WASHINGTON — A federal judge has determined that the U.S. military can force-feed a Syrian detainee at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to prevent him from dying, but she urged authorities to consider alternative methods and ordered them to release potentially embarrassing videos depicting the man's treatment.
U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler said she was faced with an "anguishing" choice: issuing another temporary restraining order that would prevent the military from force-feeding detainee Abu Wa'el Dhiab, "despite the very real probability" that he will die, or refusing to extend the order, "at the possible cost of great pain and suffering" to the prisoner.
"The Court is in no position to make the complex medical decisions necessary to keep Mr. Dhiab alive," Kessler said in a three-page ruling issued late Thursday. She added that because of the Pentagon's "intransigence," or refusal to compromise, "Mr. Dhiab may well suffer unnecessary pain from certain enteral feeding practices and forcible cell extractions. However, the Court simply cannot let Mr. Dhiab die."
Kessler's rulings promise to keep attention on the Pentagon's controversial force-feeding practices for weeks to come. The judge said in a scheduling order issued Friday that the U.S. government must release to Dhiab's lawyers by June 13 videos of the detainee being removed from his cell and force-fed. It will mark the first time that individuals not affiliated with the U.S. government have seen the videos.
Dhiab, 42, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and has been detained since without any charges being filed against him. He was cleared for transfer by the Obama administration in 2009, but the government has not been able to repatriate him, first because of fears about how he would be treated at home and then because of the Syrian civil war.
Dhiab is among the many Guantanamo prisoners who have staged hunger strikes to protest their prolonged detention; 154 detainees remain at the facility, and about half of them have been cleared for transfer to their home countries or to third countries.
Force-feeding involves restraining a detainee in a chair, inserting a tube through his nose and down his throat, and pumping a nutritional drink directly into his stomach. The process is uncomfortable at best and agonizing at worst, human rights advocates say.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, said Friday that the Defense Department has long held that it should not allow "the detainees in our charge to commit suicide."
"We only apply enteral feeding in order to preserve life," he added.
Kessler's ruling follows a decision this week in which she barred the Pentagon from forcibly feeding Dhiab. In her follow-up order issued late Thursday, however, she changed her mind, she said, to keep the detainee alive.