Administration seeks to close Gitmo hearing
Sep. 29, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is seeking to close a court hearing into the government's treatment of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner, saying that much of the information about the man is classified. He has gone on a hunger strike and is protesting force-feeding procedures administered by his jailers.
In a court filing, the Justice Department says that "an open hearing risks unauthorized disclosure of classified or protected information. The record in this case is large, with classified and protected information often inextricably intertwined with unclassified information."
Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, has been held without charge at Guantanamo since August 2002. The U.S. military forcibly removes Dhiab from his cell and straps him on a restraining chair where he is force-fed. Dhiab is challenging the procedures as abusive.
The Defense Department has said the military only feeds prisoners against their will to keep them alive, and follows all laws when it does so.
Lawyers for Dhiab plan to introduce testimony by three doctors regarding his physical and mental health and the use of force-feeding at a hearing scheduled to begin Oct. 6, Jon Eisenberg, one of the lawyers, said Monday.
Dhiab's lawyers also will submit statements by three high-ranking military officials about how they are conducting force-feeding. The defense lawyers plan to present the government's written procedures on force-feedings.
In addition, Dhiab's lawyers will offer 32 videotapes showing guards forcibly removing Dhiab from his cell and strapping him into a restraining chair in preparation for force-feedings, Eisenberg said. The videotapes are classified as secret.
"This hearing is going to be much like a full-blown trial," said Eisenberg. "What the government is seeking to do is to keep all of it secret."
In the administration's court filing, the Justice Department said that opening the hearing would require "closely monitoring every question to and every answer from each witness" to ensure that no classified information is released. The Justice Department proposed that the participants present unclassified opening statements that would be open to the public. In addition, the government said it would create a public version of the transcript of the hearing on a speeded-up basis.
The former Navy commander at Guantanamo Bay, Rear Admiral Richard Butler, said in a court declaration filed in July that even though the forced cell extraction videos are lawful, humane and appropriate, they "are particularly susceptible to use as propaganda and to incite a public reaction because of their depiction of forcible ... guard interaction with detainees."
The videos that also contain footage of forced-feedings could be used "to foment anti-American sentiment and inflame Muslim sensitivities as it depicts ... personnel providing medical care to a detainee while he is restrained," Butler said in the declaration.
Releasing a video showing a detainee receiving medical care while restrained "would exacerbate the world's perception of detainees in U.S. custody," Butler added. "Public release, in whole or in part, of videos showing forced cell extractions" or feedings would cause "serious damage to national security."