Pentagon Pauses Guantánamo Bay Prisoner COVID-19 Vaccination Plan

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Andrew Jose Contributor
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The U.S. Department of Defense has paused its plan offering vaccinations to Guantánamo Bay detainees, an official said Saturday.

“No Guantanamo detainees have been vaccinated,” John Kirby, assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, announced Saturday. “We’re pausing the plan to move forward, as we review force protection protocols. We remain committed to our obligations to keep our troops safe.”

Terry Adirim, the principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, a Joe Biden appointee sworn in on Inauguration Day, signed an order Wednesday, Jan. 27, ensuring that COVID-19 vaccinations would be provided to all Guantánamo inmates. (RELATED: Prisoners At Guantánamo Bay Will Be Offered COVID-19 Vaccinations)

According to the order, the first dose of the vaccine was supposed to be offered to the 40 detainees on a voluntary basis as early as Monday. However, the Pentagon has paused this plan.

Public health experts and criminal justice advocates had argued that incarcerated people ought to be high on the vaccine priority list since many are detained in tight quarters, conditions that are ripe for a broad COVID-19 breakout, NBC News reported.

The 6,000 residents and 1,500 troops assigned to detention operations started receiving vaccinations on Jan. 8, with two positive cases of COVID-19 reported from the base.

The Pentagon in March 2020 had forbidden commanders from reporting additional coronavirus cases among their personnel, according to NBC News.

The move to vaccinate the inmates drew condemnation from 9/11 survivors and Republicans, Fox News reported.

“It is inexcusable and un-American that President Biden is choosing to prioritize vaccinations for convicted terrorists in Gitmo over vulnerable American seniors or veterans,” Republican New York Rep. Elise Stefanik said Saturday, according to Fox News.

“President Biden told us he would have a plan to defeat the virus on day 1,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted. “He just never told us that it would be to give the vaccine to terrorists before most Americans.”

The United States opened the Guantánamo detention center in Jan. 2002 to detain individuals connected to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Five men facing a trial by military commission for allegedly planning and helping with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind, are among the 40 inmates held within Gitmo’s walls, according to the Associated Press.

Amnesty International has criticized the Guantánamo Bay detention center as “a symbol of torture, rendition and indefinite detention without charge or trial,” alleging that the prison’s inmates face trial by ‘military commission’ with proceedings that fail to meet “fair trial standards.”