Obama administration seeks to overturn decision to release controversial Guantanamo Bay force-feeding footage

The controversy puts more pressure on Mr Obama’s foreign policy legacy

Kunal Dutta
Wednesday 03 December 2014 02:14 GMT

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President Obama’s administration will ask a federal appeals court to overturn a judge’s ruling to release more than 30 videos depicting controversial force-feeding methods used on foreign prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay.

The Justice Department has asked the US appeals court to overturn Judge Gladys Kessler decision to allow the release 32 videos that depict Guantanamo guards forcibly removing a Syrian detainee from his cell and subjecting him to forced feedings.

The videos, classified “secret”, contain footage of hunger-striking prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab being subjected to the controversial feeding method intended to prevent prisoners in the detention camp starving to death. Washington rejects that the method is abusive but says the public disclosure of the tapes could “adversely affect security conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq”.

The ruling in October to release the tapes was the first of its kind and followed sustained pressure from more than 15 media organisations who argued that the videos should be made public under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

But the disclosure was halted at the eleventh-hour after the Justice Department argued releasing the tapes during an appeal period would deprive the government of any meaningful opportunity to contest public release of classified information.

Revelations of force feeding was widely known – but the videos remained a secret until Mr Dhiab sought injunction to the methods, which he contended was a punitive and medically unnecessary push by Guantanamo officials to break a hunger strike that was protesting long-term confinement without charge.

Guantanamo officials have refused to release information about how many of the 142 remaining detainees remain on hunger strike.

But this current controversy over the tapes puts more pressure on Mr Obama’s foreign policy legacy. In his May 2013 speech he singled-out force feeding in particular asking: “Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”

Lawyers from the human rights charity Reprieve are some of the few people outside the US government to have seen the footage and have described it as “disturbing”. But they are bound under classification rules not to reveal its contents.

Mr Dhiab’s attorney, Cori Crider of Reprieve, yesterday likened their symbolic significance to the 2004 picture of Abu Ghraib torture sessions in Iraq. She added: “Obama made the wrong call today, but Reprieve will keep fighting to get the truth in these videotapes out. We believe Americans can handle the truth. They have the right to see the tapes.”

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