Judge sets Oct. 17 deadline for U.S. to redact Guantánamo force-feeding videos

Army guards move a captive from his cell in Camp 5 on Oct. 18, 2011 in a U.S. military photo released by the U.S. Navy base prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Army guards move a captive from his cell in Camp 5 on Oct. 18, 2011 in a U.S. military photo released by the U.S. Navy base prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. US NAVY

A federal judge Thursday gave the Obama administration an Oct. 17 deadline to comply with her order to redact for release dozens of videos of a Guantánamo captive being tackled, shackled and forced-fed at the prison camps in Cuba.

In her two-page order, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler did not specify when the public would actually see the videos whose disclosure was sought by 16 media organizations. Instead, she ordered Department of Justice attorneys to work with the media groups’ First Amendment lawyers and tell her by Oct. 20 how they should be released.

The attorneys representing the news organizations were traveling and could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Kessler ordered the release of 28 videos on Oct. 3, but set no deadlines. First, she said in the original order, censors must redact the faces, voices and names of all prison camp personnel in Guantánamo’s forced-feeding videos of Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab.

The Obama administration opposed release, arguing the disclosure could expose prison camp secrets and put troops portrayed inside them at risk. Media organizations countered that the potential for embarrassment was not a legitimate excuse for withholding them from the public.

At the Justice Department Thursday evening, spokeswoman Nicole Navas said there was no decision yet on whether to appeal the judge’s original video-release order. “We are reviewing the decision and considering our options,” she said.

Dhiab’s attorneys at Reprieve, a non-profit defense group, said that by Thursday the number of videos at stake had increased to 32 — and urged the government to get on with its redactions.

Dhiab has been held at the Pentagon prison in Cuba since 2002, was been cleared for transfer by 2010 and has been on an on-again, off-again hunger strike to protest his detention.

The news organizations that petitioned Kessler for release of the videos were: McClatchy newspapers, which owns the Miami Herald; ABC; the Associated Press; Bloomberg news service; CBS; the Contently Foundation; Dow Jones; First Look Media; the Guardian; Hearst Corp.; National Public Radio; The New York Times; Reuters; the Tribune Publiishing Co.; USA Today and the Washington Post.

His lawyers argue that U.S. troops treat him brutally for waging the protest. The prison counters that it treats the hunger strikers humanely but needs the restraint chair and tackle-and-shackle protocols for the safety of the troops, and also at times the detainee.

“It’s time for the government to put up or shut up about Guantánamo,” Dhiab attorney Cori Crider said in a statement after a three-day hearing before Kessler on the captive’s conditions of confinement that included about three hours of closed-door screenings.

“The truth is right there in the tapes,” said Crider. “The American people — and the rest of the world — ought to be able to see the footage of my client and judge for themselves.”

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