Abi Wa’el Dhiab

Hundreds of videos of force-feedings of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been ordered to be preserved by a United States district court judge. The judge has also ordered, for the first time, that the government halt the force-feeding of a prisoner temporarily.

Until May 21, Judge Gladys Kessler ordered that the government be “temporarily restrained” from “any Forcible Cell Extractions” (FCEs) of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Lebanese prisoner who has been cleared for release by President Barack Obama’s review task force since 2009.

FCEs involve Guantanamo’s riot squad forcibly and often brutally removing prisoners from their cells in order to be force-fed by nurses and doctors after they are put in a restraint chair.

The government was also ordered to “preserve and maintain all relevant videotapes” of Dhiab’s FCEs for force-feedings and all video of Dhiab’s force-feedings from April 9, 2013, and February 19, 2014.

According to attorneys from the human rights organization, Reprieve, who are representing Dhiab in a lawsuit challenging force-feedings, government lawyers admitted “approximately 140 to 150 FCE videos of [Mr Dhiab] between April 9, 2013 and February 19, 2014” exist. The “vast majority of these videos are of FCEs in connection with enteral feeding or otherwise arguably related to enteral feeding.”

The judge additionally ordered that medical records for Dhiab from April 2013 to the end of December 2013 be provided to Reprieve attorneys.

Cori Crider, a Reprieve attorney representing Dhiab, told Firedoglake that JTF-GTMO has a history of “losing” inconvenient evidence. “During a prior case involving former Guantanamo prisoner Mustafa Ait Idir, Guantanamo authorities told a court “they had ‘lost’ a previously-acknowledged recording of Mr Ait Idir being assaulted by the ‘FCE,’” she said.

The order from the judge was “a major crack in Guantanamo’s years-long effort to oppress prisoners and to exercise total control over information about the prison,” Crider declared.

The government had resisted efforts to preserve video, calling Reprieve’s emergency motion “frivolous.” But the government apparently never offered any explicitly detailed assurance that the video would be preserved from destruction.

In fact, when confronted over email, the government replied, “DoD is aware of its preservation obligations and has no reason to believe that the videotapes you seek in your motion have been destroyed.” Attorneys concluded that this “equivocation” meant that the government had likely destroyed some video.

What video had previously been destroyed is unknown, but this prompted attorneys to suggest to the judge that all video of force-feedings of all Guantanamo prisoners be ordered to be preserved. (The judge did not issue such an order.)

Dhiab went on hunger strike and began to be subject to force-feeding on April 9, 2013. He joined with other prisoners, including Shaker Aamer, to challenge the practice so he could choose whether to eat or die at Guantanamo.

According to Dhiab, the riot squad at Guantanamo puts him “in the chair in a savage way which did not occur in the days of Bush. They torture me in the name of feeding and fear for my health, even though I can’t breathe or move. The riot team holds me from every limb even when I am being fed. As for the one who is holding my head, he chokes me further.”

This is standard treatment for prisoners, who are being force-fed.

Reprieve attorneys also contend that the force-feeding grossly exceeds accepted medical procedures.

“Medical expert Professor Steven Miles, MD has submitted an affidavit in which he describes the reported rates of force-feeding at Guantánamo as ‘an extraordinary departure from customary medical practice” reminiscent of “a practice of torture called ‘Water Cure’ that has been practiced since the Middle Ages,'” according to a press release from Reprieve.

A letter to lawyers from Guantanamo prisoner Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner, provides a further glimpse at the brutality being meted out to those remain in detention.

“One Yemeni is 80 pounds and he was brought to his feeding by the Forced Cell Extraction team, Guantánamo’s official riot police. Yesterday the F.C.E team beat him when they came into and out of his cell,” Hassan wrote.

“He is 80 pounds with one broken arm. He cannot walk, just crawl from his bed to the faucet or toilet once he needs to use it! How can someone with this condition fight 8 armored guards?”

Hassan is another one of the many prisoners cleared for release and has been cleared for over six years.

“As I write now, [a detainee] is vomiting on the torture chair, having been brought there by the Forced Cell Extraction (FCE) team. The nurse and corpsman have refused to stop the feed, or to slow the acceleration of the liquids,” Hassan described.

The sadism of the whole process really comes through in his description of being force-fed formula.

…The culmination of six or seven years of force-feeding is now taking its toll. A couple of months ago I had been given a kind of feeding formula…The formula made me vomit from 10 pm to 7 am – pieces of fat kept coming out whenever I vomited… they have begun this cruel process with [another detainee] – at 6 am he was holding a cup with vomit in it after six brutal hours of feeding. Every day is like that. If this isn’t torture…surely this is what normal people call it? By normal, I mean the normal people outside the prison, because there is no normality here…

The military has gone to great lengths in recent months to keep any news of prisoners engaged in hunger strike secret. It no longer is willing to report data to the press on the number of prisoners being force-fed because it believes media coverage will fuel their protest.

For what it’s worth, the World Medical Association’s (WMA) own guidelines for medical professionals states, “Forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable.”

“Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the forced feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting,” according to the WMA.

The Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations concluded in a report last year that force-feedings were not merely being used to save lives. Medical professionals were clearly being ordered to help the military quash political protest and engage in a practice that deviated from “standard, accepted medical and ethical treatment of hunger strikers” and amounted to “torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."