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Judge Orders Disclosure of Guantánamo Videos
A Federal District Court judge on Friday ordered the public disclosure of 28 classified military videotapes showing the forced cell extraction and forced feeding of a hunger-striking Guantánamo Bay detainee, rejecting the Obama administration's arguments that making the videos public would endanger national security.
The New York Times and 15 other news organizations had petitioned to unseal the videos. In a 28-page opinion, Judge Gladys Kessler of the United States Court for the District of Columbia cited the First Amendment in overriding the government's arguments for keeping them secret, most of which, she said, were "unacceptably vague, speculative," lacking specificity or "just plain implausible."
Judge Kessler issued the ruling one day after a related decision to keep open to the public most of an evidentiary hearing scheduled next week about force-feeding procedures. The Obama administration had sought to close the proceeding, which will amount to a miniature trial over whether the practices are humane.
It is not clear when the videos will become public. Judge Kessler said the military, before releasing them, may blur the faces of guards and nurses and mask their voices. The Justice Department may also appeal her decision to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
"We are reviewing the decision and considering our options," said Nicole A. Navas, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
The dispute over force-feeding has been building since early 2013, when a hunger strike protest broke out across the Guantánamo prison, where the United States is holding 149 men as wartime prisoners. Most have been held for over a decade without trial, and more than half of them have long been recommended for transfer if security conditions can be met, but remain stranded because they come from countries with unstable governments.
In response, President Obama revived his moribund efforts to transfer low-level detainees, which had stagnated, but he also endorsed force-feeding, saying he did not want detainees to die. The procedure involves strapping a detainee into a restraint chair and inserting a tube through his nose, through which a nutritional supplement is poured into his stomach.
Most of the hunger strikers have since resumed eating. The military no longer discloses a daily count, but officials have said that about 11 have lost enough weight that they are "eligible" to be force-fed if they refuse to drink the supplement. Among them is Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, a Syrian who has been held for 12 years without a trial.
In July 2013, Judge Kessler ruled that she did not have the authority to intervene in the force-feeding. But in February, an appeals court ruled that the judiciary could oversee prison conditions. Mr. Diyab's challenge then brought the existence of the videotapes to light.
Mr. Diyab's lawyers contend that the military is using unnecessarily painful procedures to coerce prisoners into stopping the protest. They are asking Judge Kessler to require the government to use less painful procedures and to refrain from force-feeding their client before he is at risk of serious bodily injury. The military says its procedures are humane and are designed only to keep prisoners healthy. Those competing views will be tested in next week's hearing.
"I want Americans to see what is going on at the prison today so they will understand why we are hunger-striking, and why the prison should be closed," Mr. Diyab said in an earlier court filing, which Judge Kessler quoted in her opinion.
Uruguay offered to resettle Mr. Diyab this year. Had the United States government sent him there, it would likely have avoided the lawsuit, but it took so long to sign off on the deal that political conditions changed in Uruguay and it is now on hold.
[Source: By Charlie Savage, The New York Times, Washington, 03Oct14]
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