The Hippocratic Oath Dies in Gitmo

H. Candace Gorman

I have been representing Abdul Al-Ghizzawi, one of my Guantánamo clients, for two and a half years. The day I took on his case, I knew little about him other than he was seriously ill. My goal from that day forward has been to ascertain what is wrong with Al-Ghizzawi and get him the medical care he needs. 

The dungeon masters at Guantanamo moved Al-Ghizzawi to Camp 6, a supermax facility where prisoners are kept in isolation.

In the fall of 2006, Dr. Jürg Reichen, a respected liver specialist at the University of Bern in Switzerland, filed an affidavit in which he testified that, based on the symptoms described by Al-Ghizzawi and based on my own observations of Al-Ghizzawi, it seemed likely that he was suffering from hepatitis B and perhaps liver cancer. Reichen would have been able to make a more conclusive diagnosis with my client’s medical records, but the government has refused to turn them over. 

In response to Reichen’s affidavit, the government provided an affidavit from its medical director at the base, one Dr. Ronald Sollock. Sollock signed a sworn statement claiming that Al-Ghizzawi received a full medical screening upon his arrival in 2002 and had indeed tested positive for hepatitis. Moreover, he appeared to have contracted tuberculosis at some point in 2004. Despite these alarming diagnoses, Sollock insisted that my client was just fine” (as if TB and hepatitis indicated good health). 

Although Al-Ghizzawi signed a release allowing me to receive his medical records, Judge John D. Bates, a George W. Bush appointee in the U.S. District Court for D.C., refused to order the government to provide Al-Ghizzawi medical treatment, or me his medical records.

Bates found that I had not demonstrated that irreparable harm” would befall Al-Ghizzawi if the government did not provide the medical care or records. How Bates could expect me to demonstrate that my client would suffer irreparable harm without my first having access to those very records is beyond me. I queried whether I would have to wait for my client to die before the necessary irreparable harm” could be shown, but Bates refused to reconsider his Kafkaesque decision and I filed an appeal with the D.C. Circuit Court. Unfortunately for my client, that court has been too busy unraveling our Constitution and the appeal has sat untouched since late 2006.

At about the same time I filed the appeal, the dungeon masters at Guantánamo moved Al-Ghizzawi to the notorious Camp 6, a supermax facility where all of the prisoners are kept in severe isolation. The authorities had never considered my client to be a problem prisoner” so I could not understand this punitive move. When I questioned military officials, they told me they had placed him in Camp 6 because that was the facility now being used for the general population. The cruelty of putting this seriously ill man in solitary confinement seemed beyond the pale, even for this bunch. 

But now I wonder. I wonder about those tests that supposedly weren’t ready when Sollock signed his affidavit. Did those tests show something that the military did not want to acknowledge? And is that the real reason Al-Ghizzawi was moved to Camp 6?

On Jan. 14, 2008, I received a letter Al-Ghizzawi wrote on Dec. 25, 2007 (a week after my last visit). In his letter, Al-Ghizzawi stated:

One American doctor in the same Camp where I am detained has confirmed that I have AIDS, and that’s after my last visit to him during this current month (December) and has promised me he will do the necessary regarding these facts. Therefore, this will be my last witness on my infection with the sickness. Based on this, I would like you to ask the American government to provide some information on this case, and the reason they hid this truth all the time I am detained, and to also provide the necessary treatment.

So there you have it. We know from Sollock’s affidavit that Al-Ghizzawi arrived at Guantánamo HIV-free in June 2002 and we know from Al-Ghizzawi that his health started to deteriorate in 2004. Upon learning of this AIDS diagnosis, I sent an e-mail to the government attorney asking if he would confirm or deny that Al-Ghizzawi has AIDS. Instead of answering my simple question, the attorney sent this unresponsive statement: 

We are not privy to the particulars of what your client may have been told by his doctor, if anything, but Guantánamo provides high-quality medical care to all detainees.

I have a long list of individuals that should be tried as war criminals. Sollock has now leapfrogged to the top of that list, followed closely by certain attorneys. 

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H. Candace Gorman is a civil rights attorney in Chicago. She blogs regularly about legal issues surrounding Guantanamo detainees at The Guantanamo Blog.
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