Charles Dharapak / AP

Judge issues timetable for release of Gitmo force-feeding tapes

Announcement comes one day after three-day hearing on the treatment of a Syrian inmate wrapped up

A Washington, D.C., district court judge has issued a timetable for when the government should release recordings of how a Guantánamo detainee is extracted from his cell and force-fed.

In a document filed on Thursday, Judge Gladys Kessler ordered that “the government shall complete the previously ordered redactions” to the tapes be made by Oct. 17 and that media organizations petitioning for access to the tapes submit a proposal “how the tapes can be made available to the public most efficiently” by Oct. 20.

The final day of a three-day hearing on the treatment of Syrian hunger striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab in Guantánamo Bay prison ended on Wednesday with closed sessions, in which attorneys and Kessler viewed video recordings of Dhiab’s forcible cell extractions (FCEs) and force-feedings.

Though only partly open, the hearing was the first of its kind in a U.S. court and laid bare the daily operations at Guantánamo. The U.S. government tried to have the case held in closed court.

The petitioners representing Dhiab, who has been detained since 2002 without charge and was cleared for release in 2009, want the government to provide him access to a wheelchair and to cease FCEs, the use of a five-point restraint chair and forced feedings.

The government provided no witnesses for its case.

Instead, it read from documents that included guidelines and protocols on how to treat detainees who refuse food and medical treatment — as Dhiab has — and presented portions of the detainee’s records to show that he is being treated humanely and in accordance with protocol.

Government lawyers maintained that inserting nasal feeding tubes twice daily was necessary because it protected Dhiab from infection and prevented inmates in general from using the tubes to strangle themselves.

Dhiab’s treatment: Punitive or necessary?

Dhiab’s legal team produced three medical experts as witnesses: Dr. Sondra Crosby, an expert on the treatment of refugees and torture victims; Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general with 28 years of service; and Dr. Steve Miles, an internist and bioethicist.

Crosby and Xenakis interviewed and examined Dhiab over three days in September and testified that he was at times being subjected to treatment that did not constitute proper medical care and was punitive in nature.

Miles, who had not met Dhiab, examined his records and expressed shock that olive oil was used to lubricate the prisoner’s feeding tubes — a dangerous practice, he said, that could lead to “inflammatory pneumonia that can become chronic” and fibrosis growths in the lungs that could resemble cancerous growths.

Through documentary evidence, government lawyers aimed to show that the force-feedings were required to “support the preservation of life” and that Dhiab’s at times abusive behavior toward Guantánamo staff — including the throwing of bodily fluids — necessitated the use of a five-point restraint chair.

‘Reprieve and our legal team put three doctors on the witness stand, and the government put up nobody. Not a single person at Guantánamo was prepared to speak under oath about the way they treat Mr. Dhiab.’

Cori Crider

Reprieve attorney on Dhiab’s legal team

Government lawyers objected to Xenakis’ detailing what was involved in an FCE, and Kessler upheld that objection, although on Oct. 3 she ordered that the government release video recordings of Dhiab’s FCEs and force-feedings.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to Al Jazeera’s questions about the tapes or whether it would attempt to appeal or delay their release.

Dhiab’s attorneys with U.K.-based rights group Reprieve blasted the government’s case.

“In my view, the government failed to make any case at all. We watched them read from public documents about what the rules are at Guantánamo — despite the fact that our experts had called those rules abusive — without showing why such harsh and abusive treatment is necessary for Abu Wa’el,” said attorney Alka Pradhan.

“The most staggering thing about the trial was the massive difference in the quality of evidence from us and the government. Reprieve and our legal team put three doctors on the witness stand, and the government put up nobody. Not a single person at Guantánamo was prepared to speak under oath about the way they treat Mr. Dhiab,” said attorney Cori Crider.

“It's time for the government to put up or shut up about Guantánamo.”

Kessler asked for closing briefs to be submitted by Oct. 17.

‘Unjust imprisonment’

Dhiab was not in court to testify in person about his hunger strike or forced feedings. However, Al Jazeera’s Sami Elhaj, who spent over six years in Guantánamo and was subjected to forced feedings, said hunger strikes are “the last attempt by a detainee to show his or her objection to unjust imprisonment [and] in order to deliver a message to their detainers — that for the sake of freedom, a person can give his life.”

Elhaj was sent to Guantánamo after being detained in 2001 while working as a cameraman in Pakistan for Al Jazeera. He accused medical personnel who participate in force-feedings of violating their profession’s ethics.

“Those who practiced force-feeding against us were military male nurses who had to comply with military orders over respecting their medical profession's honor,” he said.

He unequivocally described the forced feedings as a “method of torture” that “causes continuous health problems for the remainder of a victim's life, such as vomiting, ulcers in the stomach, et cetera.”

Elhaj added that the methods of force-feeding are often “more painful and harmful than hunger or even than the pain of death itself.”

Al Jazeera and wire services

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