Abi Wa’el Dhiab

In the process of a lawsuit against the force-feeding of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, attorneys for the human rights organization, Reprieve, discovered the military has recordings of force-feedings. Attorneys have demanded that a court order the government to preserve video evidence so the videos are not destroyed.

Reprieve attorneys are representing Abi Wa’el Dhiab. He was cleared for release by President Barack Obama’s Guantanamo review task force in 2009, however, he remains imprisoned without charge or trial. The ongoing conflict in Syria has made it even more difficult to convince the government to release him back to where his family, including four children, currently live.

The Defense Department refused a request for videotapes and was told by government attorneys on May 12 that the Defense Department, “as a matter of policy,” does not “record enteral feedings” (which are force-feedings involving a tube).

That led Reprieve attorneys to respond, “You say that ‘as a matter of policy’ DoD ‘do’ not record enteral feedings. I understand that to mean that DoD’s current policy is not to record enteral feedings. As a matter of past policy or practice, have any of Mr. Dhiab’s enteral feedings been recorded?”

In reply to this question, the government admitted that videotapes of force-feedings at Guantanamo Bay do happen to exist. The Defense Department had recorded some forced cell extractions (FCEs) for force-feedings. The video had captured both processes. However, the lawyers refused to agree to provide any videotapes of force-feedings, including any videotapes that may show Dhiab, to Reprieve attorneys.

Dhiab has participated in hunger strikes. In choosing to engage in resistance against his continued detention, he has been force-fed, like other hunger strikers, and subjected to treatment that violates medical ethics and amounts to torture.

Reprieve attorneys asked for assurance that the government would not destroy the video evidence. The government indicated that the Defense Department was “aware of its preservation obligations and has no reason to believe that the videotapes you seek in your motion have been destroyed.” The answer was not good enough. It did not indicate that steps were being taken to “preserve this videotape evidence.”

Ultimately, Reprieve attorneys filed a motion requesting that the court order the government to preserve this evidence. They urged the court to ensure all videos of Dhiab’s “forcible cell extractions and/or force-feedings during the period” of April 9, 2013, to February 19, 2014, be preserved and maintained.

Cori Crider, attorney for Reprieve, told Firedoglake they are not only concerned about past history where the CIA was able to destroy videotapes of interrogations that contained footage of torture and abuse of detainees. During a prior case involving former Guantanamo prisoner Mustafa Ait Idir, Guantanamo authorities told a court “they had ‘lost’ a previously-acknowledged recording of Mr Ait Idir being assaulted by the ‘FCE.’”

“It’s not just the CIA that destroys evidence. I’m afraid JTF-GTMO itself are adept at losing inconvenient evidence at the base,” Crider added.

Dhiab went on hunger strike and began to be subject to force-feeding on April 9, 2013. He joined with other prisoners, including Shaker Aamer, to challenge the practice so he could choose whether to eat or die at Guantanamo.

According to Dhiab, when he is force-fed, “Straps and shackles are put in place and only the chains on the hands are released. Then all the straps are tightened forcefully so that I cannot move or breathe.”

“In addition to this, there are six riot force members: one holding the head and putting his fingers on the throat and
neck from below the chin with severe pressure, the second and third hold the hands, the fourth and fifth hold the legs, and then the nurse inserts the tube. If you are in pain it is natural for your head to move, so they shout ‘don’t resist.’”

Attorneys suspect that the force-feeding regimen includes the drug Reglan, a generic metoclopramide, or a laxative may be mixed in with the “force-feeding bag” in order to prevent vomiting.

“I am sure they could be giving Reglan without telling us. They grind up medicine and mix it with the food. We know that. We do not trust them. The doctor who treats us is not a real doctor,” Dhiab said to his attorneys.

Crider described how he had been “terribly mistreated” during his detention. “At times he needs a wheelchair and the wheelchair has been taken from him as punishment.”

Reprieve attorneys are also seeking Dhiab’s medical records from April 2013 through December 2013. The government has agreed to disclose medical records from the first four months of 2014 but for whatever reason does not want to hand over this set.

The motion argues that the government cannot challenge the discovery of videotapes or medical records on “national security” grounds because Dhiab does not want any of the material to be publicly released.

“There is only one logical explanation for Respondents’ refusal of this limited discovery: Something in the videotapes and/or Petitioner’s full medical records must be worth discovering,” the motion declares.

Dhiab’s resistance is driven by the key issue: “Why am I here?”

“We have heard all of this before. The lawyers have been with us for four years and still the government does not want to release us. They are just giving us anesthesia to wait — but there is no action.”

According to Dhiab, “They put me in the chair in a savage way which did not occur in the days of Bush. They torture me in the name of feeding and fear for my health, even though I can’t breathe or move. The riot team holds me from every limb even when I am being fed. As for the one who is holding my head, he chokes me further.”

“What the US government is doing here makes me feel they have lost sight of their principles, of the high values that they claim to support. They are killing us anyway by holding us here. They are torturing us every day, supposedly to preserve our health.” And, when describing the riot squad that has removed him for force-feeding, he reiterated, “The mistreatment now is more severe than during Bush.”