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Guantanamo detainees eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

Guantanamo detainees eligible for COVID-19 vaccine
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Detainees at the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, the military command in charge of the base confirmed.

“The mission of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay (JTF-GTMO) is to provide safe, legal and humane care to, and custody of, the detainee population,” a U.S. Southern Command spokesperson said in a statement. “Vaccines have been made available to all detainees who volunteer to receive them after being informed and educated about the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Every adult on the base is also now eligible for the vaccine, the spokesperson said, adding that “force health protection is, and will always remain, a top priority for U.S. Southern Command” and that making detainees eligible is “increasing the safety of the entire population.”

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommends both guards and detainees to be vaccinated to maximize protection against COVID-19,” the spokesperson said. 

The move comes as the Pentagon makes all adult Defense Department beneficiaries eligible for the vaccine, in line with President BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE’s direction that all U.S. adults should be eligible by Monday.

The eligibility of Guantanamo detainees was first reported by The New York Times.

The Pentagon had originally planned to make Guantanamo detainees eligible for the vaccine in January under a proposal developed by Southern Command during the Trump administration.

But after fierce pushback from Republicans who sought to cast Biden as making vaccines available to suspected terrorists ahead of Americans, the Biden administration reversed plans to offer the vaccine to detainees at that time.

Forty detainees remain at Guantanamo, six of whom have been cleared for transfer. Seven others have been charged by military commissions, including the five 9/11 suspects, and two others have been convicted.

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It’s unclear how many people at the remote island base in Cuba have gotten COVID-19. The base announced two cases among service members at the beginning of the pandemic, but the U.S. military later stopped disclosing the number of cases at specific bases.

But the pandemic has caused further delays to cases in the military commissions that were already beset by years of delays. No hearing has been held in the war court for more than a year, and the next hearing is not scheduled until the end of August when three suspects in the  2002 nightclub bombings in Bali and 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta are set to be arraigned.

The Biden administration is in the midst of reviewing the detention facility with the goal of shuttering it.