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Gitmo Bay Force-Feeding Videos en Route to Disclosure

(CN) - After a three-day hearing in Washington, a federal judge issued a order setting a schedule to get videos of force-feeding inside Guantanamo Bay prisons on a path toward disclosure.

More than a dozen outlets must negotiate with the government by Oct. 20 on how best to disseminate the redacted footage of dozens of videos depicting hunger-striking Syrian detainee Abu Wa'el Dhiab, also known as Jihad Dhiab.

For more than a year, Dhiab's lawyers have tried to enjoin Department of Defense from forcibly taking him from his cell to a restraint chair in another room, where nurses insert a tube into his nose to feed him a bottle of Ensure. The military insists that it gives the hunger-strikers humane medical care to prevent them from starving, but Dhiab alleges that guards started treating them roughly to discourage their non-violent protests.

When Dhiab complained that the military has not let him use his wheelchair to go to his feedings, the military questioned his sanity by stating that he refuses to walk because of an "idiosynchratic" belief that he has "genies" in his legs, according to a once-secret brief.

Medical experts assessed Dhiab's case during a three-day hearing this week, the Miami Herald reported.

Before the hearings began, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler shined sunlight on the proceedings by refusing the government's request to close the courtroom to the press, and ordering the disclosure of videos that the military designated as classified.

Kessler quoted from Dhiab's letter to her chambers in a passionately worded, 29-page opinion last week.

"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," Dhiab wrote. "If the American people stand for freedom, they should watch these tapes. If they truly believe in human rights, they need to see these tapes."

In other Guantanamo-related cases, Pentagon officials fended off information requests by arguing that images and documents from the prison would serve as a recruitment tool for extremists, but this argument failed the government in Kessler's court.

Such a rationale gives a "heckler's veto" on freedom of the press to terrorists, who "do not need a pretext for their barbarism," Kessler wrote in an Oct. 3 opinion.

Kessler also brushed aside the government's alleged concern that releasing the footage would violate international legal prohibitions against publicizing images of war-time prisoners.

This argument, "if accepted, would turn the Third Geneva Convention on its head," she noted.

"Rather than a source of rights to humane treatment, Article 13 would become a means to shield from public view treatment that Mr. Dhiab (and undoubtedly other detainees) believes to be inhumane," her opinion stated.

She agreed, however, that the government had a legitimate worry about protecting the identities of Guantanamo staff.

On Friday, she issued a new ruling setting a schedule for approving such redactions, giving the government until Oct. 17 to complete its redactions.

The Associated Press, Bloomberg, CBS Broadcasting, Dow Jones, First Look Media, the Guardian, McClatchy, National Public Radio, the New York Times Company, Reuters, USA Today, the Washington Post and other outlets will have three days from there to file a joint proposal with the government on how best to distribute the footage to the public.

The videotapes will remain under seal pending Kessler's approves this plan.


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