Judge orders release of Guantanamo videotapes

U.S. Navy guards escort a detainee after a 'life skills' class held for prisoners at Camp 6 in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

John Moore/Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge on Friday ordered the public release of videotapes of a hunger-striking Guantanamo Bay prisoner being forcibly removed from his cell and force-fed.

Lawyers for the prisoner, Abu Wa'el Dhiab, have challenged his treatment as abusive.

Numerous news media outlets, including The Associated Press, asked the court on June 20 to unseal the tapes.

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler granted the news media's request, although Kessler said the tapes will remain sealed until some information on them is redacted. The material to be removed includes identifying information of everyone on the tapes except for the prisoner. She said faces other than Dhiab's will be obscured, as will voices and names.

"We are very gratified by this decision, which will enable the American people to see with their own eyes the sorts of abuses that are being heaped on these peacefully hunger-striking detainees," said Dhiab's lawyer Jon Eisenberg.

"Once the truth is fully brought to light, we believe these terrible practices will come to an end," Eisenberg said.

Meanwhile, Kessler on Thursday rejected a request by the Obama administration to close the hearing into the force-feeding of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who has gone on a hunger strike.

The Obama administration has sought to keep the hearing closed on grounds that much of the information about the man is classified.

Kessler rejected the government's motion to close the hearing in its entirety. However, the judge is not opening the hearing completely.

The hearing can be held in open and closed sessions to accommodate the government's concerns, Kessler wrote.

The presumption of openness and the absence of any grounds that justify overcoming that presumption compel denial of the government's request, Kessler wrote.

Lawyers for Abu Wa'el 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 Monday.

Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, has been held without charge at the Navy-run prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since August 2002. The 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.

Kessler wrote that Dhiab's case has received a good deal of publicity and that with such a long-standing and ongoing public interest at stake, "it would be particularly egregious to bar the public from observing the credibility of live witnesses, the substance of their testimony, whether proper procedures are being followed and whether all participants are being treated fairly."

The government has argued that having parts of the hearing open and parts closed is rife with the risk of slip-ups.

Kessler said her court has dealt carefully in the past with classified information without problems.

Dhiab wants the federal court to stop the government from forcibly removing him from his cell and from placing him in a restraining chair for the purpose of transporting him to and from forced-feeding sessions.

Kessler called the government's request to close the hearing "deeply troubling. One of the strongest pillars of our system of justice in the United States is the presumption that all judicial proceedings are open to the public whom the judiciary serves."