Carol Rosenberg reported today that a Navy commander had decided not to court-martial a Guantanamo nurse for refusing to participate in the forced-feeding of hunger strikers at the U.S. military prison. Announcement of the “pending court-martial” was made in late August.
While on Twitter it appeared that many were relieved the nurse would not be going to jail for taking a principled stand against the medically unethical practice of forced “enteral” feeding — and that must be some relief, after all — the fact is the Navy announced that after some months of investigation, the nurse is now subject to an administrative review, or “Board of Inquiry,” that may continue on for up to nine more months, according to Rosenberg.
The nurse, who is threatened with expulsion from the military and loss of his military benefits, is a 40-ish year old, possibly Latino, Navy Lieutenant. The discovery of his protest against the forced feeding of Guantanamo hunger-strikers, which he had participated in for many months, noted first in a letter from Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner cleared for release in 2010. Dhiab languishes in ill-health at the Cuban-based prison, as he awaits possible transfer to Uruguay. (See this latest report on Dhiab from Andy Worthington.)
The military is not interested in doing its conscientious-objector nurse any favors. The Board of Inquiry will no doubt cause the Navy Lieutenant a great deal of stress and money, with no certain outcome. Anyone who has been under administrative investigation and “review” for many months knows how difficult such a procedure really is. Whatever the outcome, the continued legal wrangling by the Navy amounts to persecution of a medical officer who had decided not to obey an unlawful order.
Forced feeding of prisoners is denounced as both medically unethical and in the form practiced at Guantanamo to amount to torture, according to a report from the prestigious Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) report released last year.
The Navy certainly had little interest in an actual court-martial proceeding. As Rosenberg reported, “The administrative review, also known as a Board of Inquiry, keeps the circumstances of that episode secret. A military trial could have put a very public spotlight on both Guantánamo’s hunger-strike policy and how the military manages medical-ethics issues.”
A very different fate for former BSCTs
It is very embittering for anyone who cares about this country’s mainstreaming of torture to reflect upon the experience of this Navy nurse. It strongly reminds me of the case of former Guantanamo guard Albert Melise, who was threatened with dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all his military benefits because he spoke to reporter Jason Leopold about his experiences with former Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks. (Hicks today is fighting to have his conviction in the Guantanamo military commissions overturned.)
While the military continues to persecute those who stand against torture and medical maltreatment, key personnel who participated in interrogations and torture at Guantanamo are rewarded. I recently was made aware that one of the members of Guantanamo’s infamous Behavioral Consultation Science or BSCT (“biscuit”) teams, Lisa Teegarden, is today the chief of Psychology at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland (not to be confused with Walter Reed Army Hospital, which, plagued with scandals over patient neglect, closed in 2011).
According to her LinkedIn page, she was Behavioral Science Command Consultant from May 2008 to October 2010. Teegarden indicates that during this period she “[s]erved as Special Staff to Commander, Joint Task Force, Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Served as the subject matter expert to the Commander, JTF-GTMO on matters pertaining to clinical psychology, organizational psychology / dymanics [sic] and social psychology principles as they pertain to military organizations. Specialized in behavioral management of detainees, behavioral drift, and counter-interrogation / intelligence operations.”
The BSCTs were notorious for their participation in abusive interrogations, including use of SERE-derived torture. The American Psychiatric Association went so far as to prohibit its members from participating, while the American Psychological Association was (and to some degree still is) embroiled in controversies over allowing psychologists to staff the interrogation consultant role at Guantanamo. (For a full discussion of the pertinent issues, see this excellent article by psychologist Stephen Soldz.)
Teegarden’s stint at Guantanamo, providing her expertise on clinical psychology and “behavioral management of detainees” and intelligence operations, at the time of the mysterious death of Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi in June 2009. Al Hanashi was found dead in a constantly-monitored cell in Guantanamo’s Behavioral Health Unit. An NCIS report on his death has not been released.
I requested a copy of the report via FOIA in January 2012. NCIS to date refuses to even give me a date of completion for the FOIA request. A separate request for the AR 15-16 report on Hanashi’s death has been sitting in Southcom’s FOIA office since January 2013.
When the autopsy report for Hanashi’s death was finally released, it raised many questions about what actually happened to the former hunger-striking prisoner. But one aspect of the latter document is especially relevant when it comes to Teegarden, as the autopsy stated Hanashi suffered from “stressors of confinement.”
If true, Teegarden, a psychologist who as BSCT had great responsibility in regards to “behavioral management of detainees,” should answer for what kind of conditions of confinement drove Hanashi to make multiple suicide attempts, and what the actual circumstances of his death were.
But Teegarden is not being investigated, unlike the nurse who protested the brutal process of forced cell extraction and forced feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, despairing of years of indefinite detention, psychological torture, beatings, forced drug injections, isolation and more.
Instead, Teegarden isn’t worried about her medical benefits or her job. Like scores of others involved in the torture of prisoners, including Department of Defense SERE officials, Pentagon attorneys, psychologists and doctors and nurses, flag officers, CIA and JSOC officers, Teegarden is rewarded with plum assignments for her adherence to a torture regime. Meanwhile, a lowly Navy lieutenant can only count himself lucky that he isn’t being thrown into the brig, and only must endure a stressful “inquiry” about whether to throw him out of the military.
Teegarden is not alone in being an ex-BSCT who has gone on with her career. Former head BSCT and chief psychologist at Abu Ghraib, Larry James, who personally led the rendition and detention of young teens from Afghanistan, went on to a career as dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (James ultimately left, and his subsequent attempt at a career has not been without controversy.)
At least one BSCT psychologist, Lt. Col. Dianne Zierhoffer was called to account for her participation in the torture of another Guantanamo juvenile prisoner, Mohammed Jawad (now released), but was allowed to plead the Fifth Amendment in order not to testify. John Leso, yet another BSCT, who had been identified in helping organize Guantanamo’s SERE-inspired torture regime, was exonerated of ethics charges by the American Psychological Association
The real message is for those who staff or would staff the military and intelligence bureaucracy of 21st century America: Don’t make waves. Do your job in support of or conducting torture, and you will be rewarded.