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Navy pulls protesting nurse from Guantanamo

Aug. 26, 2014 - 05:17PM   |  
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MIAMI — A Navy nurse who was the first, and apparently only, member of the medical staff at Guantanamo to refuse to take part in the feeding of hunger striking prisoners has had his assignment cut short at the U.S. base in Cuba, officials said Tuesday.

The nurse, a lieutenant whose name has not been released, was recently sent back early to his parent command, Naval Health Clinic New England, Navy officials said.

An investigation has been conducted into his conduct while stationed at Guantanamo but it has not yet been determined if he will face any discipline, said Navy Capt. Maureen Pennington, his commander at the network of clinics. The nurse is now on leave and military officials declined to provide details about him or any allegations he may face.

“An investigation was done and it’s currently under review,” Pennington said in a phone interview from Newport, Rhode Island.

The early cancellation of his six-month assignment was first reported by The Miami Herald, which said that the nurse was facing court martial after being administratively separated from Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, the military unit that runs the detention center. Pennington, however, said the nurse’s fate remains unresolved.

“There’s not been a determination of what’s going to be done at this point,” she said. “There’s a process and depending how everything goes, it will determine what avenue this will take, if it takes any avenue.”

Lawyers for prisoners who have taken part in the long-running hunger strike at Guantanamo have praised the nurse for refusing to take part in what they consider an unnecessarily harsh form of force-feeding of the men who refuse to eat in protest of their indefinite confinement. They have expressed dismay that the officer might be disciplined.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year-old Syrian prisoner who is challenging the force-feeding procedure in federal court, reported the apparent boycott earlier this summer to his lawyers with the human rights group Reprieve.

“Apparently the nurse started out administering the force-feeding but then over time it became clear that he wasn’t comfortable with it and he finally just withdrew and said he couldn’t do this anymore, he couldn’t participate in something that was so detrimental to the detainees,” attorney Alka Pradhan said.

Prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo who meet certain undisclosed criteria are restrained and given nutrition drinks through a nasogastric tube direct to their stomach. Military officials will not disclose how many of the 149 men held at the base meet the criteria and are being fed in this manner, which they refer to as “enteral feeding” and insist is humane.

A base spokesman, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback said there have been no other known instances in which any member of the medical staff assigned to the detention center has refused an order to conduct the feedings.

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