interest. The government is fighting their request, scrabbling to cover up what is going on every day in the prison.

Indeed, when I read their documents last week, I was struck by how hard these government lawyers have tried to keep everything about my husband from public view, and not just by suppressing the videos of his abuse but by avoiding describing the man himself. At no point amidst all the legal jargon did they write anything about him: who he actually is or why he might be on hunger strike. I want to tell them.

More than a decade has passed since Abu Wa’el was taken from us in the night. I had just given birth to our fourth child; our other children were just toddlers. My husband is a kind man and a superb cook. I miss the dishes he learned to prepare in his father’s restaurant. He is guilty of no crime, has never been charged, and was told by President Obama five years ago that he would be released from Guantánamo.

This year has been one of the hardest to be without him. Last July we were still living in Syria. The civil war forced us to leave for Lebanon, and then to seek shelter in Turkey. I tried to rejoin my family in Jordan but was immediately taken in for questioning at the border and refused entry because of Abu Wa’el’s detention at Guantánamo. The stigma travels. We’ve made it back to Istanbul now. I’m proud that the children are registered in school, and that their teachers tell me that they have already caught up in their studies.

I had to do all that alone. Abu Wa’el is nearing his 13th year at Guantánamo Bay. When I speak to his American lawyers, I can tell that they are shocked and appalled by his case. I’m not so shocked. I was a teacher in Syria. The government locked me up twice in the past just because of Abu Wa’el’s detention, so I know what it means when politics disregards the law.

The children always ask me about their father. I cry when I think about the fact that he has missed their whole childhood now. He has missed kissing them, stroking their hair, telling them stories to help them drift off to sleep. Maria has carried his picture around with her for years now. Ahmad keeps telling me that he will travel to free his father when he gets older.

I promised my husband that I would get them to safety, after we lost so many loved ones in the civil war. Abu Wa’el promised me in return that he would come and join us by whatever means he could. So, 12 years after his arrest, with no movement on his case, he decided to stop eating. I hate the thought of him doing this. But I understand. The rest of us are safe now, waiting for him. We’ve dealt with enough over the last decade. It’s time for our family to be reunited and for us to start living again.

None of this appears in the government documents. Abu Wa’el is named simply as “petitioner.” Over 45 pages, the Obama administration’s lawyers use every possible argument to explain why the way they force-feed him should not be examined in detail. At one point, apparently, they even say that the former senior medical officer — the man who once approved forcing a tube in and out of my husband’s nose twice a day — should not be questioned because it would interrupt his annual vacation.

In the past, I wouldn’t have expected this kind of secrecy of America. But over the past few months, I’ve seen it repeatedly. First, the government fought to prevent our lawyers from seeing the force-feeding videos. Now they forbid our lawyers from even discussing their content with other security-cleared lawyers in secret. Then they opposed the request from 16 of their country’s most reputed media groups for access to the material. They are doing their best to make sure that what has happened — is happening — to my husband never sees the light of day.

What is even more confusing to me is that the solution to all this appears to be within the government’s grasp. The US media has recently been reporting that my husband is one of six Guantánamo prisoners who might be resettled, and that the transfer documents are on the desk of the secretary of defense. I read those articles repeatedly. It is hard to believe that our family might actually be one signature away from seeing each other again.

America was shocked by the images from Abu Ghraib. These films from Guantánamo threaten to do the same. The American people should be given the chance to see them, and to decide whether they accept what is being done daily to my husband. I am certain that if they are given the chance, they will see the reality: the simple desperation of an innocent man, held without charge or trial, using the only means at his disposal to get back to his wife and children.

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).

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10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Chenae Meneely shared this, and wrote:

    This is being done in our name!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Chenae. I thought Umm Wa’el’s words were very powerful, and it made me reflect on how infrequently we hear from relatives of those held at Guantanamo and elsewhere in the “war on terror,” and how sad that is. Dehumanization has always been the key to Guantanamo, and we need to hear from relatives to remind the world that the prisoners are human beings like us.

  3. Anna says...

    Wonderful letter which should do a lot to help to re-humanize the Guantanamo prisoners.

    As for the US government, the first sentence from the website of the US government’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor reads:

    “Promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world are central to U.S. foreign policy.” …

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna. I hope all is well with you.
    It’s astonishing, isn’t it, how an awareness of hypocrisy is generally so alien to the US government? All those State Department reports during the Bush administration, for example, criticizing other countries’ human rights abuses, which have continued under Obama …

  5. arcticredriver says...

