A key appeals court declined on Friday to get involved, for now, in a case about whether the public will get to see videotapes of a Guantanamo Bay detainee being force-fed.
In an unsurprising, eight-page decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reasoned that it was “without jurisdiction” to issue orders at this point. The decision is at least a temporary defeat for the Obama administration, which wanted the court to block release of the videotapes, but it is far from the end of the legal battle.
“We cannot reach the merits of this appeal...because it is premature,” the panel stated.
Leaving the matter with the trial judge, the appellate panel explained, could also yield several benefits.
“It is possible that appropriate redactions will limit the scope of, or perhaps eliminate altogether, the government’s concerns over release of the videotapes,” the appellate panel speculated.
The three appellate judges added, in a per curiam decision that’s attributed to the court rather than an individual author, that the trial judge now has “an opportunity to consider whether the eight-day time frame it set for the redaction process is reasonable in light of the declaration the government subsequently filed concerning the complexity of the task.”
The case revolves around videotapes of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, also known as Jihad Dhiab. Dhiab is a Syria native who was seized in Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2002.
The Obama administration’s Guantanamo Review Task Force cleared Dhiab for release in 2009, but he remained incarcerated until relatively recently. Dhiab and other protesting detainees initiated a hunger strike in early 2013, prompting authorities to begin force-feeding them.
The 43-year-old Dhiab was released last December and now lives in Uruguay with five other former Guantanamo Bay detainees. His lawsuit that formerly sought to stop the force-feedings, brought by attorney Jon B. Eisenberg and the human rights advocacy group Reprieve, now focuses on making the videotapes public.
More than a dozen news organizations, including McClatchy, The New York Times and The Washington Post, intervened in the case to press for release of the videotapes, which span about 11 hours.
In October, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered public release of the tapes once certain redactions had been made to protect individual identities. The Obama administration appealed that decision.
“The district court’s decision did not terminate the action, and it does not qualify as an immediately appealable collateral order,” the appellate panel stated Friday, adding, “nor does this case present the extraordinary circumstances required to grant the government’s alternative request for a writ of mandamus.”