The State Department has confirmed that two additional U.S. diplomats have experienced health problems as a result of sonic attacks in Cuba, bringing the total number of diplomats impacted to 24.
State Department press secretary Heather Nauert on Friday released the revised number of diplomats harmed by the attacks, which she said is based on continued assessments of U.S. government personnel.
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The number of sonic attack victims in the State Department is sharply up from the six diplomats it originally said were impacted in mid-August, when news first broke about attacks that had occurred more than six months beforehand.
Nauert also repeated that the most recent attack occurred near the end of August.
She said the assessments are based on medical evaluations of personnel who were affected by incidents earlier this year and do not reflect new attacks.
"Our personnel are receiving comprehensive medical evaluations and care," she said. "We can't rule out additional new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community."
The U.S. government's investigation into the attacks in Cuba and who is responsible for them is ongoing, she said, and "we revise our assessments as we receive new information."
The Washington Free Beacon in mid-August first reported that the number of U.S. diplomats affected by attacks was far greater than the State Department has previously acknowledged. The State Department has continued to revise its numbers upward in the intervening two months.
Additionally, sources have told the Washington Free Beacon that diplomats started experiencing symptoms months earlier than the fall 2016 timeframe the State Department previously disclosed as the beginning date.
The timing of when the attacks began is especially important after a CBS News report quoting an anonymous victim of the attack charged senior embassy leadership and top State Department officials with having "ignored" for months complaints by U.S. diplomats who were suffering health problems.
That report raised new questions about the Obama administration's response to the attacks and whether they responded quickly enough to protect U.S. diplomats or the administration slow-walked a response in any way to protect its détente with Cuba.
The State Department has acknowledged that some victims have permanent hearing loss, while others have experienced memory and other cognitive problems, as well as dizziness and sleeplessness.
A State Department spokesperson has declined to provide the Free Beacon a detailed timeline. Instead, the spokesperson said the State Department "became aware of the incidents over a period of several months, stretching from the end of 2016 and into this year."
"It took time for those who experienced an incident to report it," the spokesperson continued. "It took time to realize that the experience had potentially impacted their health and then to verify that. It took further time yet to realize that multiple people had experienced things that might be connected. Once we realized that there was a pattern to the incidents and their impact on the health of our personnel, we began an aggressive investigation."
That U.S. government investigation has not uncovered who perpetrated the attacks nor the sonic device responsible.
President Trump this week said he holds Cuba responsible, but it was unclear from his remarks whether he believe they were directly to blame or could have and should have done more to guarantee U.S. diplomats' security.
Earlier this month, the State Department withdrew most of the U.S. diplomats from the embassy in Havana, and days later forced the Cubans to leave the United States in similar numbers.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) pushed for both moves. He urged President Trump on Friday to direct the United States to vote against any U.N. General Assembly resolution demanding a change to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, when it comes up for a vote as expected next month.
The U.N. General Assembly, at the behest of the Castro regime in Cuba, will likely vote next month on a resolution demanding the embargo's end, he wrote.
"While I recognize the U.N. General Assembly's vote would be only symbolic, it would send the wrong message to human rights defenders and pro-democracy dissidents in Cuba," Rubio wrote to Trump.
"Over the years, far too many Cubans who have sought to promote self-government, the impartial rule of law, and adherence to universal values on the island have suffered imprisonment, violence, torture, and other human rights violations under the Castro regime. Some have even lost their lives," he added.
Trump in June announced a partial rollback to President Obama's diplomatic and economic thaw with Cuba. Although he slammed the administration's "completely one-sided deal" with Cuba, Trump kept many of the Obama policies in place, while tightening others.
The new approach left many of Obama's looser travel and commercial policies in place with one major exception: eliminating the freer travel of individual Americans to the island.
U.S. visitors once again will be required to travel in groups with a set itinerary designed for educational, not strictly tourist, purposes. Travelers would be subject to Treasury Department scrutiny of their trip and could face fines if it did not comply with rules.
The group trips would require U.S. visitors to travel with a guide from an educational group—a requirement the Obama policy had lifted.
The U.S. visitors also will be prohibited form staying in any hotels doing business with the Cuban military, including the Four Points Sheraton, which Starwood took over from the military in a deal the Obama administration approved.
In announcing the withdrawal of U.S. embassy staff from Havana, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also issued a formal warning against Americans traveling to Cuba and the dangers it would pose.
Rubio said Trump's new Cuba policies, outlined in June, are aimed at advancing U.S. national security interests, protecting human rights and universal values, strengthening compliance with the U.S. trade embargo, and empowering "the Cuban people to develop greater economic independence and ultimately political liberty."
He said he hoped the new policy will help hasten "the day when the Cuban people have the opportunity to elect their own leaders and live under a government that truly represents them and respects their God-given, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."