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Lawmakers urge Obama to release Guantanamo forced-feeding tapes

Detainee's lawyers fear the US government will appeal a judge's decision ordering the release of the tapes

Washington DC District Court Judge Gladys Kessler gave the U.S. government an October 17 deadline, last month, when she ordered the release of videotapes showing the forced feedings and cell extractions of a Guantanamo detainee. She also ordered that media outlets receiving the tapes have a plan for how to release the information on the tapes to the public by October 20.

So far, none of that has happened, because on October 16, the Justice Department succeeded in winning a 30-day stay in executing the judge's order. Last Thursday,  Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday challenging the government's stance.

The letter, which mentions the 32 recordings of detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab and four of Imad Abdullah Hassan, expresses a wish to “work with the administration to stop any abusive or illegal practices.”

“Ongoing secrecy is untenable," the congressmen wrote. "U.S. personnel at Guantánamo should not carry out policies that are contrary to American laws or values.” 

The authors urged the administration to allow legislators to view the recordings, but stopped short of calling for the release of the tapes to the public.

The tapes that were to be released last month were recordings of Dhiab, a Syrian man detained at Guantanamo Bay prison since 2002, who -- according to his lawyer -- has been on periodic hunger strikes to protest his detention.

During the October hearing, his legal team also said that Dhiab requires crutches and sometimes a wheel chair as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident prior to his detention, but been denied those medical devices at times and has therefore been unable to transport himself to his forced feedings.

Never charged with a crime and cleared for release since 2009, the tapes in question would show Guantanamo staff forcibly removing Dhiab from his cell and taking him to his twice-daily forced feedings.

Parts of the recordings were shown in closed court during the three-day hearing last month.

The DOJ did not respond to a query on how long it might take to redact the tapes or if it planned on filing an appeal to Kessler’s decision, but at the time of Kessler's decision, a spokesperson had told Al Jazeera that the state's stance "remains the same."

"We are reviewing the decision and considering our options," she said.

Cori Crider, a member of Dhiab’s legal team from the UK-based rights group Reprieve, said that what’s at stake is Obama's "much-hyped claims about being the Most Transparent Administration Ever."

"The tapes are of paramount public interest - that is why Judge Kessler ordered them released," said Crider. The Justice Department made the right call earlier in this litigation, and declined to appeal the jurisdictional ruling that opened the door for our force-feeding challenge - so we're still very much hoping wiser heads will prevail here," said Crider.

"I think once the Congress has actually seen the footage, that ask will change to 'release to the American people'. It's sensible and fine for them to want to see them, but as someone who has sat in a room with not just my team, but government lawyers, the clerk, and court personnel, I don't think it matters what side you are on - nearly anyone would empathize with what is in the tapes," she added.

"The footage will be a wake-up call for Americans, and they deserve - and need - to see it."

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