U.S. to Begin Offering Vaccines to Detainees at Guantánamo Bay

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On Jan. 14, a week before President Biden’s inauguration, the Pentagon’s principal deputy general counsel at the time, William S. Castle, recommended that medical professionals be authorized to offer vaccinations to the detainees. He noted that the Pentagon “has repeatedly asserted in litigation that detainees receive health care comparable to that which is afforded active duty service members on the island, and that the level and type of treatment are dependent on, and consistent with, the accepted medical standard of care.”

The U.S. military base at Guantánamo has about 5,500 residents, including about 250 school-aged children, and a foreign work force of about 2,200 Jamaican and Filipino laborers who work under Pentagon contracts. The children are too young to be offered the vaccinations, but the foreign workers have been offered them.

As of April 1, according to health officials at the base, all but about 400 adults were entitled to vaccines, and about 47 percent of those eligible had not taken a single dose. Health officials there would not or could quantify how many of those people had affirmatively refused to obtain a shot, which were being offered at a base ballroom that before the pandemic had served as a bingo parlor.

It is also not known how many people have been found to be infected with the coronavirus at the base, which is separated from Cuba proper by a minefield. The military acknowledged two cases in the first month, both of service members who recovered, but then imposed a blackout on specific disclosures.

The military has managed to prevent a major outbreak there by requiring people arriving from the United States to quarantine for 14 days.

No hearings have been held at the war court in more than a year, and nearly none of the defense lawyers have traveled there to meet with the detainees because of the pandemic. The International Red Cross canceled a series of visits for the protection of the unvaccinated detainees, as well.

Those few lawyers who have traveled there and undergone the two-week quarantine reported that they then met their clients in conditions that they said made communication virtually impossible. The detainees and visitors were kept many feet apart, separated by plexiglass barriers and issued protective wear that left only their eyes exposed. They spoke through masks and found it difficult to hear.

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