When the Government’s Secrecy Arguments Are Not Blindly Accepted by Judges

(Photo: Vice.com / Jason Leopold)

A Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who has been force-fed and subjected to rough cell extractions prior to such feeding, is finally getting the opportunity to have his case challenging his treatment heard in court today. Remarkably, the hearing comes after two major victories, where the judge agreed the legal proceeding should be open to the public and videos of his forced-feeding should be unsealed.

Dhiab is Syrian and has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2002. He was cleared for release in 2009 by President Barack Obama’s own review task force.

He remains in indefinite detention and has protested his confinement by engaging in a hunger strike, but the government has worked to break this protest by subjecting him to regular forced-feeding. So, Dhiab, who is being represented by the human rights organization, Reprieve, has sought a preliminary injunction to halt the forced-feeding as well as the forcible cell extractions (FCEs).

Judge Gladys Kessler of the United States District Court in the District of Columbia ruled on October 2 that the Obama administration’s last-minute effort to close the hearing was “deeply troubling.”

“It is no secret that Mr. Dhiab’s case has received a good deal of publicity in the press,” Kessler argued. “With such a long-standing and ongoing public interest at stake, it would be particularly egregious to bar the public from observing the credibility of live witnesses, the substance of their testimony, whether proper procedures are being followed, and whether the court is treating all participants fairly.”

She followed that decision with an even more significant decision on October 3.

“The First Amendment’s express guarantees of free speech, freedom of the press, and the right to petition the government carry with them an implicit right of public access to particular government information,” Kessler declared.

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