The most transparent administration strikes again

Spencer Ackerman writes that the Obama administration has asked a federal judge to close to the media and public a hearing to be held on its brutal force-feeding practices on prisoners at Guantanamo, prompting suspicions that they are, as usual, seeking to cover up the atrocities they are committing while sanctimoniously preaching about human rights to the rest of the world

Justice Department attorneys argued to district judge Gladys Kessler that allowing the hearings to be open to the public would jeopardize national security through the disclosure of classified information. Should Kessler agree, the first major legal battle over forced feeding in a federal court would be less transparent than the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay.

Attorneys for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian detainee on hunger strike whose court challenge is slated to begin next week, said the government was using national security as an excuse to prevent the public from learning the extent of a practice that the judge in the case has considered brutal.

While [acting assistant attorney general Joyce] Branda did not offer a detailed explication of the government’s secrecy rationale, her motion referenced discussion of classified videotapes of the force-feedings, which Kessler has already barred the public from seeing.

Mind you, Dhiab was cleared for transfer to Uruguay in 2009but has still not been released from the prison. Cori Crider, a lawyer from the group Reprieve who represents Dhiab, says:

“It’s obvious what is really going on here: the government wants to seal the force-feeding trial for the same reason it is desperate to suppress the tapes of my client being hauled from his cell by the riot squad and force-fed. The truth is just too embarrassing,” Crider said.

“The Defense Department says force-feeding isn’t torture? Bring it on, I say. Release my client’s force-feeding tapes, and let’s let the American people decide for themselves. DOD [the Defense Department] know full well that if Americans saw the real evidence they would side with the Navy nurse who refused to force-feed my client, and condemn this daily violation of medical ethics.”

Crider has written an opinion piece explaining why the government seeks such secrecy.

This is what the Pentagon refuses to say: twice a day, every day, it puts cleared hunger-strikers through abuse that would shock most Americans if they could but see it.

But testimony from a couple of experts is not the same as watching a tube go down a man’s throat, you might say. You might even ask: what is the government so afraid of?

Part of the answer lies in a cache of secret force-feeding videos. Earlier this year, we forced the government to give us a pile of tapes of Abu Wa’el being hauled from his cell by Guantánamo’s riot squad (the so-called “Forcible Cell Extraction” team) and strapped into a chair for force-feeding. Over the summer I watched the videos – 11 bleak hours of filmed abuse. Some of the images have burned into my brain in much the same way that, 10 years ago, the Abu Ghraib photos burned my mind, and perhaps yours.

The DoD is so nervous about this footage going public that I have been forbidden even to discuss it with other security-cleared lawyers representing other clients on hunger strike, with whom we were always previously trusted to discuss classified issues. The Pentagon doesn’t want you to get anywhere close to these images; the government doesn’t even really want you to hear in public from other people, like our security-cleared experts, who have seen what force-feeding looks like.

But those who have seen the tapes know the truth: what we do to hunger-strikers at Guantánamo shames America – not just in the bad old days of George W Bush, but today, in 2014.

Secret torture chambers, run by our constitutional lawyer president who promised the most transparent administration in history.

Meanwhile Ackerman says that the government’s war on language continues, with their own definitions of words that do not have their plain accepted meanings and the flourishing of innocuous-sounding euphemisms. Their latest move is to banish from its lexicon the term ‘hunger strike’ and replacing it with “long-term non-religious fasting” because that makes it so much better, no?

Somebody in the government must be having a well-paid full time job to come up with these things.


  1. ianeymeaney says

    “Long-term non-religious fasting”? I always thought that 1984 was a cautionary tale, not an instruction manual.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *