WASHINGTON (AP) — Most of the prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday, the U.S. military said a day after resuming an effort to inoculate them that was halted months earlier after criticism from Congress.
Thirty-two of the 40 prisoners held at the U.S. base in Cuba have received the first dose, Southern Command said in a brief statement. It provided no further details, including why the eight remaining men have not received the vaccine. The prisoners are not required to be vaccinated.
The announcement in January that the military intended to offer the vaccine to prisoners sparked intense criticism, particularly among Republicans in Congress, at a time when COVID-19 vaccines were just being rolled out to troops and civilians at Guantanamo and were not widely available in the United States.
The military resumed the vaccinations on Monday, the day that the vaccine became available to all Americans older than 16 in the U.S. and all adults at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, on the southeastern coast of Cuba.
A senior defense official told the AP earlier that vaccinations were being offered to comply with legal requirements regarding the treatment of prisoners and to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading to troops and others on the base. No cases of COVID-19 have been reported among the prisoners.
Strict quarantine procedures had already sharply curtailed activities at Guantanamo and halted legal proceedings for prisoners facing war crime trials, including the men charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack. The vaccination effort is expected to enable court hearings to eventually resume at the base.
The Biden administration announced in April that it would conduct a full review of detention center operations with the goal of eventually closing the facility, which opened in January 2002 to hold people suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks.
At its peak in 2003, the detention center held nearly 680 prisoners, and it drew widespread condemnation over the treatment of the men held there, most without charges.
Closing it has proved a challenge because the U.S. has sought to continue holding and prosecute some prisoners, but Congress has prevented the transfer of anyone held there to facilities inside the country.
Those still being held include Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, who, along with four others, faces trial on charges that include murder and terrorism over the Sept. 11 attacks. The long-stalled case remains in the pretrial stage, and no hearings have been held in more than a year because of the pandemic.