After a massive outcry, the Biden Defense Department paused plans to give the COVID-19 vaccine to about 40 Guantanamo Bay detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
While millions of Americans wait in line, The New York Times reported last week that Gitmo detainees and prisoners will be offered vaccines on a voluntary basis, beginning as early as Monday. But the Pentagon halted those plans Saturday in the face of heavy criticism for prioritizing terror suspects ahead of American citizens, according to CBS News.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pinned responsibility for the initial decision, which the Department of Defense confirmed Friday, on President Joe Biden.
“President Biden told us he would have a plan to defeat the virus on day 1. He just never told us that it would be to give the vaccine to terrorists before most Americans,” McCarthy tweeted.
President Biden told us he would have a plan to defeat the virus on day 1. He just never told us that it would be to give the vaccine to terrorists before most Americans.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) January 30, 2021
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., responded in a tweet to note that veterans are still awaiting vaccinations.
“Outrageous. The Biden Administration is giving vaccines to terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. What do they say to American seniors and veterans still waiting for theirs?” he tweeted.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., was even more harsh, calling the Biden administration’s decision “inexcusable [and] unAmerican.”
“It is inexcusable & unAmerican that President Biden is prioritizing vaccines for GITMO terrorist detainees over American veterans, 1st responders, 9/11 wrkrs, & seniors,” Stefanik tweeted. “Every American should have access to vaccines before these heinous terrorists.
Tom Von Essen, who served as NYC fire commissioner during the attacks, told the New York Post the plan was “f*cking nuts.”
“You can’t make this up. The ridiculousness of what we get from our government. They will run the vaccine down to those lowlifes at Guantanamo Bay before every resident of the United States of America gets it is the theater of the absurd,” Essen said.
Brian Sullivan, a retired Federal Aviation Administration special security agent was equally outraged.
“I’m incensed. It’s totally outrageous. I’m 75. I haven’t gotten my COVID vaccine. They’re going to give it Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?” he told the paper.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby announced Saturday afternoon that the Pentagon had reversed course, while selling the initial call as an effort to keep the troops safe — there are 6,000 residents at the U.S. naval base, including 1,500 soldiers assigned to the detention operation.
“No Guantanamo detainees have been vaccinated,” Kirby said. “We’re pausing the plan to move forward, as we review force protection protocols. We remain committed to our obligations to keep our troops safe.”
The vaccination plan was authorized after former President Donald Trump left office, as CBS News correspondent Catherine Herridge reported that a Jan. 27 memo signed by Terry Adirim, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs at the Department of Defense, gave the approval.
Adirim is a Biden administration appointee who has been serving as a senior health official at the Defense Department since July 2016.
Five 9/11 suspects still await trial at Gitmo, and a lack of vaccinations has reportedly been a major obstacle in delaying pretrial hearings. There have been no known cases of COVID-19 among the prisoners.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of January 30, the U.S. has administered 29.6 vaccinations, prioritizing seniors and those with chronic health conditions.
The COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available to the general population.
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