Judge in Guantánamo force-feeding case wants more evidence

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the government to turn over more videotapes showing the forceful removal of a hunger-striking Guantánamo Bay detainee from his cell.

Over Justice Department objections, District Judge Gladys Kessler directed that four additional videotapes be produced, showing encounters May 29 and May 30 between a specially equipped Guantánamo team and longtime detainee Mohammed Abu Wa’el Dhiab.

“We would like those to be produced to verify Mr. Dhiab’s account of extra-brutal treatment,” attorney Jon Eisenberg said, adding that the “team was particularly rough with him, and choked him.”

The 42-year-old Dhiab said he’d turned to hunger striking because he had no other recourse. Imprisoned since 2002, the Syrian native has been cleared for release once the United States finds another country to take him.

During an hourlong hearing in a fourth-floor courtroom Wednesday, Eisenberg and fellow attorney Eric L. Lewis laid the groundwork for their efforts to stop the force-feeding. They’re trying to convince Kessler to issue a temporary injunction, following the judge’s earlier decision to lift a temporary restraining order.

On Wednesday, Kessler directed attorneys to file written arguments by mid-July concerning the next step.

“I am trying to move things along, everybody,” Kessler said.

According to Dhiab’s attorneys, some with the human rights organization Reprieve, he’s been forcibly removed from his cell an average of three times a week over the past year in order to receive the force-feeding. Guantánamo authorities deploy what’s called a “forcible cell extraction” team to remove detainees who appear resistant.

During the feeding, guards restrain the detainees in chairs and medical technicians snake tubes through their nostrils and into their stomachs so that liquid nutrients may be forced in. The U.S. government refers to the practice as “enteral feedings.”

“During the last days of Bush and early days of Obama, when I was being moved for force-feeding, they would move me in a more civilized manner compared to the way I’m being moved now,” Dhiab told attorney Alka Pradhan on Monday, according to a new court filing.

At its high point last year, more than 100 of Guantánamo’s 154 detainees were participating in a hunger strike. The U.S. military officials who oversee the detention facility no longer publicly disclose how many force-feedings take place.

As part of her decision-making, Kessler will review the available videotapes. The additional videotapes she ordered turned over Wednesday will augment 28 tapes previously provided by the government, covering about 10 hours of so-called forced cell extractions and subsequent force-feedings of Dhiab.

“The process of producing and copying all of these materials is a burden on the government,” Justice Department attorney Andrew Warden said Wednesday.

The tapes already provided are being held in a secure facility, and a protective order prevents attorneys from describing their contents.

“I had a hard time sleeping last night,” Eisenberg said, when he was asked for his reactions to what he’s seen.

Dhiab’s attorneys said Wednesday that they hoped to depose several past or present Guantánamo officials, including Army Col. John Bogdan, who oversees the detention facility guard force. Warden said the government had “a bundle of objections” to the defense requests, and he urged Kessler to make her temporary injunction decision based simply on the written record.

“I don’t know how I’m going to rule,” Kessler said.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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