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Navy Nurse Who Refused to Force-Feed Guantanámo Detainees Restored to Full Duties

Physicians for Human Rights welcomes decision to drop revocation of his security clearance as vindication of the nurse’s principled stance for medical ethics

For Immediate Release

The U.S. Navy nurse who refused to force-feed Guantánamo Bay detainees had his security clearance reinstated and has been restored to full duties, ending a yearlong effort by the Pentagon to punish him for refusing to take part in an inhumane and unethical practice. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has persistently advocated on the nurse’s behalf, affirming that his actions were consistent with the highest ethical standards of the medical and nursing professions.

“The nurse is very pleased to be able to get back to what is most important to him: caring for patients as the Navy trained him to do,” said his attorney, Ron Meister of Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, P.C. “He is proud to be a nurse and grateful for Physicians for Human Rights, the American Nurses Association, and the other organizations that sustained him in this long effort.”

Since 2014, the Navy nurse had faced potential criminal charges, possible discharge, and loss of retirement and veterans benefits due to his refusal to force-feed prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. PHR, alongside the American Nurses Association, has mobilized a lengthy campaign to reinstate the Navy nurse, who has served with honor for nearly 20 years. Restoring his security clearance was the final hurdle to return the Navy nurse to his full duties.

“With this decision, the Pentagon has finally acknowledged that no health professional should be punished for acting ethically,” said PHR’s medical director, Dr. Vincent Iacopino. “The first obligation of medical professionals is to do no harm. Force-feeding is prohibited not only by medical ethics but under international law. The Navy nurse had the courage to stand up for his patients and refuse to take part in the cruel, inhuman, and degrading practice of force-feeding. His conduct should serve as a model for medical workers around the world.”

PHR has documented that force-feeding at Guantánamo is done without medical necessity or benefit and inflicts physical and psychological anguish on detainees. The World Medical Association explicitly prohibits the force-feeding of hunger strikers – a policy that has been adopted by more than 100 professional associations, including the American Medical Association.

“In the post-9/11 era, the U.S. government has tried to override medical ethics, and to force healthcare providers to be complicit in human rights abuses,” said PHR’s Iacopino. “The Pentagon’s decision is a delayed exoneration of the Navy nurse, who was practicing the very ethics he was taught to follow by his profession. His stance, and the Pentagon’s ultimate vindication of his actions, show that no government order can supersede a health professional’s ethical obligations.”

PHR continues to appeal for an end to the abusive practice of force-feeding inflicted on detainees protesting their indefinite detention at the Guantánamo Bay prison.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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Kevin Short

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