Guantanamo Lawyers’ Alarmingly High Cancer Rate Sparks Military Investigation

Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. (Wikimedia Commons / Kathleen T. Rhem)

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:

(more…)

On Human Rights, UN Committee Gives US Low Grades for Surveillance, Detention at Guantanamo

Screen shot of CCPR grades for United States
Screen shot of CCPR grades for United States

A United Nations committee, which reviews how countries comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), issued grades for the United States government’s implementation of recommendations issued last year. The committee gave the US low grades for surveillance and detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in facilities in Afghanistan.

The ICCPR is an international human rights treaty. Signatories are supposed to undertake measures to ensure the rights in the treaty are protected in their countries. In fact, since the US ratified the treaty in 1992, the government has an obligation to comply with the treaty as it would any other domestic law.

A committee of the UN, the Human Rights Committee, conducts periodic reviews of countries’ human rights records. It gives countries an opportunity to respond to the committee’s concerns. The committee makes recommendations. It then grades how countries implement those recommendations.

Countries, which are signatories, report to the committee every four years. This is the fourth periodic review of the US.

To understand the grades, “B1″ means “substantive action” took place but the committee still wants more information. “B2″ means some initial action was taken. “C1″ means US replied to UN but did not take actions to implement recommendation. “C2″ means US replied, and the reply was irrelevant to the committee’s recommendation. “D1″ means US did not cooperate with the committee on this recommendation.

The US did not receive any “A” grades. It received a high “B1″ grade for declassifying part of the report of the Senate Special Committee on Intelligence into the CIA’s detention and torture of detainees and a lower “B2″ grade for investigating cases of unlawful killing, torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful detention, and enforced disappearances, and expediting the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

The committee issued a “C2″ grade for the continued detention of detainees at Guantanamo and in facilities in Afghanistan.

In regards to surveillance, it gave the US a “C1″ grade for ensuring surveillance complies with the treaty, ensuring “interference with right to privacy, family, home, or correspondence” is authorized by law, reforming oversight of surveillance, and refraining from imposing “mandatory retention” of data on “third parties.”

The worst grade given was a “D1″ for failing to ensure persons are able to obtain remedies if they are the victims of surveillance abuse. (more…)

Pentagon Threatens to Revoke Security Clearance of Navy Nurse Who Refused to Force-Feed Guantanamo Prisoners

Creative Commons Licensed Photo from DVIDSHUB

Despite a decision to not pursue charges, the Department of Defense has threatened to revoke the security clearance of a Navy nurse, who refused to force-feed prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Physicians for Human Rights condemned this news and called it “backdoor retaliation for his refusal to force-feed Guantánamo detainees on hunger strike.” The advocacy organization also noted that the nurse was recently given an ethics award by the American Nurses Association (ANA).

“The military’s latest action against the nurse is backdoor retaliation for refusing to take part in an unethical and criminal activity,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s medical director. “Even as we speak, the American Nurses Association is honoring him with an ethics award for refusing to force-feed detainees. It is extraordinary that the military would punish the nurse for conduct that his profession recognizes as exemplary ethical behavior.”

In May, the Defense Department declined to push for the discharge of the nurse, who has yet to be identified. However, it was unclear when the Defense Department made this decision whether records related to his act of resistance would at some point be used against him by promotion boards or in security clearance reviews.

The nurse was not permitted to perform medical duties while he faced potential prosecution. He was assigned to “inconsequential administrative tasks,” according to his lawyer, Ron Meister.

ANA defended the nurse in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in October of last year.

“The ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses clearly supports the ethical right of a professional nurse to make an independent judgment about whether he or she should participate in this or any other such activity,” the ANA declared. “This right must be protected and exercised without concern for retaliation.”
country.”

A nurse’s primary commitment must be to the patient, and that means “acting to minimize or eliminate unwarranted, unwanted, or unnecessary medical treatment and patient suffering.” That is what the nurse did in this case.

The American Medical Association (AMA), which also has supported the nurse, condemned the Defense Department’s force-feeding of prisoners as a violation of “core ethical values of medicine” in a December letter [PDF].

“To ask physicians, nurses or other health care professionals to participate in forced feeding puts
professionals in an ethically untenable position,” the AMA stated. “Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions; every health care professional has an ethical responsibility to respect the patient’s decision in such situations.”

The nurse is someone, who has been in the Navy for 18 years, and sought to uphold ethical practices. He is the only known example of a conscientious objector to force-feeding of Guantanamo prisoners, which has been tortuously employed by military personnel.

If the nurse loses his security clearance, it could mean a potential discharged or even a loss of benefits. He may be severely limited in his ability to return to a job if he cannot work in a position considered to be “sensitive” by the Defense Department.

Revoking a government employee’s security clearance is a known tactic for silencing whistleblowers.

Removal from Guantanamo Bay and placement under investigation was punishment enough. It sent a message to other medical officers not to challenge the Pentagon over its unethical treatment of prisoners.

Unfortunately, the Defense Department finds it must protect itself from this nurse by revoking his security clearance because, if he is in any situation that may force him to fall back on his ethics, they know he will be on the side of the patient and not the Pentagon.