Guantanamo Lawyers’ Alarmingly High Cancer Rate Sparks Military Investigation
Originally published at MintPress News.
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Despite promises to close the detention center during Barack Obama’s presidential run, the prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base remains open. And now it appears those detained at the controversial site aren’t the only ones suffering and dying — their lawyers are also facing grave illness.
Carol Rosenberg, a Miami Herald reporter who covers Guantanamo, reported Monday that a Navy Reserves attorney, who had been previously assigned to work with a detainee, filed a complaint with the Inspector General’s Office on July 14. A spokeswoman for the naval base responded to the complaint on Monday, admitting the Navy was “aware of concerns about possible carcinogens around the Department of Defense Military Commissions site” and announcing that an investigation would be opened.
After learning of the complaint, the Herald began compiling a list of civilians and military lawyers with cancer from the hundreds of personnel that have worked at the detention center, eventually finding nine cases of personnel “who suffered from a range of cancers: lymphoma, brain, appendix or colon.”
Rosenberg reports: “Three of those stricken with cancer, aged 35 to 52, have died in the past 13 months.” The Herald identified one victim as Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, a 44-year-old attorney assigned to the case ofOmar Khadr, a Canadian citizen detained at Guantanamo for 13 years. Kuebler died on July 17. On Tuesday,The Washington Post published the names of two more of the lawyers who worked at Guantanamo at some point in their careers and died of cancer:
[A]nother cancer patient was Army Col. Robert J. Cottell, who died Jan. 6, just before his 53rd birthday. He was a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps and remained on active duty right up until his death after doctors diagnosed him with cancer, … He worked at one point for the Office of Military Commissions, which oversees cases at Guantanamo. …
A third lawyer, Marine Maj. Joshua Kirk, 35, died June 28, 2014. His cause of death was not listed in his obituary, but Rep. Tim Ryan (D.-Ohio) recognized him on the House floor after his death last summer for his work everywhere from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California to the Office of Military Commissions, which deployed him to Guantanamo on occasion.
Reuters reports that Guantanamo detainees do not appear to suffer from increased cancer rates. Rather, the cancers could have been caused by pollutants in the lawyers’ living quarters:
The complaint says that the patients may have been exposed to carcinogens when they lived and worked in a location at Guantanamo that was formerly used to dispose of jet fuel, adjacent to an abandoned runway. The patients may also have been exposed to toxins such as asbestos in an older building that initially hosted military trials, according to the complaint.
A military defense lawyer interviewed by Reuters said this isn’t the first time concerns have been raised about conditions for staff at Guantanamo:
‘We have been telling our chain-of-command for years that we don’t feel safe living and working in the temporary facilities the government has erected for military commissions,’ said U.S. Air Force Capt. Michael Schwartz, a military defense lawyer who has worked on Guantanamo Bay for years. ‘But, along with the Constitution, the government seems to want to sweep this under the rug.’