News Briefs – March 20, 2020

U.S. naval officer sues over military transgender ban

A U.S. naval officer who is facing involuntary discharge because of a policy restricting transgender people from military service has filed a lawsuit that aims to force defense officials to allow her to continue serving.
The federal lawsuit, filed March 17, is the first legal challenge to the policy since rules went into effect in April 2019 stripping transgender troops of rights they secured under the Obama administration to serve openly and to have their medical transitions covered in their health benefits, lawyers said.
The officer, a transgender woman stationed in Massachusetts, is seeking to transition and serve in the Navy as a woman, the lawsuit says.
“This is a moment when we need all hands on deck, and there is absolutely no justification for discharging somebody who is continuing to meet all standards and wants to continue to serve,” said Jennifer Levi, transgender rights director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders.
A Department of Defense spokeswoman said it is aware of the lawsuit and is reviewing the filings.
Under the new policy, people who have undergone gender transition are banned from enlisting, and military members who come out as transgender and seek a transition face discharge. Service members must serve under the gender they were assigned at birth unless they began a transition under less restrictive Obama administration rules.
Four other lawsuits seeking to overturn the policy are pending in court and are expected to go to trial, but the Supreme Court last year ruled that the ban could go into effect while the cases continued.
The latest lawsuit only seeks relief for the officer, who is not named in legal documents to “minimize risk to her,” her lawyers said.
The officer has served for nearly a decade, including two extended tours as a surface warfare officer, according to her complaint. She was diagnosed with gender dysphoria two months after the policy went into effect in April 2019 and told her commanding officer she is transgender shortly after, her lawyers said.
“Lieutenant Doe is now subject to discharge for being who she is, unrelated to her fitness to serve in the military,” the lawsuit says. AP

U.S. pauses Afghanistan deployments, isolates arrivals there

The U.S. military is pausing the movement of any new troops into Afghanistan and is quarantining 1,500 troops and civilians who recently arrived to avoid any possible spread of the coronavirus, the top commander in the country said Thursday.
Troops who are already in the country may have their deployments extended so missions can continue.
The announcement comes as the United States is reducing its troop presence in Afghanistan as part of the peace deal signed last month between the U.S. and the Taliban.
In a tweet, Army Gen. Scott Miller said the military has started new screening procedures for personnel arriving in the country. About 1,500 service members, civilians and contractors who have gone to Afghanistan from various countries in the past week are living in screening facilities.
Miller said most are either new deployments or people returning from leave and they are being quarantined “out of an abundance of caution, not because they are sick.” He added that the U.S.-led coalition is also limiting access to critical personnel and bases.
So far, 21 U.S. and coalition personnel exhibiting flu-like symptoms are in isolation and receiving medical care. None has tested positive for the coronavirus.
There are more than 12,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but that number is supposed to gradually drop to about 8,600 over the next few months as part of the peace deal.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In Afghanistan, 22 people have been diagnosed with the virus but no deaths have been reported. AP

Iran furloughs imprisoned U.S. Navy vet amid virus concerns

Iran has granted a medical furlough to a U.S. Navy veteran who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than a year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced March 19.
Michael White of Imperial Beach, Calif., is now in the custody of the Swiss Embassy and must remain in Iran as a condition of his furlough, which was granted as Iran works to curb the spread of coronavirus. The U.S. government will seek his full release, Pompeo said, and he called on Iran to free other Americans who remain jailed there.
A spokesman for the White family said the family was grateful to the Iranian government for an “interim humanitarian step.”
“We continue to urge them to release Michael unconditionally so that he can return to the United States to receive the advanced medical care he needs,” spokesman Jon Franks said.
White, who had been imprisoned since July 2018, was visiting a girlfriend in Iran when he was detained. White was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, though the State Department said he was serving a 13-year sentence.
Iran has granted temporary release to tens of thousands of prisoners in recent weeks to try to contain a virus that officials fear could kill millions in the country.
In an interview with The Associated Press this month, White’s mother called on Iran to immediate release her son, saying she was especially concerned for his well-being because he has been battling cancer.
Iran this week issued its most dire warning about the outbreak, saying millions could die in the Islamic Republic if people keep traveling and ignore health guidance. Roughly 9 out of 10 of the 18,000-plus confirmed cases of the virus in the Middle East come from Iran.
Before the March 20 announcement, Iran had released 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British dual national long held on internationally criticized charges. AP

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