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Nov 19, 4:28 PM EST

US urged not to punish objecting Guantanamo nurse

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MIAMI (AP) -- A Navy nurse who refused to take part in the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, acted within his rights and should be spared from military punishment, the president of the American Nurses Association said in a letter released Wednesday.

ANA President Pamela Cipriano said in the letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that the nurse, a Navy lieutenant whose name has not been released, was expressing a legitimate ethical objection to the practice of administering liquid nutrients through a nasal-gastric tube to prisoners on hunger strike to protest their indefinite confinement.

"The ANA code of ethics for nurses clearly supports the ethical right of a professional nurse to make an independent judgment about whether he or she should participate in this or any other such activity," she said. "This right must be protected and exercised without concern for retaliation."

The military sent the nurse home early from his assignment at Guantanamo and he returned to his duty station at the Naval Health Clinic New England. His lawyer, Ron Meister, said a board of inquiry may be convened to consider whether he should be forced out of the service, possibly with the loss of his retirement and veteran benefits.

"What's at stake for our client is very, very substantial," he said.

The nurse was the first known member of the medical staff assigned to the detention center to refuse to take part in the feeding of prisoners on hunger strike.

Since early 2006, the U.S. has strapped down hunger striking prisoners who meet certain criteria and tube feed them in a procedure officials refer to as "enteral feeding." The military says the process is done by medical staff in a humane way with as little discomfort to the prisoner as possible but prisoners and their lawyers say it's painful and unnecessary and they should be allowed to refuse.

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