A federal judge in Washington has temporarily banned U.S. military officials from force-feeding a terror prisoner at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, at least until she can review his medical records and screen videotapes of authorities forcing him to eat during his ongoing hunger strike there.
If U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler permanently bars the military from forcing all hunger strikers to eat, the Pentagon would have to come up with a new way to secure the health and safety of many of the 150 detainees who are on hunger strikes. The prisoners are protesting their open-ended sentences and lack of release dates.
For now, however, her decision, issued on Friday, applies only to Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, a 43-year-old Syrian detainee whose attorneys have been trying for nearly a year to get the federal courts to ban force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay.
At the Pentagon, Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said the military would abide by Kessler's ruling and wait to see what happens at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday. The judge wants to inspect Diyab's medical records and review the videotapes.
"While the department follows the law and only applies [forced] feeding in order to preserve life, we will, of course, comply with the judge's order here," Breasseale said.
Diyab has been locked up at the Cuban prison for more than 11 years, even though the Pentagon's Guantanamo Review Task Force in January 2010 recommended his transfer out of the facility. He allegedly was a member of the now-dismantled Syrian Group of terrorist cells, and fled to Afghanistan in 2000.
Because the Syrian government has sentenced him to death in absentia, the Pentagon has found it difficult to find another country willing to accept Diyab. Congress has blocked any attempts by the Obama administration, which wants to close the prison altogether, to move Guantanamo detainees to the United States.
Kessler last July dismissed Diyab's legal petition to ban the force-feeding, saying she had no legal authority to rule on the matter. Instead she suggested the White House deal with mounting complaints from Diyab and other detainees about being forced to eat.
Then in February, a federal appeals court reinstated the case and sent it back to Kessler. The appellate panel said Kessler did have the authority to address how detainees are being confined at Guantanamo. But the panel also indicated that force-feeding could be lawful if it is done to save someone's life.
As part of her temporary ruling, Kessler also ordered the Pentagon to stop using force to extract Diyab from his cell and take him to another site at the facility to be fed intravenously.