This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has canceled its coming quarterly visit to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, citing the perils of travel during the pandemic, making for its longest absence from the prison since it opened in January 2002.
The humanitarian organization, based in Geneva, last visited the 40 wartime detainees in early March. A delegation typically includes a medical officer and delivers mail, relays messages from families and raises concerns with the American military through confidential conversations.
But Elizabeth Gorman Shaw, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Washington, said on Friday that it had “made the difficult choice of canceling its second quarterly visit of the year due to increased risks of Covid-19.”
“The record-high infection rate, coupled with international air travel risk and logistical constraints, were major concerns that led the I.C.R.C. to make this decision,” she added.
The Navy base of 6,000 residents reported two cases of the virus, in March and April, then imposed a blackout on disclosures. It has no instant testing for the coronavirus and sends samples to the mainland, at the discretion of medical staff at the base’s 12-bed hospital.
The Navy captain in charge of the base requires that arrivals be quarantined for 14 days to determine if they become symptomatic. Red Cross delegates had initially intended to travel there this month, for what would have been the 135th visit to the prisoners since 2002.
The cancellation comes at a time of particular isolation at Guantánamo. No lawyer has been to the base since February although some have spoken with the prisoners by telephone.
The lawyer for one long-held Yemeni prisoner said Friday that she was disappointed by the decision and concerned that her client, Sharqawi al-Hajj, 46, had not had access to anyone other than prison employees since he cut his wrists last year.
Independent doctors have deemed Mr. al-Hajj suicidal, said Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Based on recent telephone calls with him, she said, “His condition is very worrying.”
Days earlier, the Army judge overseeing the Guantánamo war crimes court canceled an early airlift to the base in September for a pretrial hearing in the case of five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. That case has for years been plagued by a variety of delays, notably the abrupt announcement in March of the trial judge’s resignation.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 6, 2020
Why are bars linked to outbreaks?
- Think about a bar. Alcohol is flowing. It can be loud, but it’s definitely intimate, and you often need to lean in close to hear your friend. And strangers have way, way fewer reservations about coming up to people in a bar. That’s sort of the point of a bar. Feeling good and close to strangers. It’s no surprise, then, that bars have been linked to outbreaks in several states. Louisiana health officials have tied at least 100 coronavirus cases to bars in the Tigerland nightlife district in Baton Rouge. Minnesota has traced 328 recent cases to bars across the state. In Idaho, health officials shut down bars in Ada County after reporting clusters of infections among young adults who had visited several bars in downtown Boise. Governors in California, Texas and Arizona, where coronavirus cases are soaring, have ordered hundreds of newly reopened bars to shut down. Less than two weeks after Colorado’s bars reopened at limited capacity, Gov. Jared Polis ordered them to close.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
But the chief judge, Col. Douglas K. Watkins, who has been handling the case in a caretaker status, noted in his cancellation order that prosecutors had failed to file a promised proposal for an ambitious eight-week trip. About 100 people would have had to quarantine in an array of tents and trailers in the crude compound called Camp Justice in a bid to make progress in the case.
Military judges have canceled at least five rounds of hearings in Guantánamo’s military commissions cases since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, with one noting that the Navy’s 14-day quarantine at the base had “unduly burdensome logistical requirements.”
This week, the Pentagon adjusted its policy to permit some military forces and contractors to quarantine in the United States for 14 days before overseas travel. But Maj. Gregory J. McElwain, a spokesman for the United States Southern Command, which oversees detention operations at Guantánamo, said on Friday that the prison would continue its offshore quarantine policy “to ensure the health and safety of our troops and detainee population.”