October 19, 2014
Guantanamo prisoner Abu Waíel Dhiab has been pursuing a lawsuit against President Barack Obamaís administration to force the government stop using force-feeding to punish him while he is on hunger strike and protesting against his continued indefinite detention, even though he has been cleared for release.
There were legal proceedings in recent weeks, where a federal judge heard testimony about his treatment. The lawyers filed a "post-trial brief" on October 17, which argued that Dhiab has suffered an "unacceptable and unconstitutional degree of cruelty and incompetence" by authorities who have "sought to suppress" Dhiabís "peaceful protest by causing him gratuitous pain."
Judge Gladys Kessler has ordered that videos of Dhiabís force-feedings and forcible removal from his cell for those sessions be released to media organizations for the public to see. But the government requested a 30-day delay to prepare and file an appeal and have, as of now, managed to stall the disclosure of videos to the press.
This week on the "Unauthorized Disclosure" podcast the guest is Cori Crider, a director for Reprieve and a counsel representing Dhiab. She describes the kind of treatment Dhiab has suffered in Guantanamo and why he decided to bring a lawsuit against the United States government. She highlights the significance of 32 videos of Dhiabís force-feeding and forced removal from his cell, which a federal judge has ordered be released (although the government is appealing). She also discusses the critical role she plays as an attorney who can publicly advocate for Dhiab while he remains in indefinite detention.
During the discussion portion, Gosztola and Khalek debrief and reflect on "Ferguson October," since they were both there in St. Louis last weekend to cover the "weekend of resistance." Then, the show highlights plans by the Obama administration to build a new rebel force for battle in Syria, a bill that passed in Pennsylvania which will make it possible for inmates and former offenders to be silenced if they want to engage in speech and a report that only 4% of US drone strike victims in Pakistan have been al Qaeda.
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*Below is a partial transcript of interview
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Weíve seen some of this breaking into the news because of what media organizations have done to push for the release of videos of Dhiab being force-fed. But before we get too far into the lawsuit and where it is currently, could you give our listeners an idea on the background of Abu Waíel Dhiab and what itís been like for him in Guantanamo and why heís even bringing this lawsuit?
CORI CRIDER: Absolutely, so Abu Waíel is a Syrian man in Guantanamo Bay, a father of four and a husband. And he has been cleared to leave Guantanamo since 2009.
I donít know if your listeners know what it means to have been cleared, but in the Obama administration, at the beginning, he had every security agency ó all the ones that you and I have heard about and probably a few that we havenít ó take a look at the files of every single prisoner in Guantanamo. To be cleared in that process, which Mr. Dhiab was, the security services had to be unanimous that it was okay to release you, that you should go home. So, when we say Mr. Dhiab is cleared, that means that the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Department, everybody else, everybody has said that he should go home to his wife and kids. That was 2009 and he is still there.
There have been media reports that I canít confirm that suggest there are countries ready to take him, but he is still there. He is still stuck, and heís not with his family.
Now, if you were in his position, you might think to yourself at some point Iím never going to go home. This isnít real. Iím just going to be trapped here forever. And thatís how he feels, and he is therefore protesting in the only way that he knows how, which is by going on a hunger strike refusing food. He joined a whole bunch of prisoners at Guantanamo in the spring of last year in this hunger strike against his indefinite detention and his mistreatment and as a result the authorities at Guantanamo have responded by trying to suppress his protest and by abusing him.
He needs a wheelchair a lot of the time, and one of the things they first did is take away that wheelchair, even when he was willing to go to his own force-feedings if they would just let him wheel himself there. They said oh, no, no. You have an option. You can either walk or you can be FCEíd. And what that means is, when someone is FCEíd that means a so-called forcible cell extraction team, a group of soldiers in riot gear storms his cell, hauls him from his cell and straps him into this restraint chair where a 110-centimeter tube is passed up his nose and down into his stomach.
That is what my client has been going through pretty much every day, sometimes twice a day since heís been going on this hunger strike. So, we went to court to say this is unacceptable. This is un-America, and to ask the judge to stop it basically.
RANIA KHALEK: With the force-feeding, this is something thatís been deemed torture? Thereís a group of doctors that have called it torture, is that correct?
CRIDER: Yeah, I mean, you know, the Defense Department says again and again that what theyíre providing is humane medical care, but thatís not the view of the World Medical Association, the American Medical Association or pretty much any other group you care to name. Everybody says that force-feeding patients is totally unacceptable.
But in addition to that, in addition to the fact that youíre not supposed to be forcing care on these people, the way that they do it causes gratuitous pain.
My client has said again and again I will cooperate with this process to the extent that I have to sort of maintain my life but also maintain my protest. He says I donít want to die. I want to go home to my family, but Iím also not just going to eat meals until you release me. So, he says, let me wheel myself to the force-feeding and Iíll go through it. But they still haul him in there with the riot squad and they pass this horrible tube down his nose into his stomach twice a day every day.
