WASHINGTON — A federal judge Wednesday ordered the government to turn over 34 videotapes showing the repeated removals of a Guantanamo Bay detainee from his cell and his subsequent force-feedings.
Five days after imposing a temporary restraining order to stop the practice for now, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler further directed government officials to deliver additional medical records and protocols concerning the feeding procedure, including use of a restraint chair.
“It’s fantastic,” attorney Clive Stafford Smith said after the hearing. “It’s the first time a federal court has started paying attention to the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo Bay.”
Stafford Smith and other attorneys for Syrian detainee Mohammed Abu Wa’el Dhiab say the 42-year-old turned to hunger striking because he had no other recourse. Imprisoned since 2002, Dhiab has long since been cleared for release once the United States finds another country to take him.
At its high point last year, more than 100 of Guantanamo’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.
According to Dhiab’s attorneys, 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. Guantanamo authorities deploy what’s called a “Forcible Cell Extraction” team to 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.”
“Sometimes the way the MP holds the head chokes me, and with all the nerves in the nose the tube passing the nose is like torture,” Dhiab said May 19, according to a court declaration. “Then, especially when the MP is holding the neck, when they try to force the tube through the throat it often catches and they cannot push it through.”
In a ruling last year, Kessler concluded, “It is perfectly clear . . . that forced-feeding is a painful, humiliating and degrading process,” but she further reasoned that she was powerless to stop the practice. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit later said federal trial judges did have some authority to oversee Guantanamo’s detention practices.
Kessler called the 34 videotapes “the most pertinent” of all 136 videotapes depicting Dhiab’s force-feedings.
On Wednesday, government officials delivered to Dhiab’s attorneys his medical records for the current year. During the morning hearing, parts of which were kept secret at the judge’s bench, Kessler further ordered the release of additional medical records going back to April 2013.
“It is extremely difficult to get reliable information out of Guantanamo Bay,” Dhiab’s attorney Jon B. Eisenberg told Kessler. “The government is not forthcoming.”
Over the objections of Justice Department attorney Andrew Warden, Kessler also told the government to provide her with the protocols, or standard operating procedures, that govern force-feeding and the use of a restraint chair. Kessler said she’d “take a look” at the documents and determine whether they could be given to Dhiab’s defense team.
“We made a lot of headway,” Stafford Smith said. “One of the great things about shining a light is that it does make things better.”
As of late Wednesday afternoon, Kessler hadn’t updated or modified her temporary restraining order issued Friday, which was set to expire Wednesday.