When Will the Videos of Force-Fed Guantanamo Detainees be Released?

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Disturbing videos showing a former Guantánamo detainee being forcibly fed through a tube repeatedly by U.S. military personal have not been made public despite a federal judge’s ruling that they be released.  The Obama administration, which claims the courts cannot order the nearly 30 videos to be made public because they are classified materials, suffered a setback on Friday when an appeals court decided to send the decision back to the original judge to decide how and when the videos will be released.

The case is likely to return to the appeals court meaning the fate of the videos remains unclear. The videos are part of a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian national who was sent to Guantánamo Bay prison in 2002.  The U.S. government cleared him for release in 2009, but he was not permitted to leave until December.  He now lives in Uruguay.

Like many other detainees at Guantánamo, Dhiab had used hunger strikes as his only means of protest against the brutal treatment he suffered on a daily basis.  The lawsuit challenges the inhumane procedures that were used to forcibly feed Dhiab through a tube inserted through his nose into his stomach as he participated in a hunger strike.  According to reports, the videos capture the father of three enduring terrible physical pain during his nearly 1,300 forced feedings. “I move my head when they poke me with the tube,” Dhiab told his lawyers, according to a 2014 court declaration. “I can’t help it. It hurts too much. Then they hold my head, and it only gets worse. After that I start to resist because I have severe pain in my throat.”

Efforts to air the videos in public have been stalled by the Department of Justice which argues that releasing the tapes would threaten national security and “inflame Muslim sensitivities overseas,” according to news reports. Referring to the forced feeding videos, a DOJ attorney argued that, “We don’t think there is a First Amendment right to classified documents.” An appeals judge questioned these dubious comments during the proceedings.  Chief Judge Merrick Garland characterized the government’s position as tantamount to claiming the court “has absolutely no authority” to unseal evidence even if it’s clear the government’s bid to keep it secret is based on “irrationality” or that it’s “hiding something.” “That is our position,” the DOJ attorney responded.

So far, only portions of the videos have be reviewed in secret by attorneys involved in the case. One of Dhiab’s lawyers told Al Jazeera the videos she watched were so disturbing that she had trouble sleeping. “The American people may never be given the opportunity to see for themselves what is happening in their name,” Dhiab’s wife wrote on the Huffington Post.

More than a dozen news organizations, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, intervened in the case last summer to press for release of the videos, which span about 11 hours. “It’s not just a matter of Mr. Dhiab’s rights,” attorney David A. Schulz, representing the media organizations, said about the videos that depict “illegal conduct by government employees.”  Schultz adding, “There is a public right that is at stake here. . . . The public has a right to know what happens in court proceedings.” The appeals court ruling comes on the heels of new rules instituted at Guantanamo that bans food and sleep at meetings between prisoners and their lawyers.  The new bans are widely considered moves by prison officials to reassert their authority over the detainees.