The Pentagon has paused a plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines to prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba after the move was heavily criticized by Republican representatives and 9/11 survivors.
“No Guantanamo detainees have been vaccinated. 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,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby wrote on Twitter on Jan. 30.
No Guantanamo detainees have been vaccinated. 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.
— John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) January 30, 2021
Republican lawmakers took aim at reports that the Pentagon was to offer COVID-19 vaccines to the 40 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, while millions of vulnerable Americans wait in line for their turn to get inoculated. Those detained at Guantanamo Bay include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, which killed 2,977 Americans.
There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 among the detention center prisoners. Early in the pandemic, the U.S. military stopped reporting cases at individual bases for security reasons.
The move sparked anger among Republican lawmakers, with some accusing President Joe Biden of putting the needs of accused terrorists ahead of law-abiding Americans.
“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,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said in a tweet on Jan. 30.
“Outrageous. The Biden Administration is giving vaccines to terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. What do they say to American seniors and veterans still waiting for theirs?” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) wrote in a Jan. 30 tweet.
“Nothing says #unity like letting the 9/11 mastermind & Gitmo detainees skip in front of millions of Americans for the COVID #vaccine,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), in a tweet.
The U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo began inoculating its 6,000 residents earlier this month, although detainees weren’t believed to have been included.
Biden has made ramping up vaccinations a priority, announcing a plan to inoculate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office.
The move to include the detainees in the vaccination rollout also sparked outrage from New Yorkers who witnessed the 2001 collapse of the World Trade Center firsthand and helped respond to the fallout.
“You can’t make this up. The ridiculousness of what we get from our government. They will run the vaccine down to those lowlifes at Guantanamo Bay before every resident of the United States of America gets it is the theater of the absurd,” said Tom Von Essen, who was city fire commissioner during 9/11 and whose department lost 343 firefighters that day, according to The New York Post.