A federal appeals court on Friday decided not to block the release of controversial videotapes of a prisoner being force fed at Guantánamo Bay, as the U.S. government had requested. But it’s still not clear when the public might actually see the videos.
Sixteen media organizations, including The Intercept’s publisher First Look Media, are seeking footage of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who was repeatedly restrained and force fed while on hunger strike.
Dhiab, a 43-year-old Syrian who was sent to Guantánamo in 2002, protested his treatment in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., and the footage was introduced as evidence under seal. Lawyers for Dhiab, who have seen the videos, have called them “extremely disturbing.” Dhiab was released to Uruguay in December, but the fight over the videos continues.
The government has argued that releasing the videos would harm national security by, among other things, inflaming “Muslim sensitivities overseas.” Last October, District Judge Gladys Kessler rejected their arguments and ordered the videos made public, with redactions to protect the identity of Guantánamo guards. The government then appealed.
Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Washington, D.C., called the government’s appeal “premature,” and declined to weigh in on the merits of releasing the videos.
Kessler’s order required further negotiations over redactions, the appeals judges wrote in their opinion, and “it is possible that appropriate redactions will limit the scope of, or perhaps eliminate altogether, the government’s concerns over release of the videotapes.”
And while that may seem like a setback for the Obama administration, the appeals court’s decision also noted that sending the case back to the district court would give that court a chance to consider more detailed government declarations about “the harm associated with the release of the videotapes.”
In the meantime, as the case continues, the footage will stay sealed, and “the cat will remain comfortably in the bag,” the judges wrote.
Alka Pradhan, an attorney with Reprieve, the human rights organization representing Dhiab, said in a statement that “once those videotapes are redacted, they are one step closer to public release — and the government is one step closer to being held accountable for their treatment of Guantánamo detainees.”
Illustration by Lewis Peake courtesy of Reprieve
(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)