In a regular hospital, a patient that was receiving artificial nutrition would only be intubated once every several days, sometimes every several weeks. The only reason that they do it this way, strap people into the chair, put the tube in twice a day ever day, is to make the strike painful and to discourage people from protesting in this way. Itís absolutely clear that thatís the reason for it. Itís punitive, not medical.
GOSZTOLA: Can you talk about how you got to the point ó I guess itís probably not that extraordinary ó but just the decision to go ahead and make the videos a part of the case and what you can say publicly about the significance of those videos in being able to pursue the lawsuit?
CRIDER: So the tapes are a huge deal and I think will continue to be a major debate possibly long after my client is a free man. We learned earlier this year from a Justice Department attorney that footage existed of the process of my client not just being forced from his cell but also force-fed. Immediately, we thought this is relevant evidence. We ran to the judge and said make them give us this stuff. And for the first time ever, the judge said yeah thatís relevant to this challenge. She ordered the government to disclose 32 videos of the client going through that process to us. Itís between ten and eleven hours of footage and I think weíve allóEverybody on the team has watched it.
Of course, the government says that itís a secret and theyíre desperate to avoid everybody actually seeing this material because itís so terribly embarrassing. But I think itís incredibly important for Americans to see it and to know whatís being done in their name in 2014.
Probably the most important and moving moment from the force-feeding trial that we had last week wasnít all of the stuff in open court, although that was important. It was the moment when the judge closed the courtroom and for a few hours, maybe three hours, we on our side and lawyers from the other side and people from the Defense Department and the court sat there and we watched reality. Not claims and counter-claims, not what I had to say about it or what the government had to say about it or what anybody else had to say about it. We just watched the truth.
And, again, Iím not allowed to say whatís on the tapes but I can say that I watched the faces of the people on the government and even they were affected. I saw people go pale. I saw them wince. I saw them rub their eyes. You cannot but see him as a human when you see that footage and I think that if it comes out as the judge has ordered then it might well change the whole discussion about Guantanamo and the way that we treat prisoners there.
KHALEK: From over here in the US, itís quite clear that Guantanamo isnít even really in the consciousness of Americans right now. And itís kind of always like that off and on until something serious happens that gets a lot of attention, lot of media attention. So, real quick, heís not the only one whoís been cleared who is there and who is dealing with this kind of torture. Thereís several people that are in the same position just indefinitely detained, on hunger strike, protesting and being punished in this really barbaric way?
CRIDER: The majority of prisoners now in Guantanamo are cleared. I think that the last count is 78 or 79. But anyway over half the people that are there have been cleared in exactly the same process that my client has. A bunch of people that we represent are cleared and hunger striking. One of the clients that we represent, Emad Hassan, a cleared Yemeni, has been on continuous hunger strike since 2007. Think of that for a minute. That means that he has been force-fed twice a day, every day several thousand times. Iím not sure in the history of force-feeding anywhere whether there is anybody who has gone through the process for so long.
Youíre right. I think thatóPeople often say to me didnít Obama close it when I say to them I work on Guantanamo detaineeís cases. And I have to remember that, in fact, is not the case. And itís true it does slip off the radar and it is a real struggle for Reprieve and others to remind people of the plight of these folks. And to say that one of the main problems is itís such a hatred-creating symbol of our hypocrisy. Itís not serving any national security interest to hold these cleared guys.
KHALEK: So why are we? Why canít they leave? What are the reasons?
CRIDER: I think the president and the administration really havenít had the courage to back up their own principles. I remember very well the moment Obama signed the order that he was going to close Guantanamo within a year right when he took office. But then there was, of course, stiff political opposition and Obama just wasnít prepared to go to bat for it.
Before the hunger strike started last year in January 2013, Obama actually closed without any fanfare or notice the State Department notice whose then-job was to resettle cleared prisoners. Then, in all mass, in response to that and some other abuses, prisoners just stopped eating. And so of course for a brief period it did top the media cycle. You had people like Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein writing to Obama and saying what are you doing about this force-feeding stuff. And he says well I am going to do something about it, and he re-opens the State Department office to try to close Guantanamo.
I actually think the people in that office are doing their best to get cleared folks out, but the government is big. The Defense Department has got people in it that would be perfectly happy to let every man in Guantanamo die there. And they just havenít been able to get it done. I think only six people, if I am right, have left this year notwithstanding that Obama insisted heís going to do something about it.
Again, this goes back to why I think the tapes are so important and why Americans should be permitted to see them. Because to the extent that we all remember that Guantanamo still exists, I think thereís a false notion that the battle days of Camp X-Ray are over, right? That Gitmo was really bad in 2002, 2003, maybe 2004, but surely Obama came in and cleaned all that stuff up. And I think that if people could see the tapes and see what is going on in 2013 and 2014, they would be shocked. They would say this is not who we want to be.