Judge sticks by decision to release Guantánamo force-feeding videos

At left, Abu Wa’el Dhiab and right, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler.
At left, Abu Wa’el Dhiab and right, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler. Wikileaks, Associated Press

With some sharp words for the Obama administration, a federal judge on Tuesday declined to second-guess her earlier decision ordering the release of videos of a Guantánamo detainee being force-fed.

While acknowledging that more appeals are on the way in the long-running case, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said in her nine-page decision that nothing has happened to change her mind about the videos. She first ordered their release in October 2014.

“What the government is really saying is that its classification system trumps the decisions of the federal courts as to the public’s access to official court records,” Kessler wrote. “In other words, the Executive Branch (in this case, the military) purports to be a law unto itself.”

Kessler added that “the government’s justifications for barring the American public from seeing the videotapes are not sufficiently rational and plausible to justify barring release of the videotapes.”

Sixteen media organizations, including the New York Times, Associated Press and McClatchy, have joined in seeking release of the Guantánamo tapes to the public on First Amendment grounds.

Cori Crider, strategic director for the group Reprieve, which represents the Guantánamo detainee shown being force-fed in the tapes, said in a statement Tuesday that “the Obama administration has dragged its feet for over a year to stop the American press and public seeing a single frame of these tapes.”

Former detainee Mohammed Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who spent more than a dozen years as a U.S. captive without charge, started a hunger strike while at Guantánamo. In November 2014, the judge ruled she could do nothing about the captive’s circumstances of confinement, then subsequently ordered release of redacted versions of 11 hours of video of him being forced from his cell and taken to tube feedings.

“I want Americans to see what is going on at the prison today, so they will understand why we are hunger-striking, and why the prison should be closed,” Dhiab once said, in a statement cited by Kessler. “If the American people stand for freedom, they should watch these tapes.”

The Pentagon delivered Dhiab to resettlement Uruguay in December. A Syrian, he couldn’t return to his native country, which prolonged his time at the prison camps that currently hold 114 captives, just 10 of them in court proceedings.

Additional reading

Full coverage of the judge’s 2014 decision, here.

The latest Guantánamo prison commander’s pleading, here.

See the Miami Herald’s exclusive Guantánamo Hidden Hunger Strike tracker. It charts transparency then secrecy.

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