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For First Time, Judge Halts Force-Feeding Of Guantánamo Detainee

Clouds cover the sky over Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Getty Images
Clouds cover the sky over Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In the first ruling of its kind, District Judge Gladys Kessler has halted the force-feeding of a Syrian man being detained at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

In a brief order, Kessler said the U.S. should not force-feed Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Dhiab until after a hearing set for May 21. Kessler also asked the U.S. to keep any videotapes showing Dhiab's force-feeding.

As we've reported, officials at the Guantánamo Bay prison resorted to force-feedings after sustained hunger strikes. At its highest level last year, about half of the more than 150 detainees joined the hunger strike. At one point, the U.S. was force-feeding 46 prisoners.

In her latest order, Kessler refrained from issuing any opinion. But last summer, she begrudgingly dismissed a similar request from Dhiab.

Kessler noted that Dhiab has been at Guantánamo for more than 11 years, even though he was cleared for release in 2009.

She said she did not have jurisdiction over the matter, but said there was no doubt force-feeding is "a painful, humiliating, and degrading process" that violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Wrapping up her order, she called on President Obama to act by quoting a speech in which he seemed to question the wisdom of force-feedings.

As The New York Times explains, in the months since that speech, Obama vowed to continue trying to close the prison but strong congressional opposition has derailed the plans.

In February, however, the legal landscape surrounding Guantánamo cases changed, when a federal appeals court ruled that judges had "the power to oversee complaints by detainees about the conditions of their confinement at the military prison."

This has, in turn, given Kessler a new chance to review the case. That will play out in the next few weeks.

The Pentagon tells Reuters it will comply with Kessler's order.

Update at 1:06 p.m. ET. Beginning Of The End:

Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer for Dijab, tells us he believes this ruling marks "the beginning of the end of the abusive treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay."

Eisenberg says at the hearing on Wednesday he will ask Judge Kessler to extend the restraining order.

He said the fact that she issued a restraining order to begin with bodes well for his client.

"That fact that she has acted sends a message, I believe, to the government that we have made a solid case that there has been terrible abuse of these detainees at Guantanamo Bay," Eisenberg said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.