Four high-value prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have tested positive for the coronavirus, including a man who was transferred to the base hospital for closer observation, according to people familiar with operations at the US base in Cuba.
Military medical personnel detected the resurgence of the virus Tuesday night at the Camp 5 prison, which holds 14 men held in CIA prisons between 2002 and 2008.
On Friday, the « small number of inmates » who had tested positive « were having minor symptoms and were getting better, » said Lt. Col. Dustin W. Cammack, an Army spokesman.
Two of the prisoners who tested positive were identified by knowledgeable persons as defendants in death penalty cases: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of plotting the suicide bombing of the destroyer Cole in 2000, and Walid bin Attash, accused of conspiring in the September 11, 2001 attacks. Third was Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who pleaded guilty to commanding rebel forces in wartime Afghanistan. The identity of the fourth detainee was not immediately known.
None of the people who provided the figures and information on the outbreak agreed to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the health care of the detainees and because of the classified nature of Camp 5.
On Friday, Dr. Andrew J. McDermott, the base hospital’s chief medical officer, confirmed « a slight increase » in Covid-19 cases at the base of about 6,000 residents. He described them as « overall low numbers » that did not merit further screening or masking.
Why it matters: Former CIA prisoners at Guantánamo are most at risk.
The former CIA prisoners are among the sickest and most vulnerable of the 30 remaining inmates in the prison. Mr. Hadi is 60 years old, disabled and has suffered episodes of incontinence and paralysis due to degenerative spine disease and six surgeries at Guantánamo since 2017. Doctors are discussing a seventh operation.
Last week, after Hadi was confirmed to have the virus, guards transferred him to the community-style hospital that treats sailors, soldiers, civilian workers and families living on the base.
Earlier outbreaks disrupted meetings and derailed plans for court hearings. The prison on Wednesday canceled all morning meetings but allowed lawyers to meet with inmates who have not tested positive. Masks were mandatory.
Context: The military has been secretive about Covid-19 in the prison.
It is not known how many inmates are vaccinated. In 2021, the military said all but eight of the 40 inmates then at the base had accepted a vaccine, but they later stopped giving figures.
After the new cases were discovered, Colonel Matthew J. Jemmott, the prison commandant, required of all participants in legal meetings getting a negative test on the base and wearing masks in meetings. Less is known about how the detention operation handles prison guards, who come and go throughout the year in continuous deployments of National Guard forces on nine-month shifts.
The prison recently reduced its combined staff to 900 soldiers and civilians, 30 government employees for every prisoner, according to Colonel Cammack.
What’s Next: Lawyers await news of the summer hearings.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have asked the military judge in Mr Hadi’s case to cancel an August 7 hearing to work out the details of his sentencing. It’s the only hearing in a war crimes case at the base until mid-September.
Later in August, two more former CIA prisoners will have their cases reviewed by the Periodic Review Board in Virginia. Those men, Mustafa Faraj Masud al-Jadid Mohammed of Libya and Muhammad Rahim of Afghanistan, can appear via video feed at the hearings from the Guantánamo Bay war tribunal chamber. Never charged with a crime, they have been held indefinitely in the war on terror since being taken to Guantánamo in 2006 and 2008.