A U.S. Navy medical officer has refused to force-feed prisoners at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a Navy spokesman confirmed Monday.
“There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry out the enteral feeding of a detainee,” Capt. Tom Gresback wrote in an email to The Miami Herald.
“The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership,” Gresback added, saying the nurse has been assigned to other duties.
The male nurse, who has not been identified, is the first known conscience objector to the force-feeding policy put in place at the detention center. The Navy maintains the procedure, which it calls “enteral feeding,” is humane. The policy, the Navy argues, is necessary to keep hunger strikers at the facility nourished.
There are currently about 150 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay but it is unclear how many are engaged in a hunger strike to protest their detention.
Gresback said it was the Navy’s “policy to not address the number of detainees who choose to engage in non-religious fasting or those who would require enteral feeding.”
News of the nurse’s refusal to subject detainees to the procedure first reached attorney Cori Crider through one of her clients, Abu Wa'el Dhiab, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.
Crider told CNN that Dhiab recently described his experience with the nurse.
“Initially, he did carry out his orders and participate in the tube feedings. But when he came, as soon as he saw what was happening, he started talking to the brothers [the other inmates],” Dhiab is reported to have said.
“He explained to us: ‘Before we came here, we were told a different story. The story we were told was completely the opposite of what I saw.’ Once he saw with his own eyes that what he was told was contrary to what was actually taking place here, he decided he could not do it anymore,” the inmate added.
“This nurse showed incredible courage — to see the basic humanity of the prisoners and to recognize that force-feeding is wrong is a historic stand,” Crider said. “It meant a great deal to my client and to the other cleared detainees who are hunger striking.”
Through his legal team, Dhiab filed a federal lawsuit last year alleging the force-feeding policy is inhumane.
A federal judge, though, allowed the feedings to continue in May.
“The court is in no position to make the complex medical decisions necessary to keep Mr. Dhiab alive,” Judge Gladys Kessler said. “Mr. Dhiab may well suffer unnecessary pain from certain enteral feeding practices and forcible cell extractions. However, the court simply cannot let Mr. Dhiab die.”
Dhiab has been cleared to be released from Guantanamo Bay since 2009. U.S. officials have said they are reluctant to send him to his home country of Syria because of the country’s ongoing civil war.
His supporters say arrangements have been made to send him to Uruguay but U.S. officials have given no indication of when that might happen.
Photo Source: Wikimedia, Author: Sgt. Brian Godette