Treat Guantanamo Detainees in the United States

By Albert Shimkus

May 21, 2019

The United States government has a moral and legal obligation under the Geneva Conventions to provide medical care to the men detained at Naval Base Guantanamo equivalent to that provided to members of our Armed Forces. 

The reasons for the recent relief of the commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Rear Adm. John Ring, are currently unknown. But the cause of his relief is unlikely related to his reported comments about detainee health care. This does not however make the Admiral’s comments and perspective regarding the delivery of appropriate health care to the detainees any less important to consider. 

It is vitally important and ethically prudent that the required health care interventions be provided to each detainee based upon the clearly defined treaty obligations of the United States. The question of where that health care is delivered is the key element that must be answered immediately in order to prevent unnecessary suffering and potential death. Treating these individuals in the United States in emergent situations would satisfy our county’s obligations by allowing health care providers to make appropriate clinical decisions and to do no additional harm. There is no other prudent solution.

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Related: As ISIS Fight Winds Down in Syria, Detainee Numbers Are Rising

It is incumbent upon the United States Congress and specifically the Senate to recognize the conundrum and ethical dilemma it has forced upon the dedicated uniformed men and women serving in Joint Task Force Guantanamo. The United States government must allow these uniformed medical professionals to do the right thing for each aging detainee as their care becomes more complex. 

It is absolute responsibility of the U.S. Senate to include and pass, in the next version of the National Defense Authorization Act specific language that allows for the temporary transfer of the ill detainee to the continental United States for emergency and/or definitive treatment.

The views expressed above are the author’s alone and do not reflect the positions of the United States, the U.S. Navy, or the Naval War College.

By Albert Shimkus // Albert J. Shimkus, Jr. is an Associate Professor in the National Security Affairs Department of the U.S. Naval War College. He formerly served as the first Joint Task Force Guantanamo Surgeon.

May 21, 2019