Gitmo nurse who refused to torture inmates faces Navy retaliation – lawyer

© Mark Wilson
Despite a Guantanamo Bay nurse, who refused to force-feed inmates on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay, receiving recognition from the nursing association for his ethical stand, the US Navy has threatened to revoke his security clearance, his lawyer said.

The nurse, a Navy lieutenant who has never been publicly identified, made headlines last year when he refused to take any further part in force-feeding Guantanamo inmates, calling the practice a “criminal act.”

After pursuing administrative punishment for several months, the Navy eventually decided not to bring any charges against the officer. However, the Pentagon is now threatening to revoke the man’s security clearance, said his attorney Ronald Meister.

Calling the move “mean spirited,” Meister told the Miami Herald that he intended to “continue a vigorous defense.” The nurse was hoping to retire from the Navy at the end of 2016, having accrued benefits over his 20 years of service. Losing the clearance would jeopardize that, as well as prospects of future employment, Meister explained.

The nurse is the only known example of a conscientious objector against the force-feeding of Guantanamo prisoners, a practice condemned by the American Medical Association (AMA) as a violation of “core ethical values of medicine.”

Meister was in Washington, DC this week, accepting the “Year of Ethics” award from the American Nurses Association (ANA) on behalf of his client. The ANA has said its code of ethics clearly supported the nurse’s right to decline participation in forced feeding, a right that “must be protected and exercised without concern for retaliation.”

“It is extraordinary that the military would punish the nurse for conduct that his profession recognizes as exemplary ethical behavior,” Physicians for Human Rights medical director Vincent Iacopino said in a statement, calling the revocation of clearance “backdoor retaliation” for the nurse’s refusal to participate in an “unethical and criminal activity.”

The US has used its military base in Guantanamo Bay as a detention center for prisoners seized during the “war on terror” since 2001, claiming they were “enemy combatants” not subject to regular laws of war. After a number of inmates at the camp launched a hunger strike in 2013, protesting their indefinite detentions without charges, the US military resorted to force-feeding the prisoners. Human rights advocates have denounced the procedure as degrading and have compared it to torture.

The US government has also fought to keep the video recordings of the force-feedings classified, saying their release would incite hatred in the Muslim world. Earlier this month, a US District Judge ordered the government to release the footage by the end of August, calling the government’s appeals “frivolous.”

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian national suing the US to make the recordings public, said the nurse initially took part in the procedure, but announced one day that he would refuse to do so any longer.

“I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act,” the nurse said, according to Dhiab.

Naval officers at Guantanamo refused to reveal any details about the case, saying it was a disciplinary matter to be handled internally.

“There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry out the enteral feeding of a detainee,” Navy Capt. Tom Gresback wrote in an email to the Miami Herald. “The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership.”