U.S. Navy investigates report of cancer cluster at Guantanamo

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U.S. Navy Investigates Cancer Cluster Report at Guantanamo


The U.S. Navy is investigating a complaint that seeks the evacuation of civilian and military lawyers from parts of the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, following reports of cancer cases among personnel working on the trials of detainees there.

At least seven civilians and military members who worked on detainee trials at Guantanamo Bay have been diagnosed with cancer, according to the complaint, which was filed with the U.S. Defense Department's Office of the Inspector General. The complaint calls on American military officials to remove personnel from court facilities on the base and test them and the base itself for carcinogens.

The complaint claims that an unusually large number of relatively healthy and young people who worked at the base have been diagnosed with cancer. Over the past decade, roughly 200 prosecutors, defense lawyers and other court personnel have worked on the base.

The complaint says that the patients may have been exposed to carcinogens when they lived and worked in a location at Guantanamo that was formerly used to dispose of jet fuel, adjacent to an abandoned runway. The patients may also have been exposed to toxins such as asbestos in an older building that initially hosted military trials, according to the complaint.

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U.S. Navy investigates report of cancer cluster at Guantanamo
399575 09: A view of the U.S. Naval Base, where al Qaeda and Taliban fighters from Afghanistan will be detained, January 10, 2002 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. military has increased security at the Naval base in preparation for the Afghan prisoners. (Photo by Jorge Rey/Getty Images)
399884 01: U.S. Military Police guard Taliban and al Qaeda detainees in orange jumpsuits January 11, 2002 in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during in-processing to the temporary detention facility. The detainees will be given a basic physical exam by a doctor, to include a chest x-ray and blood samples drawn to assess their health, the military said. The U.S. Department of Defense released the photo January 18, 2002. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)
Dressed in bright orange coveralls, al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners wash before midday prayers at Camp X-Ray, where they are being held, at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 27 January 2002. US Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld visited the base Sunday. AFP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/POOL (Photo credit should read J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AFP/Getty Images)
402993 02: Tower guards watch over Camp X-Ray March 27, 2002 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Over 300 detainees are being held at the camp as work continues on a more permanent prison nearby. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
403018 10: Civilian construction crew members work on the fencing area around Camp Delta March 28, 2002 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Camp Delta is going to be a permanent detention facility for detainees from the war on terrorism, replacing the temporary Camp X-ray prison. Camp Delta is planned to be ready for use by April 12. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
General view shows Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, 11 September, 2002. There was no remembrance ceremony at Camp Delta at the US naval base on Guantanamo and US officers did their best to ensure the almost 600 suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members would not realize a year had passed since the terrorist attacks on the United States. AFP PHOTO Adalberto ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA - SEPTEMBER 10: A U.S. Armed Forces guard surveys the scene at Camp Delta September 10, 2002 on Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. As the anniversary of the September 11 attacks nears, 598 detainees remain housed at the facility. Most of the detainees, from 43 different countries, were captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere during the war on terrorism. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - DECEMBER 3: This image released by the U.S. Department of Defense shows the detainee hospital ward at Camp Delta on December 3, 2002 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nearly 600 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, captured during the war in Afghanistan, have been held prisoner at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay since January 2002. (Photo by DOD/Staff Sgt. Stephen Lewald/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - APRIL 7: Razor wire surrounds Camp Delta where detainees from the U.S. war in Afghanistan live April 7, 2004 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider whether the detainees can ask U.S. courts to review their cases. Approximately 600 prisoners from the U.S. war in Afghanistan remain in detention. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - APRIL 7: U.S. Army soldiers stand at the entrance to Camp Delta where detainees from the U.S. war in Afghanistan live April 7, 2004 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider whether the detainees can ask U.S. courts to review their cases. Approximately 600 prisoners from the U.S. war in Afghanistan remain in detention. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - APRIL 7: An interrogation room in Camp Delta for detainees from the U.S. war in Afghanistan is shown April 7, 2004 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider whether the detainees can ask U.S. courts to review their cases. Approximately 600 prisoners from the U.S. war in Afghanistan remain in detention. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - APRIL 7: An interrogation room in Camp Delta for detainees from the U.S. war in Afghanistan is shown April 7, 2004 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider whether the detainees can ask U.S. courts to review their cases. Approximately 600 prisoners from the U.S. war in Afghanistan remain in detention. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - DECEMBER 3: This image released by the U.S. Department of Defense shows the operating room at the detainee hospital at Camp Delta on December 3, 2002 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nearly 600 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, captured during the war in Afghanistan, have been held prisoner at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay since January 2002. (Photo by DOD/Staff Sgt. Stephen Lewald/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - DECEMBER 3: This image released by the U.S. Department of Defense shows the Camp Delta recreation and exercise area on December 3, 2002 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nearly 600 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, captured during the war in Afghanistan, have been held prisoner at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay since January 2002. (Photo by DOD/Staff Sgt. Stephen Lewald/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - APRIL 7: (NOTE: DUE TO US MILITARY RESTRICTIONS PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE DETAINEES COULD ONLY BE TAKEN FROM BELOW THE HEAD) Detainees from the U.S. war in Afghanistan stand near their cell blocks at Camp Delta April 7, 2004 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider whether the detainees can ask U.S. courts to review their cases. Approximately 600 prisoners from the U.S. war in Afghanistan remain in detention. