By Andy Worthington, November 3, 2014
On Thursday, 76 members of the U.S. Congress -- the Congressional Progressive Caucus, represented by co-chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison -- sent a letter to President Obama asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantánamo.
In May, District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered videotapes of the force-feeding -- and "forcible cell extractions" (FCEs) -- of Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at the legal action charity Reprieve, said, "While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them," and added, "I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow."
On October 3, in response to a motion submitted in June by 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Associated Press and others, Judge Kessler ordered the videotapes -- eleven hours of footage, consisting of 28 tapes in total -- to be publicly released, once they have been "redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab."
On October 16, Judge Kessler granted the government a month's delay in releasing the tapes, to allow them time to make the redactions, and also so as not to conflict with the possibility of a government appeal, but while this delay is underway the Congressional Progressive Caucus has stepped in to keep the focus on Mr. Dhiab's case.
In their letter, the lawmakers call on the president not only to let them see videotapes of Mr. Dhiab's force-feeding, but also of the force-feeding of another prisoner, Emad Hassan (aka Imad Hassan), who, in May, submitted a motion for his own videotapes to be released. As the lawmakers explain, "The recordings are currently classified at the 'Secret' level, although no national security or other justification has been provided for this classification."
The lawmakers also point out that the videotapes have been described as containing "evidence of unlawful force-feedings taking place at Guantánamo," and note that Mr. Dhiab "asserts that the force-feeding techniques are applied arbitrarily and constitute abuse that potentially rises to the level of torture."
They also refer to the important stand taken by the U.S. guard who refused to take part in the force-feeding, and whose story emerged in July, and conclude by telling the president, "The facts pertaining to these practices at Guantánamo should be available to Members of Congress," adding, "Ongoing secrecy is untenable. U.S. personnel at Guantánamo should not carry out policies that are contrary to American laws or values."
Congressional Progressive Caucus
US House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Barack H. Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20050
October 30, 2014
Dear Mr. President,
We write to request that you release to Members of Congress the video recordings of Guantánamo Bay detention facility detainees who are being force-fed while on hunger-strike.
U.S. officials first acknowledged the existence of such video recordings in April, 2014, during the habeas proceedings of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian detainee cleared for release. Thirty two video recordings of Mr. Dhiab’s forcible cell extractions and force-feedings have been produced to his legal team as part of his habeas proceedings. Four additional video recordings have been produced for Imad Abdullah Hassan, a Yemeni detainee also cleared for release. The recordings are currently classified at the “Secret” level, although no national security or other justification has been provided for this classification.
Although Mr. Dhiab’ s legal representatives are barred from revealing the contents of the recordings, they have broadly described them as “extremely disturbing” and allege that they are evidence of unlawful force-feedings taking place at Guantánamo Bay. In his court filings, Mr. Dhiab asserts that the force-feeding techniques are applied arbitrarily and constitute abuse that potentially rises to the level of torture. According to recent reports, at least one medical provider at Guantánamo is refusing to participate in force-feeding because of his opposition to the techniques.
A number of prominent non-governmental organizations have asserted that JTF-GTMO’s force-feeding techniques violate medical ethics and acceptable medical care standards, and constitute human rights abuses. The organizations also raise concerns about the secrecy surrounding the techniques.
The facts pertaining to these practices at Guantánamo should be available to Members of Congress. The judge for this case, Judge Gladys Kessler, has issued an order to release the videos. Ongoing secrecy is untenable. U.S. personnel at Guantánamo should not carry out policies that are contrary to American laws or values. We urge you to allow Members of Congress to view the video recordings of Mr. Dhiab’s and Mr. Hassan’s force-feedings and to take any action necessary to correct these practices.
We will continue to support your efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. Until that occurs, we would like to work with the administration to stop any abusive or illegal practices that take place within its walls. We look forward to your response.
Member of Congress
Member of Congress