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Navy Nurse Who Refused Order to Force-Feed Hunger Striking Guantanamo Prisoners May Face Discipline

Abi Wa’el Dhiab, who an unidentified Navy medical officer refused to force-feed

The first and only officer on the medical staff at Guantanamo Bay to conscientiously object to force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike has reportedly had his assignment ended. He has been sent back to Naval Health Clinic New England, his “parent command,” while an investigation is completed, which may result in discipline or a court-martial.

The Associated Press reported on August 26 that Navy Captain Maureen Pennington, who is “his commander at the network clinics, indicated, “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.” He is “now on leave and military officials declined to provide details about him or any allegations he may face.”

Technically, the nurse has already faced a level of punishment. He was removed from duty at Guantanamo and placed under investigation. What purpose could this serve other than to send him and other medical officers a message not to ethically challenge the Pentagon over treatment of prisoners?

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg previously reported that the nurse, who has yet to be identified, was sent back to the United States. Army Col. Greg Julian of US Southern Command, which is reponsible for oversight of Guantanamo, stated, “He was administratively separated from [Joint Task Force Guantanamo] and he’s pending court martial.”

In July, it was Abu Wael Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner cleared for release in 2010, who informed his lawyers of the nurse who had conscientiously objected.

Cori Crider of Reprieve was told the officer had refused to force-feed prisoner just before the Fourth of July. The officer later “disappeared from detention center duty.”

Crider also suggested that initially the nurse had carried out his orders and force-fed prisoners. Yet, after recognizing the impact forced feedings were having, the nurse, according to Dhiab, said something like, “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act.”

The fact that the nurse chose to conscientiously object to participate in his forced feeding is significant, especially since Dhiab is a key prisoner who has been challenging the forced feeding policy in federal court.

Dhiab went on hunger strike and began to be subject to forced feeding on April 9, 2013. He joined with other prisoners, including Shaker Aamer, to challenge the practice so he could choose whether to eat or die at Guantanamo.

“Is it necessary for them to torture me? Is it necessary for them to choke me every day with the tube? Is it necessary for them to make my throat so swollen every day? Do I have to suffer every day? Is it necessary for them to put me on the torture chair in order to feed me?” Dhiab asked in a declaration to the court.

At one point in June, Dhiab was beaten “so badly” by prison guards after they confiscated his wheelchair that he had “blood in his feces.” Fellow prisoner Ahmed Rabbani submitted an affidavit in which he recalled, “I heard him vomiting for much of the night.”

Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the force-feeding to be halted in May. However, days later, the judge allowed the government to resume forced feedings, as the government repeatedly claimed Dhiab would die if he was not force-fed.

Lawyers from the legal charity, Reprieve, have continued to challenge the policy in court and have managed to convince the judge to grant access to video of Dhiab being force-fed and inhumanely treated. But the attorneys cannot discuss the contents of the video with anyone, not even other attorneys for Guantnamo prisoners with proper security clearances.

Reprieve has accused Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel of ignoring their call for the release of Guantanamo forced feeding tapes.

Media organizations, including The Guardian, MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post, have joined with Reprieve to request that video be released because the contents are in the “public interest.” Kessler has not ruled on whether to allow video to be made public.

Meanwhile, Reprieve has put out a press release, which claims there is a “new crackdown on prisoners protesting their detention without charge.” It said British prisoner Shaker Aamer has been beaten by guards:

In new letters received by legal charity Reprieve, detainees reveal what one calls a new “standard procedure” of abuses at the prison. Emad Hassan, a Yemeni detained without charge since 2002, wrote that “an FCE [Forcible Cell Extraction] team has been brought in to beat the detainees […] On Sunday, Shaker ISN 239 was beaten when the medical people wanted to draw blood.” Mr Hassan adds that guards had beaten another detainee for nearly 2 hours.

‘Forcible Cell Extraction’ or ‘FCEing’ is the process by which a detainee is forced out of his cell by a group of armed guards, often before being taken to the force-feeding chair. Mr Aamer has previously described being beaten by the FCE team up to eight times a day.

Aamer, who has been in detention for over twelve years, has suffered some of the worst inhumane treatment. He continues to be held in conditions of solitary confinement and has been in these conditions since 2005. He has suffered abuse while hunger striking during the past year and a half. He is in poor health, according to Reprieve.

This type of treatment is what multiple prisoners endure every other day.

Particular attention appears to be given to breaking those prisoners, who challenge the facility and choose to resist through hunger strikes. Yet, up until this point, only one member of the medical staff is known to have conscientiously objected to an order that was cruel if not also potentially illegal.

The guideline from the World Medical Association is clear:

Forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable. Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the forced feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting.

If the nurse does face a court-martial, not only will the military be penalizing the officer for conscientiously objecting but the military will also be actively defending the very abusive, cruel and degrading treatment, which represents some of the worst human rights violations engaged in by the United States government in recent decades.

CommunityFDL Main Blog

Navy Nurse Who Refused Order to Force-Feed Hunger Striking Guantanamo Prisoners May Face Discipline

Abi Wa’el Dhiab, who an unidentified Navy medical officer refused to force-feed

The first and only officer on the medical staff at Guantanamo Bay to conscientiously object to force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike has reportedly had his assignment ended. He has been sent back to Naval Health Clinic New England, his “parent command,” while an investigation is completed, which may result in discipline or a court-martial.

The Associated Press reported on August 26 that Navy Captain Maureen Pennington, who is “his commander at the network clinics, indicated, “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.” He is “now on leave and military officials declined to provide details about him or any allegations he may face.”

Technically, the nurse has already faced a level of punishment. He was removed from duty at Guantanamo and placed under investigation. What purpose could this serve other than to send him and other medical officers a message not to ethically challenge the Pentagon over treatment of prisoners?

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg previously reported that the nurse, who has yet to be identified, was sent back to the United States. Army Col. Greg Julian of US Southern Command, which is reponsible for oversight of Guantanamo, stated, “He was administratively separated from [Joint Task Force Guantanamo] and he’s pending court martial.”

In July, it was Abu Wael Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner cleared for release in 2010, who informed his lawyers of the nurse who had conscientiously objected. The officer refused to force-feed Cori Crider of Reprieve was called and informed by Dhiab that the Navy medical officer had refused to force-feed prisoner just before the Fourth of July. The officer later “disappeared from detention center duty.”

Crider suggested that the nurse had carried out his orders and force-fed prisoners. Yet, after recognizing the impact forced feedings were having, the nurse, according to Dhiab, said something like, “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act.”

The fact that the nurse chose to conscientiously object to participate in his forced feeding is significant, especially since Dhiab is a key prisoner who has been challenging the forced feeding policy in federal court.

Dhiab went on hunger strike and began to be subject to forced feeding on April 9, 2013. He joined with other prisoners, including Shaker Aamer, to challenge the practice so he could choose whether to eat or die at Guantanamo.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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