Obama Fights US Press on Guantánamo Force-Feeding Video Release

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Katherine O'Shea at Reprieve US: katherine.oshea@reprieve.org / (+1) 917 855 8064

Obama Fights US Press on Guantánamo Force-Feeding Video Release

WASHINGTON - The Obama Administration will today appear in federal court (10.30am , District Court, Washington D.C.) over its refusal to comply with a judge's order to release video evidence of abusive force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay.

Today's hearing in Dhiab v Obama relates to a legal challenge by Guantánamo's hunger strikers, wherein prisoners' attorneys presented classified footage of a prisoner violently removed from his cell and force-fed by the military authorities.

On June 20, 2014, 16 media organizations sought the public release of these videos on First Amendment grounds. On October 3, Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the footage to be released to the press, with appropriate redactions with respect to national security.

The Obama Administration refused to redact the tapes and appealed the decision. 

On appeal, President Obama disputed the power of America's courts to challenge even the most tyrannical government secrecy. The President's lawyers argued that every single frame of video evidence - even those showing government illegality and abuse - is a state secret, beyond the review of any judge. The Administration further defended its right to classify information wrongfully -- such as censoring the Gettysburg address. 

The Court of Appeals noted that the Obama Administration had taken no steps to fulfil its First Amendment obligations to American journalists -- ie by producing even a severely redacted version of the tapes -- and referred this back to Judge Kessler.

Today is the first substantive hearing on the case since Judge Kessler ordered the videotapes to be released.

Cori Crider, Reprieve attorney for Mr Dhiab, said:  “There is a simple question at the heart of this case: can the President censor images of a suffering detainee strapped to a force-feeding chair just because they are upsetting? Can he stop the press reporting on them? Of course not – that is why the Founders put press freedom in the First Amendment.  Ongoing abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo deserves to be reported like any other exposé of government abuse -- from the Pentagon Papers to Eric Garner. Sadly, an assault on journalists' right to report government wrongdoing has been a hallmark of President Obama's administration, and its arguments in this case are particularly chilling. Happily, much of the US press is in court today defending the First Amendment -- and federal judges are losing patience with the President's overreach."

Alka Pradhan, Reprieve attorney for Mr Dhiab, said: “We’ve seen the government repeatedly attempt to thwart Judge Kessler’s ruling to redact and release the terrible force-feeding videotapes. The government must be told loud and clear that delay tactics will not work and that the world will see the abuse that has continued at Guantanamo.”

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Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.

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