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US Navy Considering Discharge of Nurse Who Followed Ethics & Refused to Force-Feed Guantanamo Prisoner

Guantanamo restraint chair used for enteral feeding

An attorney for a United States Navy nurse facing potentially severe repercussions for refusing to force-feed a Guantanamo Bay prisoner has indicated that the nurse, who has served nearly 18 years in the Navy, may be discharged. He is one of the only known conscientious objectors to force-feeding of prisoners.

Ron Meister stated in a press conference call organized by the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), “After the nurse told the superior officer of the decision not to participate in the force-feeding, the Navy drafted criminal charges against the nurse for disobedience of orders. ”

The Navy subsequently decided not to press criminal charges, but instead “started a process that could lead to discharging from the Navy.”

“The nurse’s commanding officer recommended the nurse be brought before a discharge board and be required to show cause to remain in the Navy,” according to Meister. “That recommendation has been going up the chain of command of the Navy and is now awaiting a decision by the chief of naval personnel. If the chief of naval personnel agrees with the recommendation, the case will go to the discharge board and that board could discharge the nurse from the navy which would mean the end of a career after 18 years.”

A discharge would likely mean no retirement benefits. It may also result in no veteran benefits, depending on how he is discharged.

“It would mean a message from the navy that nurses who refuse to participate in force-feeding could lose their careers,” Meister added.

Pamela Cipriano of the American Nurses Association (ANA) declared, “Professional registered nurses operate under a Code of Ethics that emphasizes the right to make independent, ethical judgments regardless of the setting in which nursing care is provided—even if this causes a nurse to experience conflict arising from competing loyalties.”

“The rights of registered nurses to honor their professional ethical obligations regarding force-feeding and other sensitive issues are absolutely protected and should be exercised without fear of retaliation.”

In other words, a nurse should have the right to refuse an order of this kind, even in the military. They should not have to participate in harmful practices widely recognized in medicine as inhuman and degrading treatment.

Nurses also have an ethical responsibility to respect the autonomy of patients, which does not take place at Guantanamo where prisoners are having feeding tubes shoved down their nostrils without their consent.

Previously, it has been reported that Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner cleared for release in 2010 and who has challenged his force-feeding in US courts, informed his lawyers of the nurse who had conscientiously objected.

The Associated Press later reported on August 26 that Navy Captain Maureen Pennington, the nurse’s commander “at the network clinics,” had stated, “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.”

Dr. Vincent Iacopino, a senior medical advisor for the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), stated, “We commend the Navy nurse for doing what any clinicians should do under these circumstances: refuse to take part in the abuse of our patients. We join the ANA and other nursing organizations in supporting the nurse and urging the government to allow him to continue serving his country without reprisal.”

Iacopino also called for an end to the “legacy of torture and ill-treatment at Guantanamo” and demanded the military “restore the ability of doctors and nurses to adhere to clinical and ethical responsibilities.” He also urged President Barack Obama to take executive action to stop the force-feeding of hunger strikers.

“Force-feeding at Guantanamo is not a clinical treatment,” Iacopino asserted. “It is a military intervention to stop hunger strikers from protesting over twelve years of detention without charge. Guantanamo force-feeding policy compels doctors and nurses to disregard the autonomous decisions of their patients and deliberately inflict physical and mental suffering upon them.”

“The detainees here that we’re talking about are not prisoners accused of crimes. For the most part, they are people who have been at Guantanamo Bay for many years. Most of them have been cleared for release by the US government but the government has not released them,” Meister noted.

He explained that the nurse’s license and practice as a nurse is dependent on whether he complies with professional and ethical standards. The nurse should not be forced to be complicit in force-feeding to remain in the Navy.

The nurse has yet to be identified. His attorney also declined to explain the “specific content of communications” he had with the senior nurse executive over his unwillingness to participate in force-feeding. However, Meister did make it clear that his decision had something to do with the issues of patient and human rights that are at the forefront of any discussions about continued force-feeding of prisoners at Guantanamo.

DoD photo via Wikipedia

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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