Guantánamo inmates are now receiving the COVID-19 vaccine

WASHINGTON (AP) – Inmates at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center can now start getting the COVID-19 vaccine, a senior defense official told The Associated Press Monday, months after a plan to inoculate them was sunk by the outrage that many Americans were not. be eligible to receive the recordings.

The new timing coincides with President Joe Biden’s deadline for states to make the vaccines more widely available in the US. Starting Monday, everyone 16 and older will be eligible to sign up and join a virtual queue to get vaccinated.

The defense official said all 40 men detained at the naval base in Cuba will receive the vaccination to meet legal requirements regarding the treatment of prisoners and to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading. Strict quarantine procedures had already severely curtailed activities at the base and halted legal proceedings for prisoners associated with war crimes, including the men charged in the September 11, 2001 attack.

“Obviously, we don’t want an outbreak of COVID on a remote island with the challenges it would pose,” the official said, on condition of anonymity, to discuss the effort ahead of an official announcement.

The January announcement that the military planned to offer the vaccine to prisoners sparked intense criticism, especially among Republicans in Congress, at a time when COVID-19 vaccines were just being rolled out to troops and civilians in Guantanamo and not widely available in the United States.

Several Republican members of Congress backed legislation that would have blocked Guantanamo inmates from receiving the vaccine until all Americans had a chance to receive it.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy criticized the decision on Twitter. “President Biden told us he would have a plan to beat the virus on Day 1,” the California Republican said on Jan. 30. “He never told us it would be more likely to give the vaccine to terrorists than most Americans.”

While the decision to vaccinate the inmates may still prove controversial, one important difference now is that the vaccine is now more widely available, both on the ground and across the US. Half of all adults in the country have received at least one dose of the injection. .

At Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, 56% of the total population of about 5,700 people, a mix of military personnel, contractors and dependents, has been vaccinated, and the shot is available to any adult who wants it, said Dawn Grimes, a public affairs officer. of the basic hospital.

About 1,500 people have been assigned to the working group that runs the detention center on the base. There are no known cases of COVID-19 among them, nor among the prisoners.

Medical personnel have already discussed the vaccine with the inmates. The military does not intend to disclose how many ultimately choose to accept it, the official said, citing medical privacy regulations.

At least some of the men held at the base may be skeptical about the vaccine given their treatment over the years by the U.S. government, but others are keen to get vaccinated and were disappointed when the first attempt was shelved, Ramzi said. Kassem. , a law professor at City University of New York who represents inmates.

“While the government has for years claimed in court that prisoners receive similar health care services to base soldiers, politicians have defeated the first vaccination attempt,” Kassem said. “I am relieved that reality is finally catching up with legal obligation in a small way.”

The Biden government announced in April that it could conduct a full review of the detention centre’s activities with the aim of eventually closing the facility, which opened in January 2002 to people suspected of having links to Al-Qaeda and the United States. Taliban after the September 11 attacks. .

At its peak in 2003, the naval base detention center on the southeastern tip of Cuba held nearly 680 prisoners and drew widespread condemnations for the treatment of the men held there, most of them without charge.

Closing it has proved challenging as the US has attempted to continue to hold and prosecute some inmates, but Congress has prevented the transfer of anyone held there to facilities in the country for any reason.

Those still held there include Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, who, along with four others, is being tried on charges of murder and terrorism in the September 11 attacks. The long-stalled case is still in its preliminary stages and no hearings have been held in over a year due to the pandemic.


This story has been corrected to show that in the US the vaccine is now available to everyone 16 and older, not 18 and older.