Four prisoners test positive as Covid-19 re-emerges at Guantánamo Bay



Earlier outbreaks at Guantánamo Bay have halted meetings and derailed plans for court hearings. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Four high-value prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have tested positive for the coronavirus, including one man who was moved to the base hospital for closer observation, according to people familiar with operations at the U.S. base in Cuba.

Members of the military medical staff detected the re-emergence of the virus on Tuesday night at the Camp 5 prison, which holds 14 men who were detained in C.I.A. prisons between 2002 and 2008.

By Friday, the “small number of detainees” who had tested positive were “experiencing minor symptoms and are improving,” said Lt. Col. Dustin W. Cammack, an Army spokesman.

Two of the prisoners who tested positive were identified by people with knowledge of the situation as defendants in death penalty cases: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of plotting the suicide bombing of the destroyer Cole in 2000, and Walid bin Attash, who is accused of conspiring in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The other two were Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who has pleaded guilty to commanding insurgent forces in wartime Afghanistan, and Guled Hassan Duran, a Somali prisoner who has been approved for release to a country other than his homeland, if one can be found.

None of the people who provided the figures and information about the outbreak agreed to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss detainee health care, and because of the classified nature of Camp 5.

On Friday, Dr. Andrew J. McDermott, the chief medical officer at the base hospital, 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 more screening or masking.

Why It Matters: Former C.I.A. prisoners at Guantánamo are the most at risk.

Former C.I.A. prisoners are among the most ill and most vulnerable of the 30 detainees remaining at the prison. Mr. Hadi is in his 60s, is disabled and has experienced episodes of incontinence and paralysis from a degenerative spine disease and six surgeries at Guantánamo since 2017. Doctors are discussing a seventh operation.

Last week, after Mr. Hadi was confirmed to have the virus, guards moved him to the community-style hospital that treats sailors, soldiers, civilian workers and families who live on base.

Earlier outbreaks have halted meetings and derailed plans for court hearings. On Wednesday, the prison canceled all morning meetings but permitted lawyers to meet with prisoners who did not test positive. Masks were mandatory.

Background: The military has been secretive about Covid-19 at the prison.
It is not known how many detainees are vaccinated. In 2021, the military said all but eight of the 40 detainees then at the base had accepted a vaccine, but it later stopped providing figures.

After the new cases were discovered, Col. Matthew J. Jemmott, the prison commander, required all participants in legal meetings to obtain a negative test on the base and to wear masks in the meetings. Less is known about how the detention operation manages the prison guards, who come and go throughout the year in rolling deployments of National Guard forces on nine-month tours of duty.

The prison recently reduced its overall staff to 900 troops and civilians, 30 government workers for each prisoner, according to Colonel Cammack.

What’s Next: Lawyers await word on summertime hearings.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have asked the military judge in Mr. Hadi’s case to cancel an Aug. 7 hearing to work out the details of his sentencing. It is the only hearing in a war crimes case at the base until mid-September.

Later in August, two other former C.I.A. prisoners will have their cases reviewed by the parole-style Periodic Review Board in Virginia. Those men, Mustafa Faraj Masud al-Jadid Mohammed of Libya and Muhammad Rahim of Afghanistan, can appear by video feed at the hearings from the war court chamber at Guantánamo Bay. Never charged with a crime, they have been held as indefinite detainees in the war on terrorism since they were brought to Guantánamo in 2006 and 2008.