Gender transition therapy at Guantánamo? Top prison doctor says he’d consider it
Across the 15 years of the detention center, military medical staff have often boasted that the United States treats its wartime prisoners here on par with American troops’ health care.
So in response to a first-time visiting reporter’s question Saturday, a newly posted Navy doctor who is the senior medical officer said the controversial prison might offer a captive gender transition assistance.
“Anything that a detainee requests from a medical standpoint, we will consider,” said the North Carolina-licensed family medicine physician, who goes by Cmdr. SMO 2. “You know, we haven’t gotten there. But it is 2017.”
The doctor said that gender transition was not on the list of scenarios that Detention Center leadership was considering in its long-range healthcare needs for a population of 41 prisoners, who range in age from the mid-30s to almost 70.
But if it came up, “that’s something I would have to address with the patient individually, figure out what needs we would have to do to meet that.” Considerations would include “where behavioral health would fit in,” he said, referring to the prison’s mental health unit, “where the medications fit in and what kind of monitoring we’d have. But we’re not there yet.”
The Detention Center commander, Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, told reporters Sunday that he had no doubt U.S. military medicine could meet the challenge.
But Cashman added that any decision about whether to accommodate such a request “would reside with policymakers in Washington, D.C., about their willingness to finance and execute that.”
Cashman, who came up in the Navy as a surface warfare officer, added that “we have good facilities and we have the ability to get the expertise to do just about anything” at Guantánamo Bay. The base has about 5,000 residents, 1,500 of them assigned to Cashman’s staff, and a small community-style U.S. Navy hospital.
In another example of accommodation for the captives, Dr. SMO 2 said that the prison was continuing the practice this Ramadan of tube-feeding hunger strikers at night, in consideration of Islam’s prohibition against eating during daylight hours.
“A few” of the captives are currently engaged in “non-religious fasts,” the doctor said, using the Guantánamo euphemism for a hunger strike adopted after a huge food protest swept through the cellblocks in the summer of 2013. Then, more than 100 of 166 captives refused to eat and a record 46 men were force-fed on a single day.
Now, however, the captives who refuse to eat are so compliant with the medical staff that they aren’t shackled into a restraint chair for nasal-gastric feedings, the doctor said.
Guantánamo’s long serving cultural adviser, a Muslim man named Zaki, called the gender transition query “a unique question. We never heard it before.”
He added that across his decade-plus service at Guantánamo “we haven’t had any obvious problems sexually. We haven’t seen it like you see in the prisons, rape and that stuff. We have guards 24 hours a day. We have cameras. But we haven’t had a problem. They all get tested. We haven’t had anybody with AIDS.”
The warden, Army Col. Stephen Gabavics, said he had been asked in the past if he’d be able to handle a transsexual detainee. He replied that the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, had been developing a policy for recently released prisoner Private Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who as Bradley Manning leaked secret military and diplomatic files.
Gabavics said at Guantánamo someone similarly situated might be segregated but “the conditions of confinement, or in this case detention, would be the same.”
For his part, the prison spokesman Navy Cmdr. John Robinson offered later Saturday that Dr. SMO 2 “didn’t say here” in response to a question about the possibility of a Guantánamo detainee getting gender transition assistance. Left unclear was where else that could happen. Congress has forbidden the transfer of a Guantánamo detainee to the United States for any reason, including trial, testimony or medical treatment.
Meantime, the doctor in charge of detainee health said an MRI has yet to arrive on the base to perform a study on the brain of a war court defendant who was waterboarded and whose head was slammed into a wall years ago in CIA custody.
An Air Force judge, Col. Vance Spath, ordered the brain scan of Saudi Abd al Rahim al Nashiri in April 2015 at the request of his Pentagon-paid attorneys, who argue proof of brain damage might spare the captive military execution — if he’s convicted of plotting the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole warship off Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
But Dr. SMO 2 made clear that his 100-member staff, 60 of whom are medical professionals, would not be involved with conducting the brain scan. He cast it as a judicial rather than medical procedure.