'Genies' Cited in Once-Secret Brief on Wheelchair Ban at Guantanamo
(CN) - After refusing to transport a hunger-striking Guantanamo detainee to force-feeding via wheelchair, the Pentagon tried to blame its "illegal and uncivilized" action on the detainee's supposed belief that he has "genies" in his legs, a newly declassified brief shows.
"The dilemma here is whether to laugh or weep at the assertion," wrote California-based lawyer Jon Eisenberg, the lead author of the brief.
Eisenberg's client, Syrian-born Mohammed Abu Wa'el Dhiab, also known as Jihad Dhiab, has come closer than most other Guantanamo prisoners at forcing a change in the Pentagon's policies toward those who refuse food to protest their confinement.
In May, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler made the unprecedented decision to briefly halt Dhiab's force-feedings. The order also banned guards taking Dhiab to feedings via FCE, short for forcible cell extraction.
Faced with what she called the "anguishing Hobson's Choice" of extending Dhiab's pain or letting him starve to death, Kessler declined to extend that order late last month, but she put the government's policies under scrutiny by forcing the disclosure of 28 force-feeding videos.
She ordered the production of four more on Wednesday.
Hours after her latest ruling, a once-secret brief appeared on the docket revealing that Dhiab's lawyers have been fighting with the military with what they call an "illegal and uncivilized" policy preventing their client from going to feedings by wheelchair.
The Pentagon claimed that Dhiab "does not suffer from any musculo-skeletal problem or paralysis, but rather from self-described 'genies' in his legs," according to the brief, which was dated June 14 and released Wednesday.
Eisenberg said medical records showing that Dhiab has been given "morphine and other strong pain-killers" reveal the position to be "nonsense."
"No doctor would prescribe morphine to combat delusions induced by 'genies,'" the brief states.
In a footnote, Eisenberg added that "many detainees strongly believe in 'genies,' as this is a major part of their culture, and many also believe that their ills can be cured by God. It is insulting to imply that this reflects the ramblings of a mentally ill person."
The government's position is also "untenable" because the ban applies to "all detainees, not just [Dhiab]," the brief states, adding that it also would affect detainees who are amputees or paralyzed.
"The fact that they are applying this 'policy' to other prisoners who don't have legs at all reflects deliberate indifference to the prisoners, or something far worse - in [Dhiab's] case as in others," the brief states.
Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the matter because of the pending litigation.
According to the brief, the government has said that Dhiab can avoid the pain of the cell extractions by "voluntarily" going to his "enteral feeding."
Excerpting a passage from the novel "Catch-22," Eisenberg nodded to its author: "Joseph Heller would smile."
"Of course, while respondents call it 'enteral feeding,' the rest of the world calls it 'force-feeding' for the simple reason that it is forced," the brief states. "Respondents might as well point out that the whole kerfuffle could be avoided if [Dhiab] would just agree to give up his peaceful protest and agree to be indefinitely detained for as long as respondents elect to keep him."
Dhiab has been detained at the U.S. military prison in Cuba for 12 years, and his continued detention is indefinite even though he was cleared for release in 2009.
At one point, Dhiab was among the more than 100 detainees refusing food in protest of their confinement, but their ranks reportedly dwindled before the Pentagon stopped disclosing statistics in December.
Within roughly the past 10 months, Dhiab has endured roughly 130 forcible cell extractions, according to the brief.
"[A] civilized government will not tell a prisoner that they have only two choices-either give up his principled, non-violent protest, or be subjected to a large group of MPs hauling him up, down and around his camp like a sack of potatoes," the brief states. "This is particularly the case if the prisoner is disabled and is therefore not able to select the third option allowed to more able prisoners - that of walking to the chair."
The lawyers want Kessler to issue temporary restraining order banning the wheelchair prohibition.