A complaint was registered with the US Navy seeking the evacuation of civilian and military lawyers from parts of the US base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The US Navy is investigating the complaint after reports of cancer among personnel working on the trials of detainees there were beginning to increase.
According to the complaint filed with the Defense Department's Office of the Inspector General, at least 7 civilians and military members who worked on detainee trials at Guantanamo Bay have been diagnosed with cancer. The complaint seeks the American military officials to remove the personnel from the court facilities on the base and test them and the base for presence of any carcinogens.
An unusually large number of relatively healthy and young people who worked at the base have been diagnosed with cancer, says the complaint. Around 200 prosecutors, defense lawyers and other court personnel have worked on the base over the past decade.
The patients who worked and lived in the location at Guantanamo may have been exposed to carcinogens which was previously used to dispose of jet fuel, adjacent to an abandoned runway. The patients may also have been exposed to toxins such as asbestos in older building that initially hosted military trials, according to the complaint.
"The Department of Defense is aware of concerns about possible carcinogens around the DOD military commission site located at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay," said Kelly Wirfel, spokesperson for Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. "Working together with the Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center and other environmental and health officials, Navy Region Southeast is looking into this to identify whatever steps may be necessary to address these concerns."
The Defense Department Inspector General's office could not confirm or deny any investigations or complaints said a spokesperson from the office.
"We have been telling our chain of command for years that we don't feel safe living and working in the temporary facilities the government has erected for military commissions. But, along with the constitution, the government seems to want to sweep this under the rug." said air force captain Michael Schwartz, a military defense lawyer who has worked on Guantánamo Bay for years.
However the complaint does not claim any increase in cancer levels among detainees who are imprisoned on a separate part of the 45-square-mile base. The current United States president Barack Obama has been trying to shut the base which currently has 115 detainees.
If evidence of health risks does emerge at Guantanamo, it would add to the list of problems that has slowed the trials. But it is extremely hard to establish the existence of a cancer cluster, which the complaint is accusing.
Without much information it would be difficult to determine whether the cancer rate at the base was abnormal, according to two doctors who were consulted about this case. They said that it would be unusual if all 7 cases among a group of 200 young people developed the same type of cancer. But it would be normal if 7 people in a group of 200 people developed different forms of cancer, particularly the members in the group were older.
According to a military official, the author of the complaint worked on military trials at Guantanamo Bay for several years and is still employed by the military.
Canadian media reported that 44 year old US navy lieutenant commander Bill Kuebler, a longtime defense lawyer for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, died of cancer on 17 July. Civilian lawyers who have worked at the base said they supported the call for an investigation.
"There appears to be a cancer cluster surrounding the military commissions at Guantanamo. And the Centers for Disease Control should be brought in to investigate the matter thoroughly," said J Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who has represented dozens of Guantanamo detainees.