The Pentagon on Saturday announced that it was “pausing” a plan to give COVID-19 vaccinations at Guantanamo Bay — after accusations from Republicans and 9/11 survivors that it was prioritizing terror suspects over Americans.
“No Guantanamo detainees have been vaccinated,” Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby tweeted. “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.”
Two defense officials had confirmed to Fox News the plan to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to the 40 detainees at the detention site near Cuba. A lack of vaccinations had reportedly made it difficult for federal prosecutors to move forward with war crimes hearings at the base.
The order was signed on Jan. 27 by Terry Adirim, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs who was sworn in as a Biden appointee on Inauguration Day, a Pentagon spokesman told the New York Post.
“It will be administered on a voluntary basis and in accordance with the Department’s priority distribution plan,” a spokesman told the outlet.
Detainees at the base include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or KSM, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. It’s unclear how many Guantanamo inmates, if any, have been infected with COVID-19 to date. Vaccinations for medical workers and some troops stationed at the base began on Jan. 8.
But the move sparked fierce pushback from Republicans and 9/11 survivors.
“It is inexcusable and un-American that President Biden is choosing to prioritize vaccinations for convicted terrorists in Gitmo over vulnerable American seniors or veterans,” Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, said Saturday.
“President Biden told us he would have a plan to defeat the virus on day 1,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted. “He just never told us that it would be to give the vaccine to terrorists before most Americans.”
“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,” Tom Von Essen, who was city fire commissioner during 9/11, told the Post.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and Thomas Barrabi contributed to this report.