WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Friday ordered the public release of 28 videotapes of a hunger-striking Guantanamo Bay prisoner being forcibly removed from his cell and force fed.
Lawyers for the prisoner, Abu Wa'el Dhiab, have challenged his treatment as abusive.
Numerous news media outlets, including The Associated Press, had asked the court on June 20 to unseal the tapes.
U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler granted the news media's request, although Kessler said the tapes will remain sealed until some information on them is redacted. The material to be removed includes identifying information of everyone on the tapes except for the prisoner. She said faces other than Dhiab's will be obscured, as will voices and names.
"We are very gratified by this decision, which will enable the American people to see with their own eyes the sorts of abuses that are being heaped on these peacefully hunger-striking detainees," said Dhiab's lawyer Jon Eisenberg.
"Once the truth is fully brought to light, we believe these terrible practices will come to an end," Eisenberg said.
On Thursday, the judge rejected a request by the Obama administration to close a hearing into Dhiab's case scheduled for Monday.
Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, has been held at the Navy-run prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since August 2002.
The Obama administration has been in court for months seeking to limit the amount of information released in Dhiab's case.
"The court is well aware, as the government has emphasized, that in no case involving Guantanamo Bay detainees has any court ordered disclosure of classified information over the government's opposition," Kessler wrote in a 29-page opinion ordering release of the tapes.
"However — to be clear — that does not mean that in a given factual situation no court has the discretion to do so if warranted," the judge added.
The former Navy commander at Guantanamo Bay, Rear Adm. Richard Butler, said in a court declaration filed in July that even though the forced cell extraction videos are lawful, humane and appropriate, they "are particularly susceptible to use as propaganda and to incite a public reaction because of their depiction of forcible ... guard interaction with detainees."
The videos that also contain footage of forced-feedings could be used "to foment anti-American sentiment and inflame Muslim sensitivities as it depicts ... personnel providing medical care to a detainee while he is restrained," Butler said in the declaration.
Making public a video showing a detainee receiving medical care while restrained "would exacerbate the world's perception of detainees in U.S. custody," Butler added. "Public release, in whole or in part, of videos showing forced cell extractions" or feedings would cause "serious damage to national security."