Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo

Lawyers file for emergency order against Gitmo staff

Guantánamo staff reportedly stopped videotaping force-feedings and barred disabled detainees from using wheelchairs

Lawyers for a force-fed Guantánamo Bay detainee, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, filed an emergency motion on Monday seeking a temporary order against Guantánamo staff after policies were recently adopted barring the practice of videotaping force-feeding sessions and prohibiting the use of wheelchairs by disabled detainees.

The petition, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks a temporary order that would require Guantánamo staff to videotape Dhiab’s force-feeding sessions through Wednesday, the date of his next scheduled hearing.  

The hearing is part of a lawsuit filed by lawyers alleging that Dhiab, who was cleared for release in 2009, and other detainees are being subjected to inhumane force-feedings during their participation in a hunger strike to protest their detainment.

Judge Gladys Kessler had ordered the U.S. military in May to hand over videos of Dhiab’s force-feeding sessions and gave them until June 13 to submit the footage. So far, 18 of 28 videos have been produced.

Dhiab, a Syrian national, must use a wheelchair, and his lawyers say his health has deteriorated significantly and that he is profoundly depressed.

Monday’s petition asserts that Guantánamo staffers have suddenly refused to allow him to use a wheelchair to go from his cell to his force-feedings, with staff insisting that he walk or be taken by a forcible cell extraction (FCE) team. 

Dhiab, who spends most of his time on his back because of kidney and back ailments, does not leave his cell except by force, according to his lawyers.

The process of force-feeding, depicted in the videos, includes the deployment of an FCE team for detainees who appear resistant.

The motion asserts that in response to Kessler’s order, Guantánamo staffers have ceased videotaping force-feeding sessions and forcible extractions — a move criticized by lawyers as an attempt to evade the impact of litigation and a “patent effort to avoid creating additional damning evidence of abusive practices,” according to the motion, filed by three attorneys working with the legal charity Reprieve.

“This change in policy was clearly taken to avoid creating any evidence of the government’s misconduct,” the motion said.

Lawyers filed the motion after statements made last week by two other detainees, Ahmed Rabbani and Samir Mukbel, who confirmed to attorneys Clive Stafford Smith and Cori Crider that authorities barred prisoners from using wheelchairs and stopped videotaping force-feeding sessions.

“It is a great shame, as I would always describe loudly for the camera, what was being done to me,” Rabbani said in an affidavit filed with the court on June 10.

The affidavit also described an incident that occurred on June 9 in which Dhiab was subjected to a harsh force-feeding procedure. Guantánamo authorities last Saturday beat Dhiab “so badly, he had blood in his feces,” said Rabbani in the affidavit. “I heard him vomiting for much of the night.”

The only option Dhiab was given, said the affidavit, was to walk on his own or be “violently extracted” from his cell.

“What this means is that a disabled person is required to be physically mistreated by authorities even if he wants to go without force,” lawyers said in Monday’s motion. “There is no rational, let alone compelling basis for this policy.”

Because staffers have ceased taping the sessions, there is no record of the June 9 incident, lawyers note in the motion.

Lawyers for Dhiab spent the weekend viewing the 18 videos in a special facility in Washington, D.C. The attorneys are looking for evidence of what Dhiab and other detainees have portrayed as inhumane cell extractions and force-feedings, which lawyers say is akin to torture.

The 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 is fed liquid nutrients enterally, or through tubes inserted in 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.

Kessler said the manner used to feed Dhiab caused “unnecessary suffering” and imposed a temporary order halting the force-feedings.

She lifted it a week later to avoid endangering his life because of starvation but ordered the military to turn over the videotapes.

In addition to Monday’s request for a temporary order, lawyers on Friday entered into evidence three videos of their client undergoing enteral feeding. The three classified videos, filed Saturday, are presumed to corroborate the detainees’ statements.

Additionally, in a development that legal representatives described as worrying, almost a third of the tapes — 10 of the 28 — were rendered unviewable Thursday because of unspecified technical issues, according to government lawyers.

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

The status of the 10 videos should become clear at Wednesday’s hearing, she said.

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.

The practice of videotaping cell extractions and force-feedings was instituted after a string of incidents in which some prisoners sustained serious injuries during the extraction process and force-feeding, said the petition.  

The petition described one session in 2003 involving a U.S. soldier, Sean Baker, who posed as a prisoner during a force-feeding drill. He sustained “massive head injuries” during the procedure, forcing him to be medically discharged from service, according to the petition.

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

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 President Barack Obama to close the detention camp.

With wire services

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