In the first ever challenge to the U.S. government's ongoing and abusive force-feeding and forcible cell extraction methods used at Guantanamo Bay, an attorney for cleared Syrian detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab said Monday that his client’s choice to hunger strike is the only way he has to protest peacefully.
"It’s a cry of humanity from a person who feels he has no choice left," said attorney Eric Lewis. "Mr. Dhiab does not want to die, he wants to be treated like a human being."
The statement was made during the first day in the trial Dhiab v. Obama, which is the first to assess the legality of force-feeding methods used at the infamous detention center. Dhiab, who has been cleared for release since 2009, is seeking an injunction to end the punitive way the force-feedings are being conducted and to stop the forced cell extractions which he describes as being painful and abusive.
On Tuesday, torture expert and bioethicist Dr. Stephen Miles testified on the forcible cell extractions, saying they are "a form of punishment" and "an abuse of a prisoner for the purpose of a punitive regime." Miles said that the overall treatment of hunger strikers is a "punitive strategy to deter hunger striking."
Despite statements from medical groups like the World Medical Association, and internationally accepted medical ethics standards like the Malta Declaration that say force-feeding prisoners constitutes a form of torture, Justice Department attorney Andrew Warden argued on Monday that the practice is not a "painful procedure" and is vital for keeping Dhiab from serious injury or death.
Lewis described the procedure before the court:
He has been dragged out of his cell, trussed up like an animal, secured tightly to what the detainees universally called ‘the torture chair,’ had a 110-centimeter tube shoved up his nose, force-fed in the chair, then had the tube pulled out, forced from the chair to the ground and then carried back to his cell, put face down on a cement floor, the restraints removed with guards straddling his injured back.
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Monday's testimonies centered largely on the manner in which Dhiab was being handled, rather than the force-feedings themselves. Sondra Crosby, a Boston University physician who examined Dhiab last month, said that guards at the prison appeared to be deliberately depriving Dhiab from essential medical care, such as a wheelchair for transport.
"It looks like medical care is being withheld because of disciplinary status, and that should never happen," Crosby testified. "It feels punitive."
Following Tuesday's testimony, Cori Crider, one of Dhiab's attorneys with the international legal organization Reprieve, said: "Three medical experts have now testified that there is something rotten at the core of Guantánamo—treatment of hunger strikers is not proper medical care but a punitive strategy to try to break them."
The two- to three-day hearing comes on the heels of a Friday ruling by Federal Judge Gladys Kessler that the U.S. government must make public video footage of Dhiab being extracted and force-fed. On Thursday, Kessler also overruled an attempt by the Justice Department to close the hearing on national security grounds.
"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 a statement issued through his attorneys at Reprieve. "If the American people stand for freedom, they should watch these tapes. If they truly believe in human rights, they need to see these tapes."
The force-feeding footage was shown in part and discussed during a closed court session on Tuesday morning. When asked her medical opinion after viewing the videos, Crosby replied only that the footage was "disturbing."
Per Kessler's orders, the videos will be made public after guards' faces and voices are blurred out.