Appeals Court Refuses to Allow Government to Block Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Tapes

Abu Wa'el Dhiab photographed after his release in Uruguay with a picture he painted after his release (Photo: Oscar Bonilla).Last Friday, the appeals court in Washington, D.C. — the D.C. Circuit Court — kept alive hopes that the US government will be forced to release footage of a hunger striking Guantánamo prisoner being violently removed from his cell and force-fed, when a three-judge panel — consisting of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, Judge Patricia Millett and Judge Robert Wilkins — refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes.

When the court heard the case last month, Justice Department attorneys “argued that the courts cannot order evidence used in trial to be unsealed if it has been classified by the government,” as The Intercept described it. Justice Department lawyer Catherine Dorsey told the judges, “We don’t think there is a First Amendment right to classified documents.” The Intercept added that the judges “appeared skeptical. Chief Judge Merrick Garland characterized the government’s position as tantamount to claiming the court ‘has absolutely no authority’ to unseal evidence even if it’s clear the government’s bid to keep it secret is based on ‘irrationality’ or that it’s ‘hiding something.'”

The tapes are of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner who spent last year challenging the government’s force-feeding program in the courts. Dhiab was freed in Uruguay in December, but his case continues. In June, Cori Crider, one of Dhiab’s lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, said after viewing the videos, which have only to date been seen by the lawyers, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them.”

Writing of the ruling, Reprieve noted that the court “ordered the Obama Administration to redact 12 hours of secret Guantánamo force-feeding footage in preparation for its public release, rejecting the Administration’s argument that not one single frame should be seen by the public.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Petty and Nasty”: Guantánamo Commander Bans Lawyers From Bringing Food to Share with Prisoners

The meeting room in Camp Echo, mentioned in Guantanamo commander Rear Adm. Cozad's May 2015 memo prohibiting lawyers from bringing food into meetings with the clients, as seen from one of the cells. Camp Echo is where prisoners used to be held in isolation.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.

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the prison’s military commander, Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, has issued a memorandum banning lawyers for the prisoners from bringing food to meetings with their clients. The memorandum, entitled, “Modification to Rules Regarding Detainee Legal and Periodic Review Board Meetings,” states, “Food of any kind, other than that provided by guard force personnel for Detainee consumption, is prohibited within meeting spaces.”

That innocuous sounding ban is, nevertheless, a huge blow to many lawyers and prisoners. Since lawyers were first allowed to visit prisoners ten years ago, and to represent them, after the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, it has been an opportunity for bonding between lawyers and prisoners, and an opportunity for the prisoners to receive something from the outside world, in a place where, initially, they were completely cut off from the outside world, and where, even now, over six years after Barack Obama became president, they are still more isolated than any other prisoners held by the US — unable, for example, to meet with any family members, even if their relatives could afford to fly there, and, in almost all cases, held without charge or trial in defiance of international norms.

As veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg explained in an article for the Miami Herald, “the custom of eating with a captive across a meeting table at Camp Echo — with the prisoner shackled by an ankle to the floor — took on cultural and symbolic significance almost from the start when lawyers brought burgers and breakfast sandwiches from the base McDonald’s to prison meetings in 2005.” Read the rest of this entry »

MPs Visit US to Discuss the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo with John McCain and Dianne Feinstein

The delegation of British MPs who traveled to Washington, D.C. to call for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo at a meeting with Sen. John McCain on May 20, 2015. From L to R: Alka Pradhan of Reprieve, Andy Slaughter MP, Andrew Mitchell MP, Sen. John McCain, David Davis MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP.On Tuesday, in an open letter to President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter that I drafted, 13 rights groups, including Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, as well as Amnesty international USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve and others, called for the release of 57 men from Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still in the prison), who are still held despite being approved for release, the majority for over five years.

One of the 57 is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and one of the reasons I initiated the letter was to coincide with a visit to Washington, D.C. by a delegation of British MPs, from the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, which was established last November, and, in March, secured the support of the government for the following motion — “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.”

The MPs who flew to the US for meetings to try to secure Shaker’s release are the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn (a longtime colleague of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group’s chair, John McDonnell) and Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter, and the Conservative MPs David Davis (a former Shadow Home Secretary) and Andrew Mitchell (a former Chief Whip and former International Development Secretary). 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 »

“Most of the Hunger Strikers Are Vomiting on the Torture Chairs”: Emad Hassan’s Latest Harrowing Letter from Guantánamo

In the long-running struggle by prisoners at Guantánamo to get US judges to order the prison authorities to stop force-feeding them when they are on a hunger strike to protest about their indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, the focus in the last few months has been on Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, cleared for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office, but still held, like 78 other prisoners cleared for release.

In May, in Washington D.C., District Judge Gladys Kessler delivered a powerful and unprecedented ruling in Mr. Dhiab’s case, ordering the government to stop force-feeding him, and also ordering the release, to his lawyers, of videotapes showing his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), where prisoners are violently extracted from their cells by a group of armored guards and taken for force-feeding after refusing to voluntarily drink the liquid nutritional supplements given to hunger strikers.

The order regarding Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding was withdrawn by Judge Kessler shortly after it was issued, as she feared that otherwise Mr. Dhiab would die, but the videotapes have been seen by his lawyers, who described them as profoundly shocking — and 16 US media organizations are currently engaged in trying to get the videotapes released to the public. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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