Sunday, May 31, 2015
The D.C. Circuit declined to intervene to reverse a lower court ruling that requires the government to move toward releasing videos of forced-feeding of a Guantanamo detainee. The decision means that the government and attorneys for detainee Abu Wa'el (Jihad) Dhiab will have to work together to agree on redactions and a proposal as to "how the videotapes can be made available to the public most efficiently," pursuant to the earlier district court orders.
Still, it may be some time, if ever, before the videos are released. That's because the redaction process could take a long time, even assuming the government doesn't foot-drag or tie up the process in further litigation. Or: after redaction, there may be nothing of substance to release; or the district court might decline to order release pursuant to the agreed-upon process; or the appeals court might reject release when the case inevitably comes back. In short: this is a victory for those seeking release, but it doesn't mean that we'll see release any time soon.
The case, Dhiab v. Obama, grows out of Dhiab's habeas petition, his hunger strike, and the government's efforts to force-feed him. Dhiab moved to stop the forced-feeding, and, in considering that motion, the district court reviewed 32 classified videotapes of Dhiab's forced-feedings. News media organizations intervened to get copies of the tapes, and the district court ordered the parties (1) to cooperate to redact the tapes and (2) to propose how the videos could be released. The order did not specifically require release.
The government appealed, but the D.C. Circuit declined to hear the merits. The appeals court ruled that it lacked appellate jurisdiction over the case, because the district court's orders weren't final, appealable orders (because they didn't conclusively resolve the matter, and the government still had opportunities under the district court orders to challenge the release). The court also ruled that it didn't have mandamus jurisdiction (for largely the same reasons).
The ruling paves the way for the release of redacted videos. But don't expect that to happen any time soon. Redaction will take some time, and even if the government doesn't deliberately foot-drag, redactions and the joint proposal for release will undoubtedly get tied up in lengthy litigation at the district court, and again on appeal.