In a letter, a group of senators asked the Pentagon how the military is safeguarding troops and prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from an outbreak of Covid-19 given the base’s limited health care facilities
In a letter, they asked the Pentagon how the military is safeguarding troops and prisoners from an outbreak of Covid-19 given the base’s limited health care facilities
This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.WASHINGTON — A group of senators has written the defense secretary expressing concern about the potential for a “significant outbreak” of the coronavirus at the Pentagon prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, seeking answers to how the military is safeguarding the 40 prisoners there and the American forces responsible for them.
In the letter, circulated by Senator Elizabeth Warren and signed by 13 other Democrats and Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, the lawmakers cited “the lack of a comprehensive medical infrastructure” at the base, which sends all residents except the detainees to health care facilities in the United States for complex or protracted medical care.
The senators sent the letter to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on Wednesday as the Pentagon was delegating to military commanders around the world some authority to ease restrictions related to the virus, consistent with the Trump administration’s guidelines. They set a deadline of June 10 to provide details about available care and prevention procedures.
The Defense Department has acknowledged only two confirmed cases among Guantánamo Bay’s 6,000 residents, both of them U.S. service members who have recovered, and declined to say whether there were others. But some troop rotations have continued during the pandemic, with flights from Navy bases in Florida and Virginia taking new residents and family members. New arrivals must isolate themselves for two weeks before they can move about the base.
The Guantánamo Navy base has a small community hospital, which has been checking the temperatures of potential patients in a triage tent and sending some samples to the United States for testing.By law, the prisoners are forbidden from entering the United States for any reason — trial, medical care, detention. So the Pentagon has for years dispatched medical teams with sophisticated equipment to the base to carry out procedures and surgeries that the other residents receive elsewhere. Visiting surgeons have done spine operations, colonoscopies, amputations and rectal reconstruction. In one instance, the military brought in a team to conduct a cardiac catheterization, but the prisoner refused to consent to it.
In their letter, the senators describe the 40 men imprisoned at Guantánamo, whom the United States has detained for 12 to 18 years, as an “aging and chronically ill population, some of whom retain the mental and physical wounds of torture.”The prisoners range in age from their mid-30s to 72, and the military has for years been
planning for their end-of-life care. Some prisoners have recently told their lawyers that while some communal confinement continues, the guards have segregated more medically at-risk detainees, such as those with heart conditions and diabetes, from the younger prisoners.
The military has said it has declined to test any of the detainees for the virus because none of them meet the criteria from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has refused to disclose how many, if any, functioning ventilators there are on the outpost, which uses outside contractors to do maintenance and repair of some medical equipment.Read more: The New York Times »
Should have been closed years ago, inhuman
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