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03/22/2013

Guantanamo's flights cancelled as hunger strike grows

GTMO-sunset
Sunset at Guantanamo's Camp Delta Oct. 24, 2010. (MICHELLE SHEPHARD / TORONTO STAR)
 

The journey to Gitmo, as the notorious U.S. detention centre on Cuba's southeast shore is known, is not easy. There are two ways to go once attaining Pentagon clearance. Either you fly from Maryland's Andrews Air Force Base, on a weekly chartered military flight, which costs the U.S. government about $90,000 per wheels up. Or, take a small charter flight out of Fort Lauderdale. Having done both, the flexibility and frequency of flights for the Florida option is much preferable.

For the lawyers of the 166 remaining detainees who take repeated trips, those charter flights are crucial - as the Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg explains in a recent article:

"The small shuttles that carry about 20 passengers had been a vital air bridge to Guantánamo, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court gave attorneys access to the prisoners in August 2004. The flight also served as a gateway for journalists, entertainers, business executives and contractors who streamed to the base in the years following the establishment of the prison camps in January 2002."

Well, apparently those flights are now cancelled due to a rather odd edict from Guantanamo's Navy Commander. Odd, because as Rosenberg reports, he is "invoking a federal regulation that the Pentagon has apprently waived for years."

Apparently, Federal Regulation 32CFR766 prohibits regular passenger service by a commercial operator. Apparently, no one has noticed in the more than two decades that those flights have been flying to the U.S. Navy base.

With more than two dozen prisoners now on a hunger strike, the timing of this decision is of particular concern to detainee lawyers - who have longed complained that logistical woes and Pentagon classification restrictions have already made their jobs virtually impossible.

According to CNN, a statement from lawyers representing an Afghan detainee named Obaydullah (who they say has already lost 30 pounds in the hunger strike) says the two issues are connected and accuses the military of trying to cover up the protest. "Though the military has started acknowledging that more prisoners are striking, we are being denied the ability to meet with them and see the true extent of what's happening there," the statement reads.

Michelle Shephard is the Toronto Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recipient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm



Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/17/3291679/navy-ruling-ends-commercial-flights.html#storylink=cpy

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