Update note: This article has been expanded after publication to include additional information.
While millions of Americans wait anxiously for the chance to obtain the coronavirus vaccine, the Biden administration is preparing to provide the vaccine to terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay, according to new reports.
“The Pentagon will offer coronavirus vaccinations to inmates at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba by as soon as next week,” Fox News reported Thursday, citing defense officials with knowledge of the decision. “The 40 prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay military prison will be offered vaccines ‘on a voluntary basis’ because consent is required to administer a treatment that has yet to receive full FDA approval.”
According to The New York Times, the terror suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has boasted of masterminding the 9/11 attacks that killed roughly 3,000 Americans, will be vaccinated “possibly starting next week, according to a prosecutor in the case against five prisoners accused of conspiring in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” The Times added, “The prosecutor, Clayton G. Trivett Jr., wrote to defense lawyers on Thursday ‘that an official in the Pentagon has just signed a memo approving the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine to the detainee population in Guantánamo.’”
The Times noted, “Medical workers at the U.S. naval base began vaccinating the 6,000 residents on Jan. 8, including the 1,500 troops assigned to the detention operation. But the Trump administration had declined to say whether prisoners would be vaccinated.”
Just before his 2018 State of the Union address, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep Guantanamo Bay open. That order repealed part of a Barack Obama 2009 executive order calling for detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay to be closed. Trump wrote:
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and other authorities authorized the United States to detain certain persons who were a part of or substantially supported al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, or associated forces engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. Today, the United States remains engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces, including with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. …
Given that some of the current detainee population represent the most difficult and dangerous cases from among those historically detained at the facility, there is significant reason for concern regarding their reengagement in hostilities should they have the opportunity. … Section 3 of Executive Order 13492 of January 22, 2009 (Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities), ordering the closure of detention facilities at U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, is hereby revoked.
In his 2018 State of the Union address, Trump stated concerning his order on Guantánamo Bay:
Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil. When possible, we annihilate them. When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them. But we must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants. And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.
In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield – including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi. So today, I am keeping another promise. I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.
I am also asking the Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al-Qa’ida, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists – wherever we chase them down.
The list of the 40 detainees at Guantanamo Bay can be found here.