COVID-19 Outbreak at Guantánamo Bay

COVID-19 Outbreak at Guantánamo Bay

Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Dustin W. Cammack said that four prisoners diagnosed with COVID-19 are “experiencing minor symptoms and are improving.”

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.

Former C.I.A. prisoners are among the most ill and most vulnerable of the 30 detainees remaining at the prison. For example, 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.

Guantánamo Bay and the Global War on Terror

Former President George W. Bush initially used the phrase “global war on terror” in 2001 and stopped using it, at least for the most part, in 2007. Many people point out that this multifaceted campaign has made America safer. There hasn’t been another 9-11 in the United States since 9-11, and only a few plotters have even come close. Others feel that the cure, which included drone warfare, surveillance, torture, and extraordinary rendition, is worse than the disease. 

Furthermore, the timeline is controversial. Many observers state that the GWT, or whatever one wishes to call it, began in 2001 with 9-11 and ended in 2021 with the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. But former Vice President Mike Pence called the 1983 Beirut bombing “the opening salvo in a war that we have waged ever since—the global war on terror.” And, with GWT conflicts still raging in central and west Africa and elsewhere in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, it is hard to say this conflict is over.

Similarly, no one denies that the CIA used Guantánamo Bay as a black ops prison. The facility first made headlines in 2006 when three detainees committed suicide. Their desperate plight prompted officials and media reporters to take a closer look at the roughly 500 prisoners then housed at Camp Delta, Camp Echo, Camp Iguana, and the now-closed Camp X-Ray. At roughly the same time, the Supreme Court ruled that these individuals “have been imprisoned in the territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control,” the Bill of Rights, including the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause, applied.

President Barack Obama made several halfhearted attempts to close the Guantánamo Bay prisons. But in 2011, he quietly signed an executive order permitting indefinite detention of Guantánamo detainees. Congress added an obscure provision to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 which transformed the executive order into a federal law.

Guantánamo Bay Today

It now appears that Guantánamo Bay’s prisons might close on their own. As of May 2023, about two dozen inmates remain imprisoned there, many of whom are scheduled for release.

The CIA jails might close, but Guantánamo Bay will remain an American possession for the foreseeable future. A 1903 lease has no fixed expiration date. The Navy could abandon the area, or both countries could mutually agree to terminate the lease. Neither outcome seems likely.

Over 10,000 Americans, about 40% of whom are military contractors, live and work at Guantánamo Bay. Major contractors include KBR, Schuyler Line Navigation Company (SLNC), Satellite Communication Systems Incorporated, and Centerra. 

Most of these contractors maintain and expand the base’s physical facilities. Military facilities in remote locations require constant updating. Leeward Point Field and McCalla Field, the base’s two primary airfields, were built in 1943 and 1931. The short runways and small hangars cannot possibly accommodate modern aircraft. 

Construction has an intangible value as well. Most other physical facilities, including barracks, date back to the Cold War at the latest. Being deployed to Guantánamo Bay is bad enough for morale. Staying in a forty-year-old bedroom and eating in a sixty-year-old mess hall makes a bad situation worse.

Furthermore, pretty much every person or item that comes to or leaves Guantánamo Bay is aboard a ship. Loading and unloading cargo ships may be the most physically stressful work that a contractor, or anyone else, does.

Injury Compensation Available

The first airplanes landed at Leeward Point Field just two years after Congress passed the Defense Base Act. This 1941 law compensates contractors who were injured overseas. However, the DBA insurance company usually does not immediately write a check.

The injury compensation process begins when injured contractors report their injuries to their supervisors. Strict time deadlines apply in fall and other sudden trauma injury claims. Slightly different rules apply in gradual onset occupational disease claims, such as repetitive stress disorder. The claims deadline clock starts ticking when victims know the full extent of their injuries and connect those injuries with their work environments.

Pre-existing conditions often increase the risk or severity of a trauma injury or occupational disease. Insurance companies cannot use a victim’s vulnerabilities as an excuse to reduce or deny compensation.

Shortly after victims file their claims, a mediator presides over a settlement conference. Almost no evidence, other than a few medical records, is available at this time. Therefore, if victims settle their claims at this point, it is very hard to tell if that settlement is fair.

The environment is much different at a trial-like hearing before an administrative law judge. ALJs permit attorneys to make legal arguments, challenge evidence, and introduce evidence. Many DBA injury claims settle between the mediation conference and the ALJ hearing date. ALJ hearings, like civil trials, are risky for both parties, so both sides are motivated to resolve the claim.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.