U.S. Navy nurse won’t force-feed Guantanamo detainees

Updated 8:31 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014

Story highlights

U.S. military nurse reportedly refuses to take part in forced feedings

Pentagon official confirms "recent instance"

Detainee has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002

(CNN) —  

Attorneys for a Guantanamo Bay detainee on a hunger strike say a U.S. military nurse has refused to conduct forced feedings of inmates.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab has been at the U.S. Navy base on Cuba since August 2002, attorney Cori Crider told CNN.

Crider says Dhiab told her in a telephone call last week about the reported actions of the unnamed male nurse, believed to be a Navy medical officer.

“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,” meaning the inmates, Dhiab was quoted as saying. “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.”

A Pentagon official late Tuesday confirmed, “There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry-out the enteral feeding of a detainee. The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership. The service member has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations.”

There are 147 personnel attached to the Joint Medical Group, of which 83 are responsible for direct detainee care.

Details of the nurse’s refusal were first reported by The Miami Herald.

The military refers to the controversial process as “enteral feeding,” which is designed to provide liquid nutrition and medicine via a tube inserted in the nose directly into the stomach. CNN was recently given a tour of the hospital at Guantanamo, where the forced feeding procedures were demonstrated without the involvement of any inmate.

Dhiab is part of a group of detainees who are participating in a hunger strike to protest their continued, open-end detention without charges being filed, said Crider, who works at the London-based legal defense group Reprieve.

Crider said it was believed to be the first time one of the U.S. medical personnel has refused to carry out the feeding regimen.

“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 told CNN. “It meant a great deal to my client and to the other cleared detainees who are hunger striking.”

Through his legal team, Dhiab has filed a federal lawsuit, protesting the forced-feeding policy. The U.S. military has justified it as humane and necessary to keep the inmate alive. There are about 150 inmates currently at Guantanamo.

Supporters of Dhiab say he is among more than 40 men who at one time in the past few years were being forced fed.

In their June 2013 lawsuit, Dhiab and three other men urged the court to intervene quickly.

“Petitioners request an expeditious hearing on this application because of the extreme nature of the human rights and medical ethics violations that result from petitioners’ force-feeding,” said the lawsuit, “and because of the imminent risk that it will deprive them of the ability to observe the Ramadan fast,” which typically happens in July.

“Petitioners do not trust the Guantanamo doctors and nurses, because those staff have been ordered by their superior officers to subject petitioners to a force-feeding regimen they reject and which causes them humiliation and pain.”

Dhiab, 43, was captured in 2002 in Pakistan. His supporters deny he is a terrorist and say the Syrian had been operating a food import business in Kabul, Afghanistan before the 9/11 terror attacks.

He has been cleared for release since 2009, but U.S. officials said they were reluctant to send him back to Syria because of that country’s ongoing civil war. His supporters say he could be sent to Uruguay, but there is no indication when any transfer would happen.

A federal judge in May allowed Dhiab to be forced-fed to keep him alive, but strongly urged authorities to use other methods, criticizing the Pentagon’s continued “refusal to compromise.”

“The court is in no position to make the complex medical decisions necessary to keep Mr. Dhiab alive,” said Judge Gladys Kessler. “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.”

Kessler also ordered the Obama administration to release 34 video recordings of Dhiab being forced-fed, as well as the detainee’s medical records.

The legal case is Belbacha v. Obama (04-2215).

Lawsuit: End forced feedings before Ramadan

Judge allows forced feeding to resume on Guantanamo detainee

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.