After 18 years of active duty, the nurse notified his superiors last summer that he would no longer force-feed detainees, saying he felt that the procedure was unethical. He was subsequently removed from his duties treating captive patients. Now, the Navy is moving him to a health facility in New England.
The nurse, a lieutenant, has never been identified and has never spoken publicly about his decision. His attorney, Ronald Meister, has described him to the Miami Herald as an active-duty sailor, a one-time enlisted submariner who, at the Navy’s urging, became a nurse and commissioned officer.
Originally, the nurse faced potential court martial charges for insubordination, but the Navy decided against pursuing them. Instead, his commanding officer recommended that he face a discharge board, which could have stripped him of his retirement and veterans benefits. Late last month, however, the Navy opted not to pursue discharge proceedings either.
The nurse had been kept from treating patients since before July 4. Now, he "is going to be able to go back to work," Meister said, "and, we have every reason to believe, finish up his honorable service in the U.S. Navy."
Dr. Vincent Iacopino, of Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based nonprofit, said the Navy’s decision is a step toward recognizing the rights of military health professionals, but it does not address the issue of medical ethics being subsumed by military objectives and policies to the detriment of ethical care.
"Force-feeding at Guantanamo has nothing to do with medical necessity or benefit. Instead it is a military policy that serves to silence detainees from protesting 12 years of indefinite detention without legal charges," he told the Miami Herald.
The painful force-feeding process involves a medical officer snaking a feeding tube through a detainee’s nose, down their esophagus and into their stomach, where it’s hooked up to a bag filled with a nutritional formula.
In March, the Defense Health Board – a federal committee that advises the Secretary of Defense on health policy – recommended that the Pentagon allow medical personnel to opt out of performing any procedures they find ethically or morally questionable.
Medical and military commanders say the prison humanely handles those who will not eat and are categorized as “non-religious fasters,” that force-feeding is used only as a last resort to address medical issues such as malnutrition.