Doctors Say Medical Transfer Provision Necessary in Defense Spending Bill

Two medical doctors who have evaluated detainees and accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay are urging the Senate to allow transfers out of the prison facility for critical medical treatment.

In a letter organized by The Constitution Project and delivered to Senate offices on November 19, Dr Sondra Crosby and Dr Stephen Xenakis asked the lawmakers to give the Secretary of Defense the “flexibility to authorize the temporary transfer of Guantanamo detainees to a military medical facility in the United States to prevent death or imminent harm to a detainee’s health.”

The FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee contains provisions that loosen restrictions on transfers out of Guantanamo, including a provision allowing for temporary medical transfers to the United States. An amendment proposed by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) would have stripped those provisions and added further restrictions, but it failed on the Senate floor in a bi-partisan vote.  Barring any additional Guantanamo related amendments, which are not expected, the NDAA will soon head to a conference committee, made up of leaders from both chambers, with the improved transfer provisions – including the medical transfer provision – fully intact.  The bill authorizes most Department of Defense operations, but the actual funding for military personnel, activities and weapon systems comes through separate appropriating legislation.

The two doctors, who have spent nearly 1000 hours in Guantanamo and evaluating detainees and their medical records, say the prisoners there are aging, their health is deteriorating and, after more than a decade in captivity, their medical needs are outstripping the ability of the hospital at Guantanamo to provide the necessary care.

“The deterioration in health and demise of detainees will continue to damage our moral stature across the globe and further compromise the legitimacy of Guantanamo Bay as a detention facility,” they wrote.

Crosby is a Professor of Medicine at Boston University, specializing in internal medicine, and was one of the first doctors allowed to travel to Cuba to independently examine Guantanamo captives. Xenakis is a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General who served for 28 years as a medical corps officer with assignments as a clinical psychiatrist, staff officer, and senior commander, including Commanding General of the Southeast Army Regional Medical Command.


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