Judge blasts Defense Department but allows forced-feeding to resume

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 23, 2014 

— An unhappy federal judge blasted the Defense Department for its “intransigence” but has lifted a ban on forced-feeding of a hunger-striking Guantanamo Bay detainee.

In a three-page decision dated Thursday, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said she had little choice but to remove a temporary restraining order that had blocked officials from feeding Syrian detainee Mohammed Abu Wa’el Dhiab.

“Thanks to the intransigence of the Department of Defense, Mr. Dhiab may well suffer unnecessary pain from certain enteral feeding practices and forcible cell extractions,” Kessler wrote.“However, the court simply cannot let Mr. Dhiab die.”

Last Friday, in an extraordinary move, Kessler had imposed the temporary ban on the forced-feeding. At a subsequent court hearing Wednesday, Kessler ordered the government to turn over 34 videotapes showing Dhiab’s forcible extraction from his Guantanamo cell and his forced-feedings while he was being held in a restraint chair.

The Wednesday hearing included a lengthy bench conference, some of whose details Kessler revealed in her Thursday decision.

“Mr. Dhiab’s physical condition was swiftly deteriorating, in large part because he was refusing food and/or water,” Kessler reported Thursday.

The 42-year-old Dhiab said he turned to hunger striking because he had no other recourse. Imprisoned since 2002, Dhiab has long since been cleared for release once the United States finds another country to take him.

At its high point last year, more than 100 of Guantanamo’s 154 detainees were participating in a hunger strike. The U.S. military officials who oversee the detention facility no longer publicly disclose how many force-feedings take place.

According to Dhiab’s attorneys, with the human rights organization Reprieve, he’s been forcibly removed from his cell an average of three times a week over the past year in order to receive the force-feeding. Guantanamo authorities deploy what’s called a “Forcible Cell Extraction” team to detainees who appear resistant.

During the feeding, guards restrain the detainees in chairs and medical technicians snake tubes through their nostrils and into their stomachs so that liquid nutrients may be forced in. The U.S. government refers to the practice as “enteral feedings.”

Kessler noted that Dhiab has indicated his willingness to be enterally fed, if it could be done at the hospital in Guantánamo Bay. Kessler said Dhiab also wants to “be spared the agony of having the feeding tubes inserted and removed for each feeding, and...the pain and discomfort of the restraint chair.”

“The Department of Defense refused to make those compromises,” Kessler stated.

While allowing the forced-feeding to resume, Kessler reminded officials that they must abide by standard operating procedures.

Email: mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10.

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