MIAMI — A federal judge in Washington ordered the U.S. military on Friday to at least temporarily stop force-feeding a hunger striking prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay naval base.
The order from U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler bars the force feeding of prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab at least until a hearing on Wednesday. It also directs the military from forcibly removing the prisoner from his cell at the U.S. base in Cuba.
The temporary restraining order is in place at least until the judge can hold a hearing to determine when the U.S. government will turn over the Syrian prisoner's medical records and any videotapes of the force-feeding procedure he has undergone while on hunger strike.
Lawyers for the prisoner have challenged his treatment during the hunger strike as part of a broader legal challenge of his overall confinement and are ultimately seeking a court order for his release from Guantanamo. They welcomed Kessler's order on force feeding as an important step.
"This is a major crack in Guantanamo's years-long effort to oppress prisoners and to exercise total control over information about the prison," said Cori Crider, an attorney with the British legal rights group Reprieve that represents the prisoner.
A Defense Department spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, said the military only feeds prisoners against their will to keep them alive and follows all laws when it does so. "We will, of course, comply with the judge's order here," he said by email.
Prisoners at Guantanamo have engaged in hunger strikes for years to protest their confinement. The military force feeds prisoners a liquid nutrient mix through a nasal tube against their will when doctors at the base determine it is necessary. Officials no longer disclose how many of the 154 prisoners at the base are on hunger strike and meet the guidelines for force feeding.
Dhiab, 42, has been held without charge at Guantanamo since August 2002. His lawyers say he has been cleared for release and media in Uruguay say he is one of a handful of Syrians held at the base who are being considered for resettlement in the South American country. U.S. officials have declined to confirm those reports.