Attorneys for a hunger-striking detainee at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said in court filings Friday that the manner in which military officials are force-feeding their client is akin to “torture” and a federal judge should order them to use what they view as more humane practices.
In their final, written pitch to U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, attorneys for Abu Wa’el Dhiab said the judge should step in to prevent the military from causing the 43-year-old detainee “gratuitous pain” as a response to his hunger strike. They said their client does not wish to die, but his on-and-off hunger strike is his only avenue to protest his prolonged detention without a trial.
Dhiab was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and has been detained since without any charges being filed against him. He was cleared for transfer by the Obama administration in 2009 — and Uruguay has been identified as a possible landing spot — but the government has not been able to resettle him, most recently because of Uruguay’s political situation.
“Mr. Dhiab’s English is rudimentary, but his plea— ‘I am human!’ — is clear enough,” the detainee’s attorneys wrote. “So are his cries of pain.”
The case is one that has roiled the U.S. government and prison officials at Guantanamo Bay, who have urged Kessler not to intervene and have fought to keep secret some details of their force-feeding practices. Of particular note: they do not want the public to see videos of Dhiab being force-fed, arguing that their public release would pose a threat to national security.
Kessler has rejected the government’s arguments on that front, but on Thursday granted a Justice Department request to delay the release of the videos, giving attorneys and military officials another 30 days to redact them and consider whether they will appeal her order that they be revealed.
Government attorneys did not commit to filing appeal, but they argued in asking for a stay that the videos might help detainees or other U.S. enemies develop “countermeasures” or reveal the physical layout of Guantanamo Bay in such a way that it could “disrupt good order” there. They also said the videos might be used to “increase anti-American sentiment and inflame Muslim sensitivities overseas.”
A coalition of media organizations had resisted an open-ended delay in releasing the videos.
“Months from now, the evidence will still be of historic interest, but during the pendency of this proceeding, it is news,” the coalition wrote.
The judge and attorneys in the case have already seen the videos, and it is possible — even likely — Kessler could rule on how Dhiab is being force-fed before the dispute about their release is settled. The detainee wants a doctor — not prison officials — to determine when the feedings are absolutely necessary. He wants to be able to go to the sessions in a wheelchair. He wants fewer restraints used. And he wants the tube that is inserted in his nose for the feedings to be left in for days, rather than taken out after each time it is used.
“At Guantánamo Bay, the solution to so many problems — including a hunger strike — is an overwhelming show of brute force,” Dhiab’s attorneys wrote. “This mistreatment of Mr. Dhiab serves no legitimate penological interests, and indeed rises to the level of deliberate indifference. It should be stopped.”
Government attorneys on Friday urged Kessler not to issue any injunction forcing changes to the practices at Guantanamo Bay, arguing Dhiab had received “high-quality medical care” and his claims were “undercut by his consistent refusals to accept the medical treatment offered to him by the Guantanamo Bay medical staff.”
“When faced with an incredibly complex and challenging medical situation in which Petitioner was refusing to eat, refusing to cooperate with medical staff, and refusing labs and examinations, and showing clinical signs of malnutrition, the JTF-GTMO medical staff intervened appropriately to provide Petitioner with the necessary medical care to preserve his health and life,” government attorneys wrote. “This Court should not second guess this medical decision after the fact.”