Judge Orders U.S. to Prepare Guantanamo Force-Feeding Tapes for Release

The U.S. government handed eight videotapes showing the force-feeding of a former Guantanamo detainee to a D.C. court in August. Charles Dharapak/AP

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Obama administration to prepare eight videotapes depicting the force-feeding of former Guantanamo detainee Abu Wa'el Dhiab for public release.

In a U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the government must complete redactions—editing out parts of the videos that are a threat to national security—before August 31, 2015. Other key redactions must be completed by September 30.

The public first became aware that the footage existed when the legal charity Reprieve challenged Dhiab's force-feeding on his behalf. The charity argued that force-feeding its client was both extremely painful and medically unnecessary. Dhiab's lawyers estimate he was force-fed nearly 1,300 times during his detention.

As the case dragged on, Dhiab was released from Guantanamo after serving 12 years. He was never charged.

The feeding process involves a member of Guantanamo's medical staff snaking a feeding tube through a detainee's nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach, where it's hooked up to a bag filled with a nutritional formula, such as Ensure.

While U.S. officials maintain that force-feeding is used only as a last resort to address medical problems such as malnutrition, Dhiab's attorneys argued it is a disciplinary measure used to discourage detainees from going on hunger strikes.

Kessler first ordered that the tapes be released in October 2014. The government then appealed her ruling in December, saying that "the balance of harms and the public interest heavily favor extending the stay [of the tapes' release]." On Thursday, Kessler called the government's appeal "frivolous," hinting at how she would rule the next day.

"The Obama administration has been kicking and screaming to avoid processing even one minute of this footage and never wanted to have to give a specific reason for keeping it secret," said Cori Crider, one of Dhiab's Reprieve attorneys. "That is because the real reason for trying to hide Mr. Dhiab's face is that what he suffered is a scandal and an embarrassment to the administration that allowed it."

"The government has been rightly chided by the judge and now will be made to give real reasons for every frame of this footage that they want to keep hidden from the public," Crider continued. "Images of a suffering detainee are matters of public importance and should no more be suppressed than those of Abu Ghraib, Eric Garner or Rodney King. An administration truly committed to transparency would release the tapes forthwith."

One hundred and sixteen detainees remain in Guantanamo Bay, some of whom continue to be force-fed. During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, however, the force-feedings are carried out only at night.