U.S.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Gitmo authorities have stopped taping force-feeds, lawyers say

Authorities have reportedly stopped recording the sessions since a judge ordered the videos to be handed over

Lawyers of force-fed Guantanamo detainee Abu Wa'el Dhiab have entered into evidence, as part of a lawsuit filed on the prisoner's behalf, three videos of their client undergoing enteral feeding in response to statements made by another detainee alleging that Dhiab was subjected to abusive treatment.  

The three classified videos, filed Saturday, are presumed to corroborate statements made by Ahmed Rabbani, whose statements were submitted directly to the judge in an affidavit on Friday.

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler had ordered the U.S. military to hand over 28 videos of the force-feedings in May and gave them until Friday to submit the footage.

The process of force-feeding, depicted in the videos, includes the deployment of what's called a “Forcible Cell Extraction” team to detainees who appear resistant.

Lawyers for Dhiab, who was officially cleared for release from Guantanamo in 2009, spent the weekend viewing 18 of the 28 classified videos in a special facility in Washington. The attorneys are looking for evidence of what Dhiab and other detainees have portrayed as inhumane cell extractions and force-feedings during the months that Dhiab participated in a hunger strike in protest of his detainment.

The Syrian national has been confined to a wheelchair, and lawyers say his health has "deteriorated significantly" and that he is "profoundly depressed."

It is a great shame, as I would always describe loudly for the camera what was being done to me.

Ahmed Rabbani

Guantanamo detainee

Rabbani's affidavit says authorities have stopped filming all force-feeding sessions in response to Kessler's order to hand the tapes over to lawyers.

“It is a great shame, as I would always describe loudly for the camera what was being done to me,” Rabbani said in the affidavit.

Authorities have also taken Dhiab's wheelchair from him, according to the affidavit.

Dhiab was subjected to a particularly “harsh” force-feeding last Saturday, according to the affidavit, which said that Guantanamo authorities “beat him so badly, he had blood in his feces."

"I heard him vomiting for much of the night,” Rabbani said in the affidavit.

Additionally, in a move described as “worrying” by legal representatives, almost a third of the tapes — 10 of the 34 — were rendered unviewable Thursday due to unspecified “technical issues,” according to government lawyers.

The government says the issue has since been resolved, and Kessler has ordered them to produce the rest of the videos by Monday.

“It was all very fast moving,” said Jon Eisenberg, a member of the legal team. “I was assured it wasn’t a matter of tapes being damaged or destroyed. We remain concerned, but all we can do at the moment is wait for them to produce the ten videos and then go from there.”

The status of the 10 videos should become clear at Wednesday's hearing, according to Cori Crider, a member of the legal team.

Meanwhile a last minute “urgent” closed hearing has been scheduled for Monday, according to Eisenberg. Details of that hearing are classified.

While still waiting for the missing tapes, attorneys for Dhiab have begun studying the hours of video that they do have.

"Our review is continuing and we expect to file more forthwith," Katherine O'Shea, of legal charity Reprieve, said Sunday. Lawyers plan to seek videos for at least one other prisoner, O'Shea added.

The classified tapes are thought to show Dhiab, held without charge since 2002, being forcibly extracted from his cell and taken to a facility where he is strapped into a chair and fed liquid nutrients through tubes inserted up his nostrils and down his throat.

The U.S. military has long maintained that it employs only humane methods to keep hunger-striking prisoners alive at the U.S. naval base.

Judge Kessler said the manner used to feed Dhiab caused "unnecessary suffering" and imposed a temporary order barring the force-feeds.

She lifted it a week later to avoid endangering his life from starvation, but at the same time ordered the military to turn over the 28 videos.

Authorities say the videos will show nothing more than guards and medical personnel doing their jobs in a difficult situation, but legal representatives of those being force-fed at the controversial detention camp say that they contain evidence of brutal practices.

"[The military] says it's humane, but that's totally not the way Dhiab and dozens of other people have reported it to me," Crider said.

Lawyers for the detainees say they hope that the public will soon see the footage.

"We will be pushing for that. It's important that the American public see what’s being done," Eisenberg said. "We’re very committed to the full public airing of the force-feeding process. But for the time being, we’re gagged by the government."

Hunger strikes at Guantanamo began shortly after the detention center opened in 2002 to hold and question men suspected of links to Al-Qaeda.

The practice of using a restraint chair for feeding began in early 2006 during a mass hunger strike that grew so serious authorities feared some participants might die.

In February 2013, a new hunger strike began. At its peak, more than 100 prisoners — out of 154 in custody at the time — were taking part. The action led to renewed pressure on Obama to close the detention camp.

With wire services

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