Courts & Crime

Judge orders release of Guantanamo force-feeding videos

Over the objections of the Obama administration, a federal judge Friday ordered release of videos showing the force-feeding and cell extraction of a Guantanamo Bay detainee.

The ordered release of the 28 videotapes comes on the eve of a two-day hearing set to start Oct. 6, during which attorneys for detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab will seek a preliminary injunction to stop the painful feedings.

The videotapes in question have been classified at the "secret" level, based on the government’s assertion that their contents “could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security if disclosed.” A large number of news organizations, including McClatchy, the Associated Press, the New York Times and CBS, challenged the videotape secrecy in court.

In a strongly worded 29-page decision, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler stressed that she had the authority to unseal the tapes, and she said Obama administration claims for secrecy were “unacceptably vague, speculative, lack specificity, or are just plain implausible.”

“The fact that the government has unilaterally deemed information classified is not sufficient to defeat the public's right,” Kessler wrote.

Dhiab said he’d turned to hunger striking because he had no other recourse. Imprisoned since 2002, the Syrian native has been cleared for release once the United States finds another country to take him.

The videos will be made public once certain faces are blurred and other identifying materials obscured.

“In short, it is our responsibility, as judges, as part of our obligation under the Constitution, to ensure that any efforts to limit our First Amendment protections are scrutinized with the greatest of care. That responsibility can not be ignored or abdicated,” Kessler added.

Kessler, systematically discarding the government’s case for continued secrecy, emphasized that U.S. officials themselves have already made public important facets of the Guantanamo program. As evidence, Kessler cited articles written by the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, among others.

“Given what is already available to the public and known to the detainees, it simply is not plausible to argue that release of the videos will give rise to an additional probability of harm,” Kessler wrote.