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

4.11.14

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.”

On October 16, Judge Kessler granted the government a month’s delay in releasing the tapes, to allow them time to make the redactions, and also so as not to conflict with the possibility of a government appeal, but while this delay is underway the Congressional Progressive Caucus has stepped in to keep the focus on Mr. Dhiab’s case.

In their letter, the lawmakers call on the president not only to let them see videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, but also of the force-feeding of another prisoner, Emad Hassan (aka Imad Hassan), who, in May, submitted a motion for his own videotapes to be released. As the lawmakers explain, “The recordings are currently classified at the ‘Secret’ level, although no national security or other justification has been provided for this classification.”

The lawmakers also point out that the videotapes have been described as containing “evidence of unlawful force-feedings taking place at Guantánamo,” and note that Mr. Dhiab “asserts that the force-feeding techniques are applied arbitrarily and constitute abuse that potentially rises to the level of torture.”

They also refer to the important stand taken by the US guard who refused to take part in the force-feeding, and whose story emerged in July, and conclude by telling the president, “The facts pertaining to these practices at Guantánamo should be available to Members of Congress,” adding, “Ongoing secrecy is untenable. US personnel at Guantánamo should not carry out policies that are contrary to American laws or values.”

The Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Letter to President Obama Regarding the Release of Videotapes of Force-Feeding in Guantánamo

Congressional Progressive Caucus
US House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20050

October 30, 2014

Dear Mr. President,

We write to request that you release to Members of Congress the video recordings of Guantánamo Bay detention facility detainees who are being force-fed while on hunger-strike.

US officials first acknowledged the existence of such video recordings in April, 2014, during the habeas proceedings of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian detainee cleared for release. Thirty two video recordings of Mr. Dhiab’s forcible cell extractions and force-feedings have been produced to his legal team as part of his habeas proceedings. Four additional video recordings have been produced for Imad Abdullah Hassan, a Yemeni detainee also cleared for release. The recordings are currently classified at the “Secret” level, although no national security or other justification has been provided for this classification.

Although Mr. Dhiab’s legal representatives are barred from revealing the contents of the recordings, they have broadly described them as “extremely disturbing” and allege that they are evidence of unlawful force-feedings taking place at Guantánamo Bay. In his court filings, Mr. Dhiab asserts that the force-feeding techniques are applied arbitrarily and constitute abuse that potentially rises to the level of torture. According to recent reports, at least one medical provider at Guantánamo is refusing to participate in force-feeding because of his opposition to the techniques.

A number of prominent non-governmental organizations have asserted that JTF-GTMO’s force-feeding techniques violate medical ethics and acceptable medical care standards, and constitute human rights abuses. The organizations also raise concerns about the secrecy surrounding the techniques.

The facts pertaining to these practices at Guantánamo should be available to Members of Congress. The judge for this case, Judge Gladys Kessler, has issued an order to release the videos. Ongoing secrecy is untenable. US personnel at Guantánamo should not carry out policies that are contrary to American laws or values. We urge you to allow Members of Congress to view the video recordings of Mr. Dhiab’s and Mr. Hassan’s force-feedings and to take any action necessary to correct these practices.

We will continue to support your efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. Until that occurs, we would like to work with the administration to stop any abusive or illegal practices that take place within its walls. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Raúl Grijalva
Member of Congress

Keith Ellison
Member of Congress

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.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    I realize it’s just 4pm Eastern Time and 1pm Pacific Time, and there’s still time to vote in today’s mid-terms, so I’ll repeat what I wrote yesterday when I posted the original version of this article on Facebook – if you’re voting, please check out the names of the 75 members of the House of Representatives on the Congressional Progressive Caucus who are behind this letter (along with Bernie Sanders in the Senate), and vote as wisely as possible. Politics is in a mess, and those who represent us are often only representing corporations and banks, but I do think things will be noticeably worse – in terms of progress towards closing Guantanamo, at the least – if the Republicans get a majority in the Senate and add to their majority in the House: http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/caucus-members/

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Yes, Andy. This is good news, and about time these representatives took an interest in something they have responsibility for. They have a duty of care for the Guantanamo abductees, whether they accept it or not. Every last Congress person and Senator has blood on their hands. Now, where’s Barack’s restraint chair so he can watch the video too? Sharing.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Willy, for the eloquent reminder of why US lawmakers are generally so useless. We now have 76 names – and I intend to use them!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Peter B. Collins wrote:

    Thanks, Andy, I mentioned this in my podcast today, forgot to give you credit

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Peter B. Good to hear from you.

  6. Anna says...

    Drip, drip, but good signals are appearing, even if we do not know whether it will be followed up, especially after yesterday’s midterm elections.

    However, I keep making an effort to say ‘thank you’ to such persons who are at least trying to make a difference and should feel motivated to continue their uphill battle.
    Mail services of Congress members require a nine digit ZIP code to prove that you’re from their constituency, while most of us presumably aren’t.

    However, a small effort goes a long way: google ‘schools/bookshops/churches or whatever you fancy + the capital of their constituency, enter the chosen address in the postal services: https://tools.usps.com/go/ZipLookupAction!input.action and you’ll get your valid zip-code and can send your’thank you’. Eg
    http://ellison.house.gov/contact.
    He’s been reelected :-).

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. Yes, drip, drip, indeed, but much better than these 76 not sending the letter, although I agree that the mid-term results are not helpful. I intend to look at how many were re-elected, and then encourage US supporters of the “Close Guantanamo” campaign, who are their constituents, to encourage them to keep pushing on Guantanamo.
    Good on you for finding out how non-constituents can slip through the net!

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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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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