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - APRIL 7: U.S. Military Police stand in a cell block in Camp Delta where detainees from the U.S. war in Afghanistan live April 7, 2004 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider whether the detainees can ask U.S. courts to review their cases. Approximately 600 prisoners from the U.S. war in Afghanistan remain in detention. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - APRIL 8: The fence line that separates the U.S. military base on the right and the Cuban mainland is shown April 8, 2004 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The base serves as a detention facility for prisoners captured in the war in Afghanistan. On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider whether the detainees can ask U.S. courts to review their cases. Approximately 600 prisoners from the U.S. war in Afghanistan remain in detention. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - AUGUST 25: A U.S. Army soldier closes the gate at maximum security prison Camp Delta at Guantanamo Naval Base August 25, 2004 in Guantanamo, Cuba. Preliminary hearings began yesterday for four suspected Al Qaeda associates, charged by the U.S. with war crimes, as they appear before a commission of 5 military officers. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - AUGUST 23: A uniform and other supplies that are given to detainees lie on a bed in a cell at Camp Delta at Guantanamo Naval Base August 23, 2004 in Guantanamo, Cuba. On August 24, preliminary hearings will begin for four suspected Al Qaeda associates charged by the U.S. with war crimes as they appear before a commission of five military officers. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - AUGUST 23: A U.S. Army soldier walks past detainees in a court yard at Camp Delta at Guantanamo Naval Base August 23, 2004 in Guantanamo, Cuba. On August 24, preliminary hearings will begin for four suspected Al Qaeda associates charged by the U.S. with war crimes as they appear before a commission of five military officers. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - MAY 09: (IMAGE REVIEWED BY U.S. MILITARY PRIOR TO TRANSMISSION) A member of the U.S. Military stands guard while two detainee's stands near their cell at Camp 4 inside of Camp Delta May 9, 2006 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Camp Delta was first occupied on April 28, 2002, when 300 detainees previously held at Camp X-Ray were transferred to Camp Delta. The rest of the detainees were moved on April 29. Camp X-Ray closed down on that same day. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - MAY 09: (IMAGE REVIEWED BY U.S. MILITARY PRIOR TO TRANSMISSION) Clothes and slippers and board games that are given to detainee's sit in a cell of the Camp 2 cell block at Camp Delta May 9, 2006 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Camp Delta was first occupied on April 28, 2002, when 300 detainees previously held at Camp X-Ray were transferred to Camp Delta. The rest of the detainees were moved on April 29. Camp X-Ray closed down on that same day. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - MAY 09: (IMAGE REVIEWED BY U.S. MILITARY PRIOR TO TRANSMISSION) A member of the U.S. Military stands by while two detainee's stand inside the fence line at Camp 4 inside of Camp Delta May 9, 2006 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Camp Delta was first occupied on April 28, 2002, when 300 detainees previously held at Camp X-Ray were transferred to Camp Delta. The rest of the detainees were moved on April 29. Camp X-Ray closed down on that same day. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Guantanamo Bay, CUBA: The sign on the fence at Camp V 05 December 2006 on the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Approximately 445 enemy combatants from al Qaeda and the Taliban are in various security levels of lock-up here by a US Joint Task Force. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo reviewed by US military officials, a US military guard stands watch as another does a 3-minute interval visual check of the single prisoner in each cell 26 June 2006 inside block A of the Camp 5 maximum security prison at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba. The Supreme Court this week is expected to rule on the legality of President Bush's decision to create U.S. military tribunals for the detainees at Guantanamo, the first such tribunals since World War II. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Brennan Linsley (Photo credit should read BRENNAN LINSLEY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo reviewed by US military officials, a cell for a noncompliant detainee is pictured inside the maximum security prison Camp 5 at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba. The Supreme Court this week is expected to rule on the legality of President Bush's decision to create U.S. military tribunals for the detainees at Guantanamo, the first such tribunals since World War II. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Brennan Linsley (Photo credit should read BRENNAN LINSLEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Guantanamo Bay, CUBA: In this photo reviewed by US military officials, an American flag waves in the front of the maximum security prison Camp 5 at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba. The Supreme Court this week is expected to rule on the legality of President Bush's decision to create U.S. military tribunals for the detainees at Guantanamo, the first such tribunals since World War II. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Brennan Linsley (Photo credit should read BRENNAN LINSLEY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo reviewed by US military officials, a detainee whose name, nationality, and facial identification are not permitted, holds onto a fence as a US military guard walks within the grounds of the maximum security prison of Camp 5 at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba, 26 June 2006. The Supreme Court this week is expected to rule on the legality of President Bush's decision to create US military tribunals for the detainees at Guantanamo, the first such tribunals since World War II. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Brennan Linsley (Photo credit should read BRENNAN LINSLEY/AFP/Getty Images)
The outer fence and guard tower at Camps 1 & 4 at Camp Delta at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 24 April 2007 mans his security station. US Militrary officials list about 385 current detainees of various threat levels and nationalities being held on the US base in Cuba captured in the US war on terror. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds a poster that calls for closing down the US-run prison in Guantanamo Bay during a protest organised by Amnesty International orgnaization outside the US embassy in Rome 11 January 2008, to mark the sixth anniversary of the US prison in Cuba. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA - JULY 23: In this image reviewed by the U.S. Military, a soccer ball sits inside an exercise area at the detention facility on July 23, 2008 at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, in Cuba. The military base is providing the location for the trial of Salim Hamdan, the former driver for Osama bin Laden, who is charged with conspiracy and aiding terrorism and is the first prisoner to face a U.S. war-crimes trial since World War II. (Randall Mikkelsen-Pool/Getty Images)
