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Judge Slams 'Frivolous' Government Appeal; Pledges to 'Move Fast' on Guantánamo Tapes Release

WASHINGTON - A federal judge has slammed the Obama Administration’s stalling over the release of 32 force-feeding tapes from Guantánamo Bay, calling the Government’s prior appeal ‘the most frivolous I have ever seen.’

In a hearing this morning in Washington DC's District Court, Judge Gladys Kessler expressed her frustration at protracted Government delaying tactics in Dhiab v Obama, a legal challenge by Guantánamo's hunger strikers to prison conditions at the military facility. 

Today's hearing relates to classified video evidence of Mr Dhiab being violently removed from his cell and force-fed by the military authorities, which was originally presented to closed court by his attorneys. On June 20, 2014, 16 media organizations sought the public release of these videos on First Amendment grounds. On October 3, Judge Kessler ordered the footage to be released to the press, with appropriate redactions for national security.

In court today, lawyers for Obama’s Justice Department made two main points, which found little favor with Judge Kessler.

First, Obama's lawyers announced plans to to ask the Court to reconsider its prior order to release the videotapes. After months of litigation, they plan to ask the Judge yet again to change her mind.   Second, they claimed it would take several more months for the Obama Administration to redact any tapes -- a prerequisite for their release. This contradicts the Government's previous assessment that they would need five weeks to redact all 32 tapes.  

Judge Kessler interjected very swiftly when Andrew Warden of the Justice Department began asserting that it would take until the end of August to prepare even 8 of 32 tapes, stating:

“No, that’s not how we are going to it. The Government has made it possible to delay this for, according to my count, eight and a half months. Eight and a half months. The Government’s appeal was as frivolous an appeal as I have ever seen. Of course the Court of Appeals didn’t have jurisdiction. The minute I heard you were going to go up [to the Court of Appeals] I remember then talking to my law clerk saying ‘I don’t understand this, the case is still on my docket. The Court of Appeals doesn’t have jurisdiction now. But that’s neither here nor there.”

Judge Kessler made clear she was not going to tolerate excessive further delay on the part of the Justice Department. "We are going to move as fast as we can,” she said.

An order in the case is expected later today or early tomorrow.

Cori Crider, Reprieve attorney for Mr Dhiab, said: “The Defense Department has been playing stall ball from the second we forced them to turn over this grisly secret footage, and they remain determined to keep every second of it out of the hands of the US media.

"Their motive is obvious: if Americans were permitted to see the truth in these tapes, the conversation about Guantánamo would change overnight.

"But instead of just respecting that the media intervenors won their case for publication fair and square, the government plans to repeat its ‘sky-is-falling’ claims in a desperate attempt to stop a single frame of the force-feeding footage of my client ever being seen by the public.

"The press have a Constitutional right to report on these trials, and the footage is of major public interest. We still hope to wrest this evidence into the daylight.”


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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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