Prison camp soldier drowns at Guantánamo

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose Eduardo Lopez-Cobena posing for a photo at Guantánamo.
Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose Eduardo Lopez-Cobena posing for a photo at Guantánamo. Courtesy Fort Carson Public Affairs

An Iraq combat veteran serving on the staff of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, drowned off a beach in a death that is under investigation, the military said Friday.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose Eduardo Lopez-Cobena, 40, a New Yorker, was due to finish up a one-year tour at the base in early June. He was assigned to logistics and managed the motor pool as part of the 1,750-strong staff assigned to the detention center of 41 captives.

Lopez-Cobena, 40, a New Yorker, died Thursday off Cable Beach, a popular swimming spot in “a non-combat alleged drowning incident while deployed in support of detainee operations,” said Army Col. Lisa Garcia, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Southern Command.

“There are no signs of foul play,” according to Ed Buice, a spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, one of three entities that was looking at the episode.

Lopez-Cobena was swimming at about 4:30 in the afternoon on March 30. “A friend on the beach heard him cry for help,” Buice said Wednesday. “One of the responding Security Force personnel swam out to where the unconscious man was, then both were picked up by a Harbor Patrol Unit boat. The man never regained consciousness.”

Garcia’s home base was at Fort Carson, Colorado, where he served with the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.

Lopez-Cobena died just shy of passing the 20-year mark of service. He joined the Army on Aug. 11, 1997, according to a military record furnished by Fort Carson, and listed New York as his home of record. He had served twice in Iraq — at the start of the original invasion, from February to October 2003, and from June 2007 to September 2008. His specialty was ordnance.

Accidental drownings are rare, but do happen, at the remote beach-lined U.S. military base of about 5,500 people. In 2010 three Marines perished in the waters off Cable Beach on the Fourth of July weekend.

In January 2015 a commissary worker was found dead in waters off the base, an episode that led to the removal of the base commander. The death of Christopher Tur, 42, is still under investigation, with the case file currently being handled by the Department of Justice, Navy spokesman Bill Dougherty said Friday from Jacksonville, the higher headquarters for the U.S. Navy base.

At the detention center Wednesday, spokesman Navy Cmdr John Robinson III said Texas-based U.S. Army South, which manages soldiers assigned to the prison staff, was “conducting an administrative investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the death.”

In addition, he said, the Army was coordinating “on a safety investigation” with the Navy base.

The public affairs office at Fort Carson issued the following statement on behalf of the base leadership: “It is always hard to lose a part of our military family. Our thoughts and prayers are with Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose Lopez-Cobena's family and friends during this very difficult time.”

His professional record reflected a long career of service. His awards included a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service Medal, two Army Commendation Medals, an Iraq Campaign Medal with three campaign stars, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and a Combat Action Badge.

This story was updated Wednesday, April 5, 2017, to add details on the incident and which agencies or military units were investigating.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg