Videos that show a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner being force-fed while on a hunger strike won't be released, a US federal appeals court has ruled, saying that their release could endanger troops and fuel global hostilities against the United States.
“The government’s interest in ensuring safe and secure military operations clearly overcomes any qualified First Amendment right of access,” Judge A. Raymond Randolph said of his ruling at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on March 31.
Sixteen news organisations had sought the release of the 28 videos. They argued the videos, which had been used in a federal court habeas corpus petition case, were in the public interest as they could be "evidence documented of alleged abuse."
When did force-feeding begin in Gitmo?
Hunger strikes in the controversial prison began in 2013. Many of those on hunger strike were detainees that the US found could be released from the prison, but were still held for years because they hadn’t fulfilled the necessary criteria for a transfer.
The detainees, while asking for justice after years of detention without charge or trial, started the hunger strikes to urge officials to speed up their release.
But instead of speeding up the process, the US began to force-feed them, in a way that one detainee said caused “agony in [his] chest.”
What is the case about?
The federal case began in 2005 when the former prisoner, Syrian national Abu Wa'el Dhiab, sought to challenge his detention at the prison on the US naval base in Cuba. Dhiab was not charged or tried, and was released from Guantanamo in 2014 and transferred to Uruguay.
Authorities recorded Dhiab's force-feeding in order to train guards on how to handle such situations, court papers said.
Dhiab said being forcibly removed from his cell, restrained and force-fed through a nasal tube was illegal and abusive. During the litigation, Dhiab's lawyer obtained some of the videos and filed them with the court under seal. It was then in 2014 that news organisations sought to have the seal lifted.
The government appealed the October 2014 decision by the District Court in Washington DC that ordered the release of the videos, with redactions to protect identities of US personnel. The government argued that the material could be used to incite violence against American troops – and as propaganda to recruit militant fighters.
David A. Schulz, a lawyer representing the news media coalition, said it had not yet decided whether to appeal, according to The New York Times.
“The only thing that all three judges agreed upon is that the government had demonstrated a compelling interest in keeping the videotape evidence secret,” he said. “This is troubling given the conclusion of the district judge, after careful review of the actual videotape evidence, that the American public had a right to see what that evidence documented of alleged abuse.”
Is force-feeding humane? How does it work?
Officials claim the practice is “administered in a humane manner” and “never undertaken in a fashion intentionally designed to inflict pain or harm on the detainee.”
“The way they force feed us is just torture, using the FCE [Forcible Cell Extraction] team to force us to the feeding room, using the torture chair to strap us down, using tubes that are too big for our noses, and putting the 120 centimetre tubes in and pulling them out forcefully twice each day, with each feeding,” Reprieve quoted former detainee Shaker Aamer as saying. “Instead of making matters worse here, they should treat us with respect, like human beings.”
Jon B Eisenberg, who had represented Dhiab, told The New York Times that “It’s a loss to the American people that they will never see the shocking images of force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay that a handful of lawyers have seen behind closed doors.”
During a force feeding operation, a person who is refusing to eat has a plastic feeding tube inserted through the nose into the stomach. Human rights groups have long said the force-feeding of Guantanamo prisoners amounts to torture. US officials claim the methods are safe, humane and necessary for the detainees’ health.
While they argue the operation is not punitive, not all of the detainees go through the process in the same conditions. While “compliant” prisoners are allowed to watch TV while they are force-fed and are seated on a normal chair, non-compliant ones are not entitled to such treatment – and instead, are strapped into a restraint chair during the procedure.