Navy trying to lease MRI for Guantanamo

Nashiri's JAG LT Cmdr Stephen Reyes addresses judge Col James Pohl during Abd Al Rahim Hussayn Muhammad Al Nashiri's military commissions arraignment on Nov. 9, 2011, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nashiri is charged with the attack on the USS Cole, resulting in the death of 17 sailors. If convicted in this capital military commission, Al NAshri could face the death penalty.


By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 13, 2015

Military medical staff may insist that there’s no need for MRI technology at this remote outpost, but someone in the Pentagon’s trying to lease portable equipment to ship to Guantanamo, apparently to comply with a court order to scan the brain of the alleged planner of the USS Cole bombing.

The Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery put out a solicitation last month seeking bidders to provide leased portable Magnetic Resonance Imagery equipment for up to 180 days with a trailer, adequate supply of cryogen and technicians capable of conducting a scan of a head at Guantanamo. It seeks delivery at Blount Island near Jacksonville, meaning the military likely intends to barge its rental MRI to and from the base.

No one could explain the request brought to the Miami Herald’s attention on Friday. A spokesman for the prison said by email that military medical staff at the detention center did not request an MRI and aren’t expecting one. The Senior Medical Officer, an anonymous Navy reservist who in civilian life also works at a prison, likewise said during an interview last week that there was no medical need to get an MRI device for the prison’s 116 captives, aged 29 to 67.

But in April, over the USS Cole case prosecutor’s objections, a military judge, Air Force Col. Vance Spath ordered the U.S. government to do an MRI study of the brain of Saudi captive Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 50, the alleged architect of the Oct. 12, 2000 attack on the USS Cole. He’s awaiting a capital murder trial for the al-Qaida suicide attack that killed 17 American sailors off Aden, Yemen.

“Evidence of brain trauma or neuropsychological infirmity of an accused is relevant and necessary to pretrial, trial and post-trial mitigation,” the judge wrote in his four-page ruling. He said he was persuaded of the need for an MRI by a filing from a torture expert, Sondra Crosby, a physician who examined Nashiri and testified that the Saudi is a victim of physical, sexual and psychological torture.

Nashiri was at times kept hooded and naked, subjected to a mock execution and waterboarded among other “enhanced interrogation techniques” during his four years in secret CIA prisons before he began his U.S. military custody at Guantanamo in September 2006. Recently released portions of the so-called Senate Torture Report also revealed that CIA agents used a quasi-medical technique called “rectal rehydration” after he staged a hunger strike — treatment his Navy lawyer called punishment by rape.

Prosecutors argued that an MRI was unnecessary and that images of the captive’s brain by CT-Scan at the base hospital should be sufficient. Defense lawyers argue that, if an MRI shows brain damage, it could help spare him execution if his jury of U.S. military officers convicts him.

No trial date has been set. Nashiri’s civilian attorney, Richard Kammen, predicted this weekend it was at best 18 months to two years away.

Nashiri’s lawyers have argued that the captive has received inadequate medical care for depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder they blame on his abuse during years of secret CIA custody. They wanted the MRI study to also assist in developing a treatment plan. Spath wrote that Nashiri’s health care was adequate but that an MRI was necessary for forensic purposes

Congress forbids the transfer of Guantanamo captives to the United States, even for medical care. So the order meant finding a friendly foreign hospital to accept the military medical mission, cooperation the Bush administration failed to obtain in 2007, or bringing the equipment to Guantanamo, something the prison had planned with a 2012 purchase of a $1.65 million MRI.

The U.S. Southern Command, however, stopped the shipment, warehoused the machine for a year, then diverted it to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia — to treat troops rather than captives.

Guantanamo medical staff said last week that their war on terror captives suffer typical afflictions of an aging population — diabetes, hypertension, thyroid issues but currently no cancer — and get care commensurate to the U.S. troops on the temporary prison staff of more than 2,000 people. Soldiers, however, get sent to military health care centers in the United States for their MRIs, many procedures and most surgeries, while the Navy puts specialists on planes to Guantanamo to treat the captives on the base. A medical specialist can be brought to Guantanamo “within a week,” an anonymous Navy medical commander said.

Nashiri’s lawyers asked the military to conduct an MRI examination more than a year ago.

The episode, Kammen said by phone Sunday, speaks to the inefficiency of the remote trial system. “In a state court or an Article 3 court,” he said, “the client would’ve had the MRI within 60 days” of a defense request.

Kammen said members of his team want to be present when Nashiri’s test is done, in part to help avoiding re-traumatizing the captive. They have been provided no timetable for when the test might take place.

“Maybe someday they’ll have the MRI machine at Gitmo,” he sighed.

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