Iraqi Detainee Reported Suffering Paralysis at Guantánamo

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — A Marine Corps judge has ordered the medical staff at the wartime prison to submit an emergency report Friday on an Iraqi prisoner who according to his lawyer suddenly suffered paralysis and lost the ability to walk.

The prisoner, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraq, 60, was discovered to have lost all feeling in his legs Wednesday evening.

He has degenerative disc disease, and is among the most physically disabled of the 39 detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He has undergone a series of spine surgeries in recent years by Navy medical teams who were airlifted to the remote base.

“He no longer has use of his legs,” his lawyer, Susan Hensler, said on Friday. “He cannot walk even with a walker.”

Mr. Hadi, who says his true name is Nashwan al Tamir, is accused of commanding Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan that committed war crimes against U.S. and allied forces around 2002-2004. He could be imprisoned for life if he is convicted.

He was captured in Turkey in 2006 and held by the Central Intelligence Agency as a “high-value detainee,” then was transferred to U.S. military custody at Guantánamo Bay the next year.

Even before his capture, according to his lawyers, he had been diagnosed with spine problems and signs of degenerative disc disease. His condition became acute in 2017 when guards discovered him incontinent in his cell. The Pentagon scrambled a neurosurgical team to the base ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma for the first of five spine surgeries in nine months.

Mr. Hadi now relies on a wheelchair and 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.

Mr. Hadi’s case has highlighted the challenges for the Defense Department of managing aging detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

While U.S. troops and other residents of the base are routinely sent to military health care facilities in the United States, the Pentagon has had to bring experts and sophisticated medical equipment to Guantánamo for the prisoners because the law forbids their transfer to the United States for any reason — not trial or imprisonment or emergency health care.

The United States is obliged to provide adequate health care to war captives under the Geneva Conventions. Prison commanders have also for years boasted that the care the Guantánamo detainees receive is equal to that it provides U.S. service members, and at times more immediately available because medics are on duty at cellblocks around the clock.

Defense lawyers said, however, in an emergency filing on Thursday that Mr. Hadi was notified that “specialist treatment was not available for several weeks.”

Lt. Col. Michael D. Zimmerman, the Marine judge in Mr. Hadi’s case, noted in ordering a report on Friday that a routine health update filed with the court on last week listed “no significant change in the accused’s medical status.” Military judges have been mostly reluctant to involve themselves in disputes over detainee medical care, with the exception of issues that interfere with the ability of a prisoner to work with lawyers.

U.S. military spokesmen assigned to the prison and U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Miami had no immediate comment on Mr. Hadi’s condition, including whether the pandemic had complicated efforts to care for him. Most detainees have been vaccinated. There have been no known cases of personnel or prisoners becoming infected at the prison.

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