Guantánamo Bay Prison’s First Covid Outbreak Shrouded in Secrecy

At least four detainees who have not been charged with any crime contracted Covid-19 at the notorious maximum security prison base.

A demonstrator calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility holds a sign in front of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 2, 2022. - The Department of Defense announced on April 2, the repatriation of Sufiyan Barhoumi from Guantanamo Bay to Algeria . (Photo by Stefani Reynolds / AFP) (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
A demonstrator calling for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay military prison holds a sign in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 2, 2022. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

At least four detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay have been infected with Covid-19, detainees’ legal teams told The Intercept. It is the first outbreak of Covid within the maximum-security prison.

The outbreak occurred in Camp Six, a communal block built in 2006 that houses low-value detainees who have never been charged with any crime. Lawyers said the detainees are now living under tightened restrictions.

“We’re worried because there is no clarity about the conditions in which they’re living.”

“We’re worried because there is no clarity about the conditions in which they’re living,” said Mansoor Adayfi, a former detainee at the prison, speaking in his capacity as Guantánamo project coordinator for the London-based advocacy group CAGE. “Are they being treated? How bad is their infection? Have they been taken to the hospital? Nine brothers died at Guantanamo — two, I can tell you, died of medical negligence.”

The Covid outbreak was confirmed by two sources who spoke to The Intercept — one of whom requested anonymity in order to protect people held at the prison from retaliation — as well as a social media post from the sister of a detainee. According to one source, at least one detainee tested positive more than a week ago. (The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

“We were saddened by the news that a number of brothers in Guantánamo were infected with the coronavirus,” the sister of a detainee wrote on Facebook in Arabic.

Adayfi, the former detainee and author of the memoir “Don’t Forget Us Here,” described the camp where the outbreak happened: “Camp Six doesn’t have any windows, except for small slits of light near the high ceilings. You feel like you’re in a deep pit. It’s a building within a building.”

Built by a Halliburton subsidiary and initially used for solitary confinement, Camp Six is now used for communal living. Adayfi said once the communal areas are closed, the cells become isolated from each other and communication is only possible by shouting. “It feels like solitary confinement,” he said. “Camp Six is really terrible. Terrible.”

“I’m concerned not only because of the Covid, but in general,” said Beth Jacob, an attorney working with Guantánamo detainees, of the general health of her five clients in the prison. Two of the men she represents have fallen ill with Covid, she said.

Jacob said the history of brutality faced by Guantánamo detainees could contribute to poor health outcomes. “Their health is bad because of the conditions under which they’ve been held,” she said. “My guys both were held by the CIA, one for a year, one for two years. That was not gentle. It was a long time ago, but it’s still lasting physical damage.”


The Truth Never Mattered at Guantánamo

In 2002, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the prison camp at the U.S. base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was opened to hold suspected militants of the “war on terror.” Since then, nearly 800 men and boys have passed through the prison. It became notorious for torture and its extrajudicial detention and treatment of prisoners.

In recent years, the number of detainees dwindled as men — the vast majority of whom never faced charges — were repatriated, released to third countries, or died in detention. Today, 37 men remained imprisoned at the camp, 25 of whom are considered low-risk detainees, and 10 of whom are in active military commission cases.

While all the detainees at Guantánamo have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, how many doses they’ve now received is unknown.

Correction: June 21, 2022
This story has been updated to reflect that a Facebook post about the Covid outbreak in the Guantánamo Bay prison was written by the sister of a detainee who had not himself been diagnosed with the disease.

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