Guantanamo force-feeding case reaches US federal court for first time

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Published Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Guantanamo Bay inmate who was cleared for release in 2009 but remains incarcerated has no means of protest other than hunger striking and enduring "painful" and "humiliating" force-feeding, a US court heard Monday.

It was the first time since terror suspects arrived at the US naval base in southern Cuba nearly 13 years ago that a federal judge has heard a case about prison conditions and treatment.

One of the 149 remaining Guantanamo detainees, Abu Wael Dhiab of Syria, who has been held without charge or trial since 2002 and was cleared for release in 2009, has been a frequent hunger-striker.

"His hunger strike is the only way he has to protest peacefully his detention," one of his lawyers, Eric Lewis, told US District Judge Gladys Kessler.

"Months and years passed and you're still there, he's been cleared for five years. His hunger strike is a cry of humanity. He's no choice left," the attorney added.

Dhiab has filed suit to protest his force-feeding by Guantanamo handlers, who insert and remove a tube through his nostrils, down his esophagus and into the stomach for each feeding.

'Painful, humiliating process'

"He wants to be treated humanely," said Lewis, noting that force-feeding is a "painful, humiliating process."

Prosecutor Andrew Warden countered that the process was not painful and said Dhiab is force-fed because he "has a history of disobedience," he consistently refuses food and the technique was "necessary to prevent death."

Sondra Crosby, an expert on victims of torture and a medical professor at the University of Boston, said Dhiab had some physical ailments and some psychosomatic complaints, and that he needed crutches or a wheelchair to get around.

She said prison authorities refused Dhiab his wheelchair or his crutches.

"It seems punitive, on the surface," Crosby said, adding it seemed "completely inappropriate" to take a wheelchair from someone who had trouble walking.

Despite being in pain, Dhiab was forcibly taken from his cell 1,300 times, then led to a restraint chair where he was strapped in and force-fed.

Warden said Dhiab was placed in a restraint chair to protect guards.

"The restraint chair is not used as a punishment or to inflict pain, it is used as a security measure for guards and detainees," Warden said.

Crosby said Dhiab would be prepared to cooperate with the feeding process if it was done in a "non-forcible" way.

The doctor acknowledged that feeding via a nasal tube was the "normal method" carried out in hospitals to feed patients who are unable to eat normally.

But she said the tube should be left in to avoid undue pain.

Warden said such a practice would risk infection and leave inmates with a plastic tube with which they could choke themselves.

The hearing was expected to continue Monday with testimony from a former army psychiatrist, Stephen Xenakis, and on Tuesday with Steven Miles, a medical ethicist.

Judge Kessler has ordered the hearing to be open to the public, ruling against the government, which had filed a motion for the court case to be closed.

In a dramatic order just days before the trial, Kessler also demanded that the Obama administration release 28 videos showing force-feeding sessions at Guantanamo Bay.

The videos show a so-called "forcible extraction team" restraining, intubating and force-feeding Dhiab.

“I want Americans to see what is going on at the prison today so they will understand why we are hunger-striking, and why the prison should be closed,” Dhiab said in an earlier court filing, which Judge Kessler quoted in her opinion according to The New York Times.

The paper, along with 15 other news organizations, petitioned the videos’ release.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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