Military lawyers sue Pentagon over carcinogens at Gitmo housing

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  • Their housing tested positive for carcinogens
  • The Department of Defense did not respond to a request for comment

Washington (CNN)Lawyers who work at a camp at Guantanamo Bay filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the Pentagon failed to properly investigate health hazards at facilities there that contain carcinogens.

The lawyers, who work at the facilities for several weeks in a year, say the US Navy failed to follow up on reports of high cancer cases among young and otherwise healthy people who work at Camp Justice, the complex where they work on detainees' cases.
The lawsuit comes after a former military commissions attorney filed a complaint with the Department of Defense inspector general in July 2015 to look into whether conditions at the camp contributed to several cancer cases among personnel, including a former Camp Justice attorney who died of cancer on July 19, 2015, at the age of 44.
    The lawsuit alleged that the US Navy conducted a "deeply flawed investigation" of the environmental hazards at the camp.
    "Although this investigation found and documented the presence of hazardous conditions and cancer-causing chemicals, ranging from formaldehyde to heavy metals and mold, the investigation is inadequate to determine how great a risk they pose to human health, much less to determine appropriate remedial measures," the documents said.
    The military lawyers want the Department of Defense to properly test the conditions at the camp, and in the meantime, move them to safer housing.
    Navy Installations Command spokeswoman Capt. Wendy Snyder said her command carried out an "exhaustive" public health review.
    "We anticipate the final report for the review will be posted to the website in the coming weeks," Snyder told CNN in an email.
    Daniel Small, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll, which is representing the military lawyers without charge, said that two years is too long for these military lawyers not to have answers about the conditions in which they're living in while at the camp.
    "We know that two years is too long because of the hazards people are being exposed to," Small told CNN. "They have unreasonably delayed the (investigation) completely."
    The military lawyers stayed in temporary housing trailers that are used as both office space and housing.
    In the initial investigation in 2015, the air samples from these trailers tested positive for mercury and formaldehyde and the soil samples tested positive for benzopyrene, which are all carcinogenic substances.
    Small said a solution would be to move the military lawyers to the "hard housing" outside Guantanamo Bay, which have better living conditions.
    "If the Navy made it a priority to protect personnel, they could make more rooms available" in the hard housing, he said.
    After the initial investigation, the Department of Defense said it would follow up with a more detailed report, but that report never came.
    "They promised it for the fall of 2016, but then they extended it until the end of the year," Small said. "But both deadlines came and went and there's no report. We know of no new deadline and there's been no final report."