The Obama Administration has less than two weeks to decide whether to appeal a federal judge’s order that it must release videotapes showing the force-feeding of hunger-striking detainees at GuantÃ¡namo Bay — as the prison marks 14 years of existence.
US Government lawyers are nearing a key deadline, set for 22 January, in a court battle over a procedure which international bodies including the UN and Red Cross have said constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. According to a recent Justice Department filing, Solicitor General Don Verrilli is tasked with making the decision before January 22. It is not known whether he, or any top Justice Department or White House staff, have yet watched the footage.
The GuantÃ¡namo authorities have long faced criticism for the force-feeding of detainees engaged on peaceful hunger-strikes in protest against their detention without trial. After it emerged that the prison had been video-taping such procedures, one detainee, who has since been released, had those videos disclosed to his lawyers. Sixteen major media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, AP and Reuters, are seeking release of the tapes under the US Constitution.
The case will, if the Solicitor General decides not to appeal on January 22, mark the first time classified force-feeding footage from GuantÃ¡namo has been released to the public. So far, only the court and security-cleared lawyers at international human rights organisation Reprieve have been allowed to review the tapes. However, the US Government has been ordered by a federal judge to release a censored version of them, and will have to either do so or appeal by the 22 January deadline — a date which also marks exactly 7 years since President Obama signed an order to close the prison.
Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and one of the GuantÃ¡namo attorneys for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who is the subject of the footage, said: “Americans need to know – on this grim anniversary most of all – that everything hasn’t been cleaned up down at GuantÃ¡namo. Abuse still goes on and the footage I’ve watched proves it. I very much hope the Solicitor General will review the tapes himself and decide to release them promptly: if the President is serious about getting the job done and closing GuantÃ¡namo, he should be honest with the American people about what force-feeding detainees really looks like. It’s high time to release the tapes.”
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to GuantÃ¡namo Bay.