GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — A judge has ruled against an Iraqi man held at Guantánamo Bay who wanted a federal court to intervene to improve his medical care and was seeking the appointment of an independent civilian doctor to oversee his treatment.
Lawyers for the prisoner, known as Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, 58, had filed the medical negligence case in 2017 after he underwent five spinal surgeries in nine months. Mr. Hadi is scheduled to go on trial in September on war crimes charges stemming from his alleged role as a commander of Taliban and Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.
But Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the United States District Court in Washington ruled last week that Mr. Hadi had received adequate care from the military medical staff at Guantánamo.
“Detainees do not have a constitutional right to choose their own medical providers nor to obtain treatment of their own choosing,” Judge Sullivan wrote on Oct. 28 in dismissing the case.
“The court does not by any means discount his allegations of the chronic and debilitating pain he suffers as a result of this disease,” the judge said. But the details of Mr. Hadi’s legal complaint, he added, “demonstrate that his condition has been evaluated, monitored and treated throughout his detention.”
The military judge in the case, Lt. Col. Michael D. Libretto of the Marines, has similarly found no fault by the military in Mr. Hadi’s health care.
But a notation on the war court docket indicates that Judge Libretto recently ordered a military medical board to evaluate the prisoner’s mental capacity before the trial, which is scheduled to start next September. The order, dated Oct. 25, was under seal Monday at the military commissions website.
Mr. Hadi, who says his true name is Nashwan al Tamir, was captured in Turkey in 2006 and held by the C.I.A. before his transfer to Guantánamo Bay in April 2007. He is accused of serving as a commander of Taliban and Qaeda fighters who committed war crimes by targeting both troops and civilians with suicide bombings, roadside explosives devices and firing on a medical evacuation helicopter in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004.
He relies on a wheelchair and walker and Navy doctors have prescribed a cocktail of strong painkillers, including opiates, to deal with his pain. His defense lawyers, who are hired by the Pentagon, question whether he is competent to participate in his own defense. During pretrial proceedings, his lawyers have described him as incoherent as a result of either his pain or his medication.
The military has retrofitted his prison cell with grab bars and other accommodations for a handicapped prisoner. It also had contractors hastily construct a special wheelchair-accessible holding cell at the courtroom compound. The cell holds a hospital bed and provides a video feed of the court proceedings. Prosecutors say a defendant could participate in his trial from the holding cell by monitoring court proceedings and using a telephone inside the court to consult with his lawyers.
Mr. Hadi could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison at Guantánamo. His case highlights questions about whether the detention center, in a remote area of southeast Cuba, with 40 detainees and no prospect of closing is prepared for end-of-life care.
Pretrial proceedings in his case, underway since 2014, have been repeatedly delayed by a longstanding diagnosis of degenerative disc disease that came to a head when guards discovered him incontinent in his cell in September 2017. With Hurricane Irma churning toward the Caribbean, the Pentagon scrambled a neurosurgical team to the Navy base to operate on his lower back. Four more operations followed, including one declared a failure, according to emails that came out in the litigation.
Judge Sullivan wrote in his ruling that the fact that the Pentagon “deployed surgical teams to Guantánamo” undermined a claim by Mr. Hadi’s lawyer that the military “may be deliberately indifferent” to Mr. Hadi’s future surgical needs.
United States law prohibits the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the mainland for any reason, including trial or health care. Congress is considering granting the secretary of defense waiver authority for the purposes of transporting detainees in need of urgent or complex care to military medical centers in the United States.
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