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Federal Judge Criticizes Obama Admin for Stalling Release of Force Feeding Videos

On Thursday the Obama administration came under fire after another delay in the release of classified footage that shows a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay being forcibly removed from his cell and force-fed.

According to The Intercept, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler admonished lawyers with the Department of Justice after they admitted they had only redacted eight of the 32 tapes and would not be ready to hand them over until August 31.

Judge Kessler was not happy with that response. “We’re going to move forward,” she stated. Judge Kessler has clashed with the government’s attorneys throughout the case. In October 2014, Kessler ruled that the Obama Administration must unseal 32 video tapes related to the force-feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who was then being held without charge at the military prison in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba.

Dhiab was kidnapped by the Pakistani government in 2002 before being handed over to the United States on suspicion of terrorism. He was held for twelve years without a trial.

The videos in question show Dhiab subjected to violent “forced cell extraction” and forced-feeding. The forced-feeding sessions began after he refused to eat. Dhiab’s lawyers allege that he was subject to this process over 1,300 times. He had been protesting his treatment and conditions at the prison by participating in a hunger strike which at one point had spread to 100 detainees in the facility.

After the Obama Administration attempted to use Executive Order 13,526 (which governs the Executive Branch’s classification of national security information) to deny the release of the tapes, Judge Kessler said it “would displace the court’s power to seal its own record, putting that authority in the government’s hands alone.” She also stated, “the judiciary has the discretion to seal or unseal a judicial record.”

Once again the Obama administration appealed the decision. The appeal failed in May. Judge Kessler said it “was as frivolous an appeal as I’ve ever seen.”

The government told Judge Kessler that the delays were caused by the Pentagon’s video editors, stating that the process has “proven to be much more burdensome and time-consuming.” Attorneys for the government told the judge that the project was “very difficult” and that video editors are tasked with going frame by frame to redact names, faces and other identifiers.

Dhiab’s attorney suggested that rather than release all 32 tapes the government should release one hour-and-a-half video compilation. Judge Kessler is expected to make a ruling as early as Friday. Kessler will decide how many videos need to be redacted and how long of a window the government has. The Obama administration is expected to appeal once more before the tapes are officially released to the public.

The Obama Administration Fears the Release of the Videos

The government had previously argued that the release of any footage of the force-feeding “provides the enemy with opportunity to search for weaknesses and vulnerabilities”. When President Obama attempted to seal the videos several news organizations came together in opposition of such a move, including ABC News, Associated Press, First Look Media, Guardian, McClatchy, NPR, New York Times and Reuters.

Judge Kessler sided with the organizations and Dhiab. Kessler called the governments arguments“unacceptably vague, speculative,”and “plain implausible.” She stated that:

“It is our responsibility, as judges, as part of our obligation under the Constitution, to ensure that any efforts to limit our First Amendment protections are scrutinized with the greatest of care. That responsibility can not be ignored or abdicated.”

The government has also attempted to keep the hearings away from the public eye, but, once again, Judge Kessler intervened. Judge Kessler ruled that the U.S. government could not close the hearing and called the efforts by the Department of Justice “deeply troubling.” Even more telling is the fact that during those hearings the government was not able to get a single witness to testify in favor of the forced-feeding practices.

Dhiab was subject to forced-feedings even after his health was decreasing. Kevin Gosztola of Fire Dog Lake writes:

“As lawyers highlight in their filing, an “evidentiary hearing” established that the government had ordered Dhiab to be force-fed, even though his life was not “at imminent risk from malnutrition.”

Medical personnel would lubricate the feeding tubes with olive oil. Not only was this a departure from “standard medical practice,” it put him at risk of a “rare and untreatable form of pneumonia.”

When Dhiab was force-fed, he was strapped in a “five-point restraint chair which caused him substantial pain, in disregard of a medical staff recommendation for the less-painful use of a one-point restraint.” He was force-fed twice a day instead of leaving the tube in place for “up to four weeks, which caused him needless pain.”

At the end of 2014, after twelve years behind bars with no trial, Abu Wa’el Dhiab was finally released to Uruguay. The violence and forced-feeding procedures have caused permanent damage to his health and he is now confined to a wheelchair.