Nurse Refuses Navy's Force-Feeding of Gitmo Prisoners

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Common Dreams

Nurse Refuses Navy's Force-Feeding of Gitmo Prisoners

"This is a historic stand by this nurse, who recognized the basic humanity of the detainees and the inhumanity of what he was being asked to do."

Guantanamo force feeding paraphernalia. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

A nurse in the U.S. Navy has refused to participate in the force-feeding of hunger striking detainees in what is the first widely-reported act of defiance on ethical grounds by a U.S. military service member at this offshore prison.

“This is a historic stand by this nurse, who recognized the basic humanity of the detainees and the inhumanity of what he was being asked to do," said Cori Crider, a lawyer for UK-based charity Reprieve—which refers to the refusal as 'conscientious objection.' Crider learned of the act of refusal in a July 10 phone call with Abu Wa’el Dhiab—a Syrian man currently detained in Guantánamo Bay—and the news broke to the media on Tuesday.

The unidentified nurse told Dhiab, “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act," according to a press statement from Reprieve. “Before we came here, we were told a different story," the nurse added. "The story we were told was completely the opposite of what I saw."

Journalist Carol Rosenberg received confirmation from Navy Capt. Tom Gresback that “there was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry out the enteral feeding of a detainee.”

It is not clear what repurcussions await the nurse, who is described by Dhiab as an approximately 40 year-old Latino man who may be a captain, according to Rosenberg. Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for the command that oversees Guantánamo, also confirmed the refusal to the Guardian, stating, "It's being handled administratively." Dhiab says he has not seen the nurse since the act of refusal.

According to Dhiab, the Navy nurse is not alone: numerous other medical professionals have stated their ethical objections to the force feedings but express fear of retaliation and punishment if they refuse.

Maggie Martin, an organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War, told Common Dreams, "People have been standing up as conscientious objectors throughout history including the current conflicts, but unfortunately I never heard those stories while I was in the military."

She added, "It is heartening to see a service member refuse immoral orders."

Mass hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay have been met with force-feedings, which have been condemned as torture and a violation of international law by the United Nations human rights office and denounced as unethical by medical ethicists. The painful insertion of tubes and pumping of food, as well as threat of stomach damage and asphyxiation, has been compared to water-boarding, itself a form of torture.

Mr. Dhiab, who remains detained despite being cleared for release in 2010, is currently challenging the practice of force-feedings in the courts and recently won the disclosure of videotapes recording the practice.

Currently 149 men remain detained at Guantánamo Bay, despite the fact that the vast majority of them have been cleared for release. It is not known how many of them are currently on hunger strike or face force feedings after the U.S. imposed a media blackout on reports of the peaceful protests late last year.

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