In June, Jihad Diyab (also spelled Dhiab), an erratic former Guantanamo Bay detainee from Syria who was resettled in Uruguay (and who is also the plaintiff in a continuing lawsuit seeking to make public videotapes of forcefeeding sessions), said he was going to be incommunicado for the month of Ramadan. Then authorities lost track of him. This led to alarms and recriminations from Congress about sending former detainees to places like Uruguay. Late last month he showed up in Venezuela. He had taken a bus across Brazil and said he wanted to join his family in Turkey. He was arrested and supposedly is going to be deported back to Uruguay. But much remains murky about the whole episode.
Today his American lawyer, Jon Eisenberg, released this statement:
STATEMENT OF JON B. EISENBERG
REGARDING ABU WA’EL (JIHAD) DHIAB
5 AUGUST 2016
Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el (Jihad) Dhiab is said to be in the custody of the Venezuelan agency Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN).
The United States government held Mr. Dhiab under indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay for 12 years before releasing him to Uruguay in December of 2014. Mr. Dhiab, a long-term hunger-striker, was brutally force-fed hundreds of times before his release. A lawsuit by Mr. Dhiab, challenging the conditions under which hunger-striking Guantánamo detainees have been force-fed, ended in midstream upon his release to Uruguay—but not before a judge ordered the Obama administration to release secret videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force-feedings to 16 U.S. news media organizations that sued to make the videotapes public.
This coming September 8, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear oral arguments on a U.S. government appeal resisting public release of the videotapes.
I represented Mr. Dhiab in his legal challenge to the Guantánamo detainees’ force-feeding. I have viewed the secret videotapes under court order subject to strict government supervision, and I can attest that they are terrible to see. More than that I am forbidden to say, because the videotapes remain classified, held under lock and key in a top-secret facility during the pendency of the U.S. government’s appeal.
I am still haunted by those images—but surely less than Mr. Dhiab himself, to whom these things actually happened, hundreds of times, in a manner that was deliberately designed to be especially painful and humiliating.
Until Mr. Dhiab went to court, Guantánamo hunger strikers were subjected to force-feeding in excessive quantities at excessive speeds amounting to a form of water torture, their limbs, waist and head bound in a specially-designed restraint chair, using excessively large nasogastric feeding tubes that frequently drew blood and were lubricated in a manner that can cause a rare form of pneumonia. The U.S. government has since ceased some of those practices, but others continue to this day at Guantánamo Bay, in violation of internationally-recognized norms of ethical medical practice and basic human rights.
This past June 5, a few hours before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, I spoke with Mr. Dhiab by telephone about the pending effort by the U.S. news media organizations to secure public release of the force-feeding videotapes. He continued to maintain a burning desire for their public release. He told me: “I want these tapes to be made public so that the world can see a small part of the many forms of torture that occurred at Guantánamo Bay.”
Mr. Dhiab also told me that he was hoping for an imminent visit to Uruguay by his wife and children, whom he has not seen for 15 years. We made plans to speak again in mid-July, because he would not be using the telephone, email, or Skype throughout Ramadan.
Shortly after I spoke with Mr. Dhiab, he disappeared from public view. Evidently I was the last person outside Uruguay to speak with him before his disappearance. I did not know where he was.
Nothing more was heard from Mr. Dhiab until July 26, when he surfaced in Caracas, Venezuela, presenting himself at the Uruguayan consulate there and asking to be sent to Turkey to be reunited with his family. The next day, the Uruguayan Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release stating that Mr. Dhiab had asked to be allowed to telephone “the Red Cross, his lawyer and family members,” and that he was provided the means to make those telephone calls—after which he left the consulate voluntarily.
The truth is that Mr. Dhiab never telephoned me from the Uruguayan consulate in Caracas. I have not heard from him since June 5.
Immediately after leaving the Uruguayan consulate on July 26, Mr. Dhiab again disappeared. News media reports state that he is now being held by SEBIN. If that is true, his detention is incommunicado and would appear to be without legal process. I find it tragically ironic that, because of an apparent quest to be reunited with his family, he now finds himself once again being detained without charge or trial and beyond reach of the rule of law. And I am concerned about the conditions of his current confinement and whether he might have resumed hunger-striking in protest.
I therefore respectfully call upon the Venezuelan government to afford Mr. Dhiab access to legal counsel and allow me to speak with him by telephone forthwith.
I am hopeful that Venezuela will eschew the legacy of human rights violations at Guantánamo Bay and treat Mr. Dhiab with the dignity, respect, and fairness that the U.S. government denied him for 12 years.
Jon B. Eisenberg
California State Bar No. 88278
5 August 2016