A federal judge Friday ordered the military to suspend forced-feedings of a Syrian prisoner at the detention center in Guantanamo, Cuba, until a hearing on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington also ordered the military to preserve any video recordings guards may have made hauling Syrian Mohammed Abu Wa’el Dhiab, 42, from his cell and giving him nasogastric feedings in a restraint chair. He has also been identified as Jihad Dhiab in court papers and news reports.
The order appears to be the deepest intrusion into prison camp operations by the federal court during the long-running hunger strike, which at one point last year encompassed more than 100 of Guantanamo’s 154 detainees.
Since December, the military has refused to disclose how many detainees are force-fed as hunger strikers each day, and it was not possible to know whether Navy doctors at the base considered Dhiab at risk by perhaps missing four or five days of tube feedings.
Lawyers for Dhiab have gone to court to challenge forced feedings and recently cited exchanges with government officials that suggested the military videotaped troops tackling and shackling their client with a technique called a forced cell extraction — and also recorded videos of his forced feedings using a nasogastric technique the Navy calls “enteral feedings.”
In Washington, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Defense Department spokesman, said: “While the department follows the law and only applies enteral feeding in order to preserve life, we will, of course, comply with the judge’s order here.”
Military spokesmen from Guantanamo and the U.S. Southern Command did not respond Friday night to questions on whether the 2,200-strong military and civilian staff at the detention center had received and would honor the order.
Lawyers for the Syrian, whom the Obama administration designated for release four years ago, called the ruling “a major crack in Guantanamo’s years-long effort to oppress prisoners and to exercise total control over information about the prison.”
Uruguayan media and a U.S. official have said that Dhiab is one of six men President Jose Mujica has agreed to accept on release from Guantanamo through negotiations handled by the State Department.
A federal national security task force approved Dhiab’s release from Guantánamo in January 2010 “to a country outside the United States that will implement appropriate security measures.” Earlier, a Bush administration review also cleared his release.
Kessler was considering the case on remand from an appeals court in February, which ruled that district judges have the authority to consider petitions from Guantanamo detainees challenging their conditions of confinement.
In July, before the appeals court decided district courts do have some jurisdiction, Kessler declared herself helpless to intrude in the running of the prison camps, citing legislation by Congress.
She did, however, at that time call the Guantánamo force-feedings, based on testimony, “a painful, humiliating and degrading process.” And she urged President Barack Obama to do something about them.