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Guantanamo Nurse Could Be Discharged For Not Force-Feeding Detainees


Now a story about the force-feeding of prisoners who are on hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay and a nurse who refused to carry out those feedings. The male nurse, who has not been publicly named, could face a board of inquiry that will decide whether he can remain in the Navy or will be discharged from military service. Ron Meister is the lead attorney representing the former Guantanamo nurse. Back in the 70s, he was a Navy judge. Welcome to the program.

RON MEISTER: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: And as I understand it, your client did carry out these force-feedings at Guantanamo for a time. Why did he change his mind?

MEISTER: He volunteered to go out to Guantanamo initially and then after he observed the way the practices were performed and he saw the ways in which the detainees were forcibly extracted from their cells and placed in five-point restraint chairs, and how they were fed with a tube through the nose into their stomach, and that the kinds of things that nurses would do - according to their professional responsibilities - those things were not done, he felt he could no longer participate in it.

BLOCK: Well, the Navy decided not to court-martial your client for dereliction of duty, but he could face discharge from the Navy - either honorable or otherwise. Why shouldn't he face the consequences of refusing to carry out a lawful order?

MEISTER: First of all, Melissa, there's a question whether an order to do something that violates your professional ethics and responsibilities is lawful. But putting that aside - look at it this way, there are other professionals who have independent responsibilities. That's why the Navy sends them for professional training and requires them to be licensed. So, for example, if a lawyer is given an order to disclose the confidence of a client, that's not something that the lawyer has to comply with and the lawyer should not be punished for refusal. If a chaplain was asked to do something in violation of the chaplain's own sense of responsibility, the chaplain would not be required to do that.

BLOCK: You're talking about a lawyer or a chaplain within the military...


BLOCK: ...Which would have its own set of rules and guidelines?

MEISTER: That's correct, but you don't lose those responsibilities and obligations by going in the military. And he has an obligation to comply with those rules and feels that he would be violating those rules if he were to engage in the force-feeding at Guantanamo.

BLOCK: I want to make sure I understand that because the order that he is refusing to carry out is to feed people - feed prisoners - keep them from starving to death, right? So what oath or medical code would that violate?

MEISTER: Well, Melissa, it's not quite a question of keeping them from starving to death. There's a distinction, which is recognized throughout the literature, between trying to commit suicide and being willing to risk death in order to make your views and your protests known. The protocol that the joint task force at Guantanamo employs to determine when to force-feed is not consistent with nursing standards that require such things as speaking with the patient, explaining to the patient what the choices are, determining whether the patient is competent and explaining the consequences of various kinds of treatment. None of that goes on, and they are force-fed largely as a way of discouraging the protest against their conditions.

BLOCK: If your client is discharged from the Navy, what are the ramifications of that for him?

MEISTER: Aside from the psychological ramifications of having devoted his principal career to being in the Navy, to having served 10 years in submarines - very credibly - to being sent by the Navy to obtain a nurse's degree and having served in various capacities as a nurse, aside from the importance of that and, basically, invalidating his entire professional career, he would - if he doesn't get to 20 years of active duty - lose any entitlement to a pension. There's no vesting of a military pension before that for him and depending on the nature of the discharge, might also lose veterans benefits, medical benefits, G.I. Bill of Rights benefits, those sorts of things.

BLOCK: And how long has he been in the Navy total?

MEISTER: Almost 18 years.

BLOCK: Ron Meister is a lawyer representing a male nurse who refused to take part in the force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Thanks very much for talking with us.

MEISTER: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: We also reached out to the Navy to have them explain the complaint against the nurse. They were unwilling to comment on a case under review. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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