Sun, Oct 05, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Judge orders release of Guantanamo videotapes


A federal judge on Friday ordered the public release of 28 videotapes of a hunger-striking Guantanamo Bay prisoner being forcibly removed from his cell and force-fed.

Lawyers for the prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, have challenged his treatment as abusive.

Numerous news media outlets, including The Associated Press, had asked the court on June 20 to unseal the videotapes, which are classified “secret.”

US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler granted the news media’s request, although Kessler said the tapes would remain sealed until some information on them is redacted. The material to be removed includes identifying information of everyone on the tapes except for the prisoner. She said faces other than Dhiab’s would be obscured, as would voices and names.

“Protection of the identities of Guantanamo Bay staff is a legitimate goal,” Kessler wrote. “Adequate protection can be provided by appropriate audio and visual edits, for example, blurring faces and identifying portions of uniforms, and blacking out written materials on walls.”

The government could appeal her ruling.

Dhiab’s lawyer, Jon Eisenberg, said that “we are very gratified by this decision, which will enable the American people to see with their own eyes the sorts of abuses that are being heaped on these peacefully hunger-striking detainees.”

“Once the truth is fully brought to light, we believe these terrible practices will come to an end,” Eisenberg said.

AP attorney David Schulz welcomed the decision, calling it “a strong reaffirmation of the public’s right to know what their government is up to.”

Dhiab was told in the spring he would be resettled in Uruguay, along with five other Guantanamo prisoners. However, as the months have dragged on and the transfer put on hold, his standoff with military officials has only deteriorated, at times turning violent.

On Thursday, the judge rejected a request by the administration of US President Barack Obama to close a hearing into Dhiab’s case scheduled for tomorrow.

Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, has been held at the US Navy-run prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since August 2002.

The Obama administration has been in court for months seeking to limit the amount of information released in Dhiab’s case.

“The court is well aware, as the government has emphasized, that in no case involving Guantanamo Bay detainees has any court ordered disclosure of classified information over the government’s opposition,” Kessler wrote in a 29-page opinion ordering release of the tapes.

“However — to be clear — that does not mean that in a given factual situation no court has the discretion to do so if warranted,” the judge added.

Standard protocol at penal institutions nationwide is to videotape forcible cell extractions. What is unusual about these videotapes is that many of them include footage of force-feedings in addition to forcible cell extractions.

Hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay have been taking place since the early days of the island facility’s use as a prison for terrorist suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US.

Early last year, as many as 100 detainees began a hunger strike to protest their uncertain fate. The US has long disclosed how many are refusing to eat and whether they meet military guidelines to be force fed. However, late last year, the disclosure ended. A navy spokesman said in December last year that peaceful protest was allowed, but that reporting numbers to the public would no longer be done.

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