- Order was issued in a suit brought by relatives of Kuwaiti inmates at Gitmo
- Secret tapes show terror suspects being forcibly removed from their cells
- Judge says he must see the tapes to decide whether they can be used as evidence
- He had issued three previous orders to speed up delivery or justify withholding them
A federal judge wants to see secret videotapes showing terror suspects forcibly removed from their cells at the Guantanamo Bay military prison.
The sharply worded order from Judge John Bates, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was issued late Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by relatives of Kuwaiti inmates being held at the overseas facility in Cuba.
At issue is whether the Pentagon can withhold these kinds of government records -- including various media material -- that would be an invasion of privacy, or involve "internal rules and practices of an agency."
The defendants in a lawsuit demanded access under a Freedom of Information Act request, claiming military guards have been mistreating the four prisoners, including the alleged "forced cell extractions" (FCEs).
After three previous orders to speed up delivery of the material or justify withholding it, the judge appeared miffed at the government's latest efforts to hinder release of the 45 videotapes and one audiotape in question.
A previous "last chance" admonition by the judge apparently was not met by the Justice Department.
"Attempts by the Department to 'correct' or supplement its prior submissions have resulted in further obfuscation," said Bates, who said he now needs to see the disputed tapes for himself. "The written (descriptive) submissions provided by the Department simply do not allow the court meaningfully to assess whether the claimed exemptions actually apply."
Federal officials had said access to the tapes by the plaintiffs or to the public at large would violate the privacy, and perhaps endanger the safety, of the U.S. guards seen removing the foreign prisoners.
But the court was skeptical such exemptions would apply.
"No argument has been made here that the videos relate to 'issues of employee relations and human resources' nor would such an argument be viable based on the record currently before the court," wrote Bates, who was nominated by former President George W. Bush just a week before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. "The court will order that a representative sample of the videorecordings be produced" for review by the judge in private, in his chambers.
Bates would then have the discretion to turn over the material to the defense, which could later be presented at any trial.
The current lawsuit was filed four years ago, and is one of several brought by Gitmo detainees over their treatment and continued custody without charges or trial.