Activists of Amnesty International dressed as a Guantanamo bay prisoner protest on January 10, 2009 in Berne. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote a letter to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on January 9, 2009 protesting the 'inhumane and unlawful practice' of force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay prison. The prison was opened in January 2002 to hold alleged 'enemy combatants' captured by US and allied forces around the world during the so-called 'war on terror.' AFP PHOTO/ MICHELE LIMINA (Photo credit should read MICHELE LIMINA/AFP/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - DECEMBER 7: An image reviewed by the US military shows the sun rising over tent city in 'Camp Justice' on December 07, 2008 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, is set to appear Monday before a US military tribunal where he will face victims' kin for the first time. (Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA - JULY 23: In this image reviewed by the U.S. Military, the stars and stripes are visible through razor-wire fencing at the detention camp on July 23, 2008 at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, in Cuba. The military base is providing the location for the trial of Salim Hamdan, the former driver for Osama bin Laden, who is charged with conspiracy and aiding terrorism and is the first prisoner to face a U.S. war-crimes trial since World War II. (Randall Mikkelsen-Pool/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - JANUARY 18: (NOTE TO EDITORS: PHOTO HAS BEEN REVIEWED BY US MILITARY OFFICIALS) Signs mark off a restricted area at the U.S. Naval Base January 18, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President-elect Barack Obama has said he intends to close the offshore prison. (Photo by Brennan Linsley-Pool/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - OCTOBER 27: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by U.S. Military prior to transmission.) A detainee stands at an interior fence inside the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' on October 27, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Although U.S. President Barack Obama pledged in his first executive order last January to close the infamous prison within a year's time, the government has been struggling to try the accused terrorists and to transfer them out ahead of the deadline. Military officials at the prison point to improved living standards and state of the art medical treatment available to detainees, but the facility's international reputation remains tied to the 'enhanced interrogation techniques' such as waterboarding employed under the Bush administration. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - OCTOBER 27: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by U.S. Military prior to transmission.) A 'non-compliant' detainee is escorted by guards after showering inside the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' on October 27, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Although U.S. President Barack Obama pledged in his first executive order last January to close the infamous prison within a year's time, the government has been struggling to try the accused terrorists and to transfer them out ahead of the deadline. Military officials at the prison point to improved living standards and state of the art medical treatment available to detainees, but the facility's international reputation remains tied to 'enhanced interrogation techniques' such as waterboarding employed under the Bush administration. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - MARCH 30: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by U.S. Military prior to transmission.) A U.S. Army soldier patrols past a guard tower at Camp Delta in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to close the prison by early 2010 but has struggled to transfer, try or release the remaining detainees from the facility, located on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - MARCH 29: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by the U.S. Military prior to transmission.) A guard tower stands next to the waters of the Caribbean at Camp Delta in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 29, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to close the prison by early 2010, but the administration has struggled to transfer, try or release the remaining detainees from the facility, located on the U.S. Naval base on the Caribbean island. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 11: Activists wearing orange jumpsuits, as they dress as prisoners, hold up a sign during a protest against the detention center in Guantanamo Bay outside the White House January 11, 2011 in Washington, DC. The activists protested on the ninth anniversary of the opening of the prison in Guantanamo, that U.S. President Barack Obama promised during the campaign to close down. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - JUNE 25: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by the U.S. Military prior to transmission.) A sign reading, 'Office of Military Commissions Expeditionary Legal Complex Guantanamo Bay, Cuba' stands close to where pre-trial hearings are being held for the detainees at the military prison on June 25, 2013 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama has recently spoken again about closing the prison which has been used to hold prisoners from the invasion of Afghanistan and the war on terror since early 2002. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - JUNE 26: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by the U.S. Military prior to transmission.) The entrance to Camp VI is seen at the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' on June 26, 2013 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama has recently spoken again about closing the prison which has been used to hold prisoners from the invasion of Afghanistan and the war on terror since early 2002. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - JUNE 25: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by the U.S. Military prior to transmission.) Prison cells are viewed in camp 6 where prisoners are housed in a communal facility at the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' on June 25, 2013 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama has recently spoken again about closing the prison which has been used to hold prisoners from the invasion of Afghanistan and the war on terror since early 2002. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on August 9, 2013. AFP PHOTO/CHANTAL VALERY (Photo credit should read CHANTAL VALERY/AFP/Getty Images)
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"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