    I hate watching the USA as the poison of knowledge that the USA is acting as a torture state percolates through US culture.

    I wonder to what extent the whole American national psyche might experience the same instability as Vietnam veterans often experience, as Americans realize they tacitly endorsed their GIs to do terrible things in their name, once the great fever of hysteria over terrorism has passed, and they recognize there was no legitimate justification for those terrible things.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks also, arcticredriver, for the thoughts about the psychic impact of the crimes committed in the “war on terror.” I often describe the failure to challenge the official use of torture under the Bush administration as allowing a poison into American society that can only be dealt with when the torture is thoroughly repudiated, and the torturers held to account. Otherwise, the poison continues to infect society in general, and this, I believe, is what we’re seeing.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Melis Mel Kataria wrote:

    Close this hell hole!!!! What kind of government would have and allow a place of basic torture to thousands of people regardless of knowing what their crimes are if they have committed it! Humans deserve humanity!!!! If judging and condemning is the target, surely there are millions of other facilities to investigate the truth and uphold justice! We unfortunately live in a world where humanity for animal cruelty is far more than humanity for human beings!!! This place is absolutely horrible and should be shut down immediately!!!!!!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Melis, for the comments. Very good to hear from you.

  9. Anna says...

    For US hypocrisy, here’s an amazing (if that is still possible) example from Kerry on Fox. 300 Ukrainians [awful of course, that’s not the point] having been killed and something needing to be done about that, while by now some 500 killed in Gaza does not. At any rate not officially. There’s his usual fumbling, about Israel being attacked while trying to elucidate the deaths of three Pale… eh, a US citizen and three Isreali youths. Looks like he does not even know the American was Palestinian:
    Don’t mind the confused French text, the video is in English.
    Earlier on, ABC showed pictures of bombed Palestinians claiming it was in Israel.

    A US general coined this NewSpeak a few years ago in Afghanistan: “You don’t need to be fired at to fire back” when trying to justify killing innocent villagers who had not attacked his special forces. The ‘You’ exclusively being the US and allies, that goes without saying. This principle of course could never apply to Omar Khadr, even if he indeed had thrown the grenade which killed Speer.

    I witnessed there how time and again civilian victims were blamed for getting killed because they supposedly should have avoided being there, for instance on a public road in broad daylight, in their own country.

    But that’s nothing compared to what the Israeli government has introduced, turning virtually all Gaza inhabitants into ‘enemy combatants’ by warning them -sometimes one minute in advance- that their house/hospital etc is going to be bombed and then claiming that if they were killed in the blast, it means they had remained there intentionally as ‘human shields’ and therefore were ‘legitimate targets’ … How crooked must you be to even think of such a thing?

    You really cannot win no matter what you do and that is increasingly becoming the reality of what this mad world is heading for. A runaway train with a madman at the controls. Stay on, pretending a little longer that all is OK before you become part of the final crash or jump off earlier? Is that the only Hobson’s choice we are left with? In the meantime most civilians in our comfortable part of the world couldn’t care less and prefer to wallow in ‘omg’ gossip about marriages, divorces, whose breasts are bigger or dress more outrageously expensive. How do we stop this madness before it gets so engrained that the next generation won’t even realize anymore how crooked and dangerous all this is?
    Prozac for sure is not the answer, nor is answering agression with more agression.

    What if we all got rid of our smartphones and started talking to each other again, to perfect strangers, were it only on the subway or on a park bench?

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. The situation in Gaza is so horrific that I hope some sort of change is coming. So many people marched at the weekend around the world that our leaders must surely be paying attention. I’m not so naive that I think outrage alone is enough to force a change, but I do think that tipping points can be reached at surprising times. I certainly hope so. You are correct, I think, to single out the Israeli approach to Gaza as “turning virtually all Gaza inhabitants into ‘enemy combatants.’”
    As for your other points, I often feel close to despair at the distraction and self-absorption of so many of my fellow human beings, and while it wouldn’t be a definitive catalyst for some sort of positive change, I do think that encouraging people to be aware of the dangerous obsessive nature of our relationship with technology (and very specifically smartphones) is necessary. We all need to take breaks from the technology, and, as you say, do something radical like talk to a stranger!

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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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