Judges refuse media access to Gitmo force-feeding tapes
March 31, 2017:
Today in a unanimous decision, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that videotapes of Guantanamo Bay staff force-feeding a detainee will not be made public, citing national security concerns.
The decision reversed an order from the District Court which would have released already heavily-redacted versions of the videos that obscured the images of GTMO staff and silenced entirely their voices.
The government classified the audio and video images in question as “secret,” a classification reserved for “information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security” of the United States. The government argued that the material could be used as propaganda, as well as be seen by current GTMO detainees, alerting them to procedures they already observed firsthand, according the District Court.
Over a dozen media outlets argued that the material must be released on First Amendment grounds, as the American people had a right see evidence that was entered into the detainees’ habeas cases.
Despite a line of cases that prevents the government from censoring speech because the speech may provoke violence or offend others, the Circuit Court determined those cases to be “irrelevant,” to the issue at hand.
The decision was unanimous, but the 3-judge panel disagreed as to reason, with Senior Circuit Judge Randolph finding that the First Amendment right to release of evidence in a criminal proceeding differed from the civil proceeding of GTMO detainees who are denied any right to a criminal proceeding.
Commenting, Reprieve attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis said, “The government so feared the shame that would come from the release of these videos, they limited even people with all the proper security clearances who represented other detainees from seeing them. These are people who would be unable to describe the videos in any detail to the world.
“As one of three defense counsel who has ever been allowed to view the video tapes, I can say that I am not remotely surprised that the government wants to hide their circus of horrors from the public’s scrutiny.
“I am shocked, however, the Circuit Court would allow the government to use the “secret” classification to hide government-sanctioned abuses from the American people.”
Notes to Editors
Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve lawyers represented Mr Dhiab while he was being force-fed in Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve stopped representing Mr Dhiab in December 2015, after his resettlement in Uruguay. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140.