A spokesperson for the Defense Department Inspector General's office said the office could not confirm or deny any investigations or complaints.

"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," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Michael Schwartz, a military defense lawyer who has worked on Guantanamo Bay for years. "But, along with the Constitution, the government seems to want to sweep this under the rug."

The complaint doesn't allege an increase in cancer levels among detainees, who are imprisoned on a separate part of the 45-square-mile base. There are currently about 115 detainees at the base, which President Barack Obama has been trying for years to shut.

If evidence of health risks does emerge at Guantanamo, it would add to a litany of problems that has slowed the trials. But the existence of a cancer cluster, which is what the complaint is essentially alleging, can be extremely hard to establish.

Two doctors consulted by Reuters said it would be difficult to determine whether the cancer rate at the base was abnormal without much more detailed information. They said seven cases would be unusual among a group of 200 younger people, particularly if all of them developed the same type of cancer. But seven people in a group of 200 developing different forms of cancer could be normal, particularly if the group's members were older.

The author of the complaint worked on military trials at Guantanamo Bay for several years and is still employed by the U.S. military, according to another U.S. military official.

On Monday, Canadian media reported that U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, a longtime defense lawyer for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, died of cancer on July 17th. Kuebler was 44.

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," said J. Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has represented dozens of Guantanamo detainees. "And the Centers for Disease Control should be brought in to investigate the matter thoroughly."

(Edited by Michael Williams)

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