The Pentagon is leasing an MRI to ship to Guantánamo to comply with a judge’s order to scan the brain of the man accused of planning the USS Cole bombing, but the technology might be used on other prisoners there as well, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Southern Command said Tuesday.
Army Col. Lisa Garcia had no information on whether a contractor has been awarded a bid 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 head scans at Guantánamo. Nor could she say when the equipment might reach the remote base.
But, she said, the Navy “has ordered the MRI on behalf of a Southcom request due to the court order. Currently, only the one detainee is required to use it but more could use it.”
In April, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, a military commissions judge, ordered the test sought by defense attorneys for Saudi captive Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 50, who is suffering depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as he waits for a death-penalty trial at Guantánamo. Nashiri is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s Oct. 12, 2000 suicide bombing of the warship off Yemen that killed 17 American sailors and wounded dozens more.
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But, Garcia said, there might be other candidates for a scan at the prison camps of 116 captives, including the five alleged Sept. 11 plotters, who like Nashiri, are charged with capital crimes.
“We are discussing the requirements for the other commissions cases since they are capital punishment and will probably require an MRI at some future point,” she said. Other detainees might be eligible for one, too, she said by email, if the Navy medical team responsible for detainee health decides “there is a need for others to use it.”
Southcom, which supervises Guantánamo prison operations, had the Navy buy a $1.65 million MRI system for the base in 2012, then warehoused it for a year and diverted it to an Army medical center in Georgia to treat troops instead of captives. A 2012 detention center medical team wanted the equipment, in consideration of an aging, indefinite detainee population, but later prison medical staff saw no need for it, in part because there was no one to operate it there, a Southcom spokesman has said.
But Congress has forbidden the transfer of a Guantánamo captive to the U.S., even for health reasons, meaning the technology has to be taken to the base.
Prison medical staff said in interviews last week that there was no medical need to get an MRI device for the prison’s 116 captives, aged 29 to 67.
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 Guantánamo 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 a 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 last 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 his depression and PTSD that they blame on his abuse during years of secret CIA custody. They wanted the MRI to also assist in developing a treatment plan. Spath wrote that Nashiri’s healthcare was adequate but that an MRI was necessary for forensic purposes.
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