The Coronavirus and Guantánamo’s Extraordinarily Vulnerable Prison Population

A collage of Guantánamo and the coronavirus.

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Ever since the coronavirus began its alarming global spread, those who work with, and on behalf of prisoners have been aware of the threat that it poses to those who are incarcerated. This applies, as commentators have noted, whilst urging urgent action, to the many million of prisoners worldwide who are imprisoned after being tried and convicted of crimes, as well as, in some countries, political prisoners.

In the UK, lawyers urged the government, to no avail, to release Julian Assange, who is held in Belmarsh maximum security prison in London, fighting efforts by the British government to extradite him to the US to face entirely inappropriate espionage charges relating to his work with WikiLeaks, and in the US, as well as highlighting the dangers faced by the country’s 2.2 million domestic prisoners — the largest prison population per capita in the world — some activists have also been highlighting the dangers the virus poses to the 40 men still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, all held for between 12 and 18 years, and almost all held indefinitely without charge or trial.

The plight of the Guantánamo prisoners was particularly highlighted eight days ago, on March 24, when the US Navy announced in a press release that a sailor stationed at the base had “tested positive for COVID-19” and was “currently undergoing evaluation and treatment.” The Navy’s press release added that the Department of Defense had “notified public health authorities of the positive test” and had “taken prudent precautions” to ensure that the service member was “receiving the appropriate care.” It was also noted that the sailor was “currently isolated at their home and restricted in movement in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines,” and that efforts were underway to trace recent contacts made by the sailor.

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Deprivation and Despair: New Report Details Crisis of Medical Care at Guantánamo

The cover of ‘Deprivation and Despair: The Crisis of Medical Care at Guantánamo,’ a new report by the the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

Many thanks to the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) for their new report, Deprivation and Despair: The Crisis of Medical Care at Guantánamo.

As CVT state in their introduction to the report on their website, “the experiences of detainees and independent civilian medical experts with medical care at the Guantánamo Bay detention center not only broadly refute the claim that detainees receive care equivalent to that of U.S. service members, but also evidence specific violations of the Nelson Mandela Rules, the universally recognized UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, which the United States has championed.”

In the introduction to the report itself, CVT and PHR provide a summary of Guantánamo now, “in its eighteenth year”, explaining, “Forty Muslim men still languish there, 31 of whom have never been charged with a crime. Five detainees have long been cleared for transfer by consensus of the Executive Branch’s national security apparatus, which determined that the men pose no meaningful threat, if any at all, to the United States. Many of the remaining detainees are torture survivors or victims of similarly significant trauma. All of them are either suffering from or at high risk of the additional profound physical and psychological harm associated with prolonged indefinite detention, a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. As the men age under these conditions, they are increasingly presenting with complex medical needs.”

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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