GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A Navy nurse who refused to tube feed hunger striking prisoners is still assigned to the detention center here but is carrying out “administrative duties,” the new prison commander said Friday.
Navy Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad also said in an interview with the Miami Herald that he sees no reason to consider lifting the 250-day-old hunger-strike blackout and resume revealing the number of prisoners designated for tube feedings each day.
Daily figures “weren’t really operationally or medically relevant,” the admiral said. He added that, while hunger strike figures are not classified, “I really don’t see a need to provide those.”
Last month, a lawyer for a cleared, force-fed hunger striker told the story of the Navy lieutenant, a nurse, who refused to take part in the feedings — and the military confirmed it.
The attorney, Cori Crider, called the officer a courageous conscientious objector. She said her client quoted the nurse as announcing to a detainee: “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act.”
Cozad said he, as commander of the 2,200-strong detention center staff, about 150 of them medical staff, was handling the case as “an ongoing and administrative issue.” The nurse has never been publicly identified but Crider said her client, Abu Wael Dhiab, described him as a perhaps 40-year-old Latino who turned up on the cellblocks in April or May.
Hundreds of military medical staff have worked at the prison camps since they opened in 2002 but this was the first known rebellion against Guantanamo’s policy of shackling a detainee into a restraint chair, snaking a tube up the captive’s nose and pumping nourishment into his stomach.
The prison’s spokesman declined to elaborate on what might be Cozad’s options in handling the case.
Cozad said the ongoing hunger strike “doesn’t occupy my day” as the 14th commander of detention center he took over July 10.
Detainees are being handled “person by person,” he said. He declined to characterize how widespread it is, adding it’s not “an epidemic like was reported before.”
There had been no “significant change” in the numbers since he took charge, he said.
At the height, last summer, prison staff logged 106 of the then 166 detainees as hunger strikers — and designated 46 for tube feedings in a single day, an undisclosed number of them tackled and shackled and confined to a restraint chair because they refused to cooperate with their captors.
The prison disclosed the daily count for 274 days then imposed the blackout in December, with just 15 reported hunger strikers.
Asked about the detainees’ health, the admiral said: “It’s an aging population; we all have to acknowledge that.” They get “a level of care that’s consistent with what my troopers get on a daily basis.”
U.S. forces who require MRI diagnostic testing are airlifted to Jacksonville, Florida. U.S. Navy base capabilities on the island include ultrasound and a CT scanner, Cozad noted, adding that the military can bring onto the base specialists or equipment as needed.
Cozad said he has yet to get a look at all 149 detainees but regularly visits the places where they are held. He arrived as the Holy Muslim month of Ramadan was winding down but declined to say how many detainees observed the religious fast during the 13th Ramadan in U.S. custody for many of the detainees, the first for most troops.
Prison staff did “adjust the schedule … to facilitate the religious beliefs” of the detainees, he said. In past years that meant having nurses and medics carry out the tube feedings after sunset and before dawn.