Navy won't punish Guantanamo nurse who refused to force-feed prisoners, lawyer says

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MIAMI — A Navy nurse who refused to force feed prisoners on hunger strike at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is no longer facing an administrative discharge over his protest, his lawyer said Wednesday.

The commanding officer of Navy personnel rejected a commander's recommendation that the nurse appear before a board of inquiry that could have resulted in his removal from the military after an 18-year career, attorney Ronald Meister said.

Instead, the nurse, whose name has not been released, will be allowed to resume work.

"He is extremely relieved," Meister said in an interview. "He is anxious to get back to work and complete an honorable career."

The Navy confirmed the decision in a brief statement but provided no details. Meister said he was not told why the military declined to pursue the matter.

The nurse is assigned to the New England Naval Clinic, which has its headquarters in Newport, Rhode Island, and operates a network of clinics in the U.S. Northeast.

Meister said the nurse, who previously served as an enlisted sailor on a submarine, volunteered for a six-month assignment at Guantanamo, where military personnel provide health care to the men who have been detained for suspected links to al-Qaida or the Taliban since January 2002.

In July 2014, his assignment was cut short and he was sent home after he declined to take part in force feeding prisoners on hunger strike, citing his professional ethics. Hundreds of medical personnel have served at the detention center and officials have said he is the only one to refuse to participate in the procedure, though his ethical objection has been backed by the American Nurses Association, Physicians for Human Rights and other groups.

The lawyer says the nurse's views on the matter evolved after seeing the procedure and have not waivered as the military weighed both criminal and administrative penalties against him. "He continues to believe that involuntary force feeding of competent adult patients is contrary to medical ethics," Meister said.

Prisoners at Guantanamo have protested their confinement with hunger strikes since shortly after the detention center opened on the base. In early 2006, as some men grew dangerously undernourished, the military began restraining them in a specially designed chair and administering liquid nutrients directly to their stomachs through a flexible nasal tube.

The military refers to the procedure as "enteral feeding," insists it is necessary to prevent any of the men from starving to death and is done as humanely as possible. Prisoners and their advocates allege that troops often are unnecessarily rough and argue that the protesters should be allowed to refuse food, even if it results in starvation.

Military officials no longer disclose how many of the 155 men still held at Guantanamo are on hunger strike, or even use that phrase to describe the protest. A detention center spokesman, Navy Capt. Thomas Gresback, on Wednesday would say only "there are still a small number of detainees who are on non-religious fast."

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