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'Many Suffered Serious Injury': Senate Holds Hearing On Cuba 'Sonic' Attacks

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MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) -- The mystery surrounding health problems affecting two dozen U.S. diplomats in Cuba was center stage in Washington Tuesday.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio chaired a hearing aimed at answering key questions in the investigation.

It's been more than a year after the diplomats came down with medical symptoms in Havana and the U.S. State Department has still not determined what caused them to get sick or whether or not the Cuban government is to blame.

During Tuesday's hearing, the public found out the State Department did not follow its own policies when it investigated these so-called attacks.

"The initial events occurred at diplomatic residences but later at hotels," said Senator Rubio.

Senator Rubio described what the State Department calls health attacks on American diplomats assigned to the  U.S Embassy in Cuba, starting in November of 2016.

"Among the descriptions, they complained of," said Senator Rubio, "a high pitch beam of sound, incapacitating sound, baffling sensation, akin to driving with windows partially open in a car, or just intense pressure in one ear."

Rubio pressed on matters relating the to extent of the diplomats' injuries.

"Is it fair to say at least one suffered serious injury," asked Senator Rubio.

"I would say many suffered serious injury," said Charles Rosenfarb, Medical Director of the Bureau of Medical Services.

Rubio fired back, "according to the law, in any case of serious injury related to a U.S. government mission abroad, the Secretary of State shall a convene an accountability review board."

"Of the individuals tested initially, 16 had mild brain injuries or a concussion," said Rosenfarb.

Assistant Secretary of State Francisco Palmieri said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has decided to set up an Accountability Review Board.

However, Palmieri admitted the attacks were classified as 'harassment' even early on. He described the initial State Department response.

"US Officials approached the Cuban government in mid-February to demand it meet its obligation under the Vienna convention to protect our personnel. The Cubans denied involvement, offered their cooperation, and opened their own investigation," testified Palmieri.

The Accountability Review Board is an internal State Department mechanism to review security incidents involving diplomatic personnel.

Senator Jeff Flake who attended Tuesday's hearing has said the FBI has found no evidence the Cuban government is responsible for the health issues but members of the committee seemed skeptical.

Senator Bob Menendez called the State Department's response beauracratic, inadequate and troubling but also took aim at Cuba.

"If senior Cuban officials did not directly order these attacks, they must've been aware or given tacit approval to foreign agents to operate in Cuba," said Senator Menendez.

Tuesday's hearing was not expected to resolve the mystery of what some have called 'sonic attacks.'

The diplomats affected found that if they left the rooms they were in, the symptoms and sounds immediately stopped, suggesting to them that they were being targeted by an incredibly precise device, possibly a sonic weapon.

Diplomats have been treated for concussion-like symptoms, including hearing loss, dizziness, balance problems, visual complaints, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping, US officials said.

Canadian diplomats and family members reported similar ailments.

While Cuban officials have vigorously denied any involvement in the incidents, President Donald Trump said in 2017 that the Cubans were "responsible" for the diplomats falling ill.

FBI agents have traveled to Havana to investigate the incidents but so far have not determined what caused the mystery illnesses.

Tuesday's hearing revealed U.S. officials have engaged with Cubans more than 20 times about the matter.

So far, 17 Cuban diplomats have been expelled from the U.S.

The State Department is now avoiding calling these "sonic attacks." They now refer to them as "health attacks" and one State Department official said nothing is being ruled out including the possibility these were some sort of viral attacks, but he offered no evidence to support that.

(©2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to this report.)


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