Lawyers for the prisoner, an Iraqi with spine disease, say it has suddenly gotten worse and that the U.S. naval base cannot provide adequate care.
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Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi has been a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay since 2007. He has pleaded guilty to committing war crimes in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004.
The military has rushed a surgical team to Guantánamo Bay to potentially conduct emergency spine surgery on an Iraqi prisoner who has undergone several operations at the base in Cuba, according to lawyers familiar with the case.
Lawyers for the prisoner, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who is in his 60s, argue that the small base hospital may not be properly equipped for such a delicate surgery, and propose that he be medically evacuated.
Pentagon officials declined to comment on what lawyers describe as a sudden deterioration of the spine of Mr. Hadi, including claims in legal filings that the neurosurgeon who has handled his case is unable to conduct this latest surgery because he has Covid-19.
Nor would they confirm claims in the filings that a CT scanner needed for preoperative imaging is broken. The military had also been leasing a magnetic imaging device for a better look at the spine of Mr. Hadi, whose disc disease has progressed during his years in U.S. military custody — but earlier legal filings noted that the M.R.I. machine had been damaged during transport to Guantánamo Bay and needed to be replaced.
“Performing a surgery without adequate diagnostic testing and imaging is, simply put, malpractice,” the lawyers said in a two-page notice filed with Mr. Hadi’s military judge on Nov. 10.
It cast the Navy hospital at Guantánamo Bay as functioning “in substandard conditions” and said the prisoner would be better cared for at the Walter Reed military hospital outside Washington, D.C., or at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a U.S. military facility in Germany that treats battlefield evacuees. Guantánamo’s hospital is generally not equipped to handle complex cases and, with the exception of life-threatening emergencies, routinely airlifts patients to the United States for care.
By law, the 35 men held prisoner there are forbidden from entering the United States.
Mr. Hadi has pleaded guilty to committing war crimes in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 as a frontline commander of Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents in a deal that postponed his sentencing until 2024, allowing time for his lawyers and other U.S. officials find a country to offer him resettlement and provide him with health care.
There is little his judge, Air Force Lt. Col. Mark F. Rosenow, can do, aside from asking for regular briefings from the military on his care and condition. Judges at the war court have no authority to intervene in the functioning of the prison, other than suspending proceedings or dismissing charges as a remedy for government wrongdoing or passivity.
Lt. Col. Cesar H. Santiago, a Pentagon spokesman for Guantánamo policy, invoked “privacy considerations” and declined to confirm the lawyers’ accounts. Without specifying at what level, he said the Defense Department “is closely monitoring the situation.”
Mr. Hadi, who says his real name is Nashwan al-Tamir, suffers from degenerative spinal disease that was deemed acute in 2017 when guards discovered him incontinent in his cell. The Pentagon rushed a neurosurgical team to the base before the arrival of Hurricane Irma for the first of five spine-related surgeries in nine months — four on his spine and one to address a life-threatening blood clot that followed one of those operations.
Mr. Hadi now relies on a wheelchair and a walker inside the prison, and a padded geriatric chair for support in court. Guards also keep a hospital bed inside the courtroom where he has slept when heavy painkillers caused him to nod off.
Earlier this year, doctors recommended he undergo a fifth operation on his spine. In June, the chief medical officer evaluating detainee health care at Guantánamo, Capt. Corry Kucik of the Navy, testified that the base hospital facilities lacked adequate facilities and technology to reliably conduct the operation, and that some surgeons might not want to risk their license doing it.