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Navy Nurse Refuses to Force-feed Guantanamo Prisoners

An unnamed Navy nurse at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that houses alleged terrorist detainees, who was facing expulsion from the Navy for his refusal to participate in force-feeding prisoners, has been allowed to return to his regular duties. The hunger-striking detainees at Guantanamo, imprisoned without formal charges for years, began refusing meals in March 2013 to protest their indefinite confinement and the conditions under which they were being held.

In response, they were forcibly removed from their cells, strapped into a restraint chair and had a nasogastric tube inserted down their noses to force liquid supplements into their stomachs several times a day. Sometimes the tube was lubricated, sometimes it was not; the process was painful and humiliating. Although one of the detainees, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who used a wheelchair, offered to submit to the force-feedings, he was still subjected to forcible cell extractions.

The issue involving the Navy nurse became public following a lawsuit filed by Dhiab, who had been confined at Guantanamo since August 2002. According to one of his attorneys, Cori Crider, the nurse – a Navy lieutenant who has never been identified – “initially ... did carry out his orders [to] participate in the tube feedings. But when he came, as soon as he saw what was happening, he started talking to the [prisoners].”

Quoting her client’s conversation with the nurse, Crider said, “‘Before we came here, we were told a different story. The story we were told was completely the opposite of what I saw.’ Once he saw with his own eyes that what he was told was contrary to what was actually taking place here, he decided he could not do it anymore.”

As a result of his refusal to continue participating in the force-feedings, the Navy nurse was initially threatened with a court-martial. He was later told that he would face a hearing before a Board of Inquiry to determine whether he should be allowed to remain in the Navy, and was at risk of having his security clearance revoked.

His commander, Captain Maureen Pennington, stated, “I can tell you right now that, after reviewing the investigation that was conducted, in Guantanamo, I recommended that the officer be required to show cause for retention in the Navy.” However, the nurse was informed on April 22, 2015 that a board hearing would not be necessary. He was eventually cleared to return to full duty almost a year later in April 2016, according to his attorney, Ronald Meister.

“This nurse showed incredible courage – to see the basic humanity of the prisoners and to recognize that force-feeding is wrong is a historic stand,” said Crider. “It meant a great deal to my client and the other cleared detainees who are hunger striking.” Her client, Dhiab, who was held at Guantanamo despite being cleared for release in 2009, said more than 40 detainees had been force-fed over the past several years.

“It’s a health care provider’s ethical obligation to make independent judgment on what is in the best interest of a patient, not the prison system,” observed Dr. Vincent Iacopino, the medical director for Physicians for Human Rights.

Crider and other attorneys represented Dhiab in a federal lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C. challenging the force-feeding policy at Guantanamo. U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler reluctantly permitted the force-feeding to continue in November 2014, but strongly urged the government to use other methods while noting the Pentagon’s “refusal to compromise.” She also ordered the government to release video recordings of Dhiab being force-fed after a group of news agencies intervened in the case, including USA Today, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, Reuters America and the New York Times.

The government has appealed the order to release the videos, and the appeal remains pending. See: Dhiab v. Bush, U.S.D.C. (D. DC), Case No. 1:05-cv-01457-GK. Meanwhile, Dhaib was released from Guantanamo and transferred to Uruguay in December 2014. He had been held by U.S. military authorities for over 12 years without charges.

Several detainees at Guantanamo reportedly remained on hunger strike as of May 2016, though for the past several years military officials have refused to disclose the number of protesting prisoners who refuse to eat. Sixty-one detainees are still housed at the Guantanamo prison, following the transfer of 15 detainees to the United Arab Emirates in mid-August 2016.

Force-feeding has been criticized by the American Medical Association as a violation of core medical ethics, and the Navy nurse’s refusal to force-feed prisoners at Guantanamo was backed by the American Nurses Association. It remains to be seen whether there will be any further investigation into the force-feeding of Guantanamo detainees, and into the actions of other military personnel who have carried out that questionable practice. Typically, when accused of wrongdoing, members of the military claim they were “just following orders.” That excuse didn’t work during the Nuremberg Trials, though, and it equally should not apply at Guantanamo.

Sources: www.miamiherald.com, www.cnn.com, www.huffingtonpost.com, Associated Press, www.closeguantanamo.org

Related legal case

Dhiab v. Bush


 

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