GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — The newly posted senior medical officer at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay said over the weekend that the prison might offer gender-transition assistance to captives.
“Anything that a detainee requests from a medical standpoint, we will consider,” said the North Carolina-licensed family medicine physician, who was identified at a briefing only as “Cmdr. SMO 2.”
“You know, we haven’t gotten there,” the doctor said. “But it is 2017.”
The doctor said gender transition was not on the list of procedures that prison leaders were considering in its long-range health care 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,” the doctor said. 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 prison commander, Navy Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, said Sunday that he had no doubt U.S. military medicine could meet the challenge.
But Cashman added that any decision on whether to accommodate such a request “would reside with policymakers in Washington, D.C., about their willingness to finance and execute that.”
Cashman said, “We have good facilities and we have the ability to get the expertise to do just about anything” at Guantanamo Bay. The base has about 5,000 residents, 1,500 of them assigned to Cashman’s staff, and a small U.S. Navy hospital.
In another example of accommodation for the captives, the medical officer said the prison was continuing the practice during the Muslim holy month of 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 “nonreligious fasts,” the doctor said, using the Guantanamo euphemism for a hunger strike adopted after a food protest swept through the cellblocks in the summer of 2013. Then, more than 100 of 166 captives refused to eat.
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.
Guantanamo’s long-serving cultural adviser, a Muslim man named Zaki, called the gender transition query “a unique question. We never heard it before.”
He said that during his service at Guantanamo, “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, Kan., had been developing a policy for recently released prisoner Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who as Bradley Manning leaked secret military and diplomatic files.
Gabavics said at Guantanamo someone similarly situated might be segregated but “the conditions of confinement, or in this case detention, would be the same.”
Navy Cmdr. John Robinson, the prison spokesman offered later Saturday that the medical office “didn’t say here” in response to a question about the possibility of a Guantanamo detainee getting gender-transition assistance. Left unclear was where else that could happen. Congress has forbidden the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States for any reason, including trial, testimony or medical treatment.