Were Commercial Flights to Guantanamo Ended to Cut Off Coverage of Hunger Strike?
Carol Rosenberg reported yesterday that the Navy has ruled that commercial flights to Guantanamo can no longer be provided on a regular basis. The timing of this move strikes me as particularly suspect, since these flights are heavily used by defense counsel for Guantanamo detainees and a large group of these attorneys has banded together to ask newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to address the abuse charges prisoners have cited in instituting a widespread hunger strike at the prison. Guantanamo officials deny that a hunger strike is taking place.
From Rosenberg’s report:
The Guantánamo Navy commander is halting commercial air passenger service from South Florida to the remote outpost in southeast Cuba, invoking a federal regulation that the Pentagon had apparently waived for years.
Fort Lauderdale-based IBC Travel said Friday that it will cease its several times a week service to and from the base after April 5, on an order from Navy Capt. John “JR” Nettleton to discontinue service by May 1. It will continue weekly cargo flights to the base, said IBC spokesman Richard Rose, with permission from Nettleton.
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.
Isn’t it interesting that the Navy would end the waiver that allowed passenger flights but they still elect to maintain the waiver for cargo flights? The attorneys have been especially busy of late, as accusations of improper treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo have begun to accelerate again. The attorneys maintain that a hunger strike has been going on for over a month and that over 100 prisoners are taking part. Guantanamo officials dismiss the bulk of those claims:
Attorneys for detainees long-held without charges at the U.S military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, assert that a general hunger strike involving many of the 166 detainees who remain incarcerated there has entered its second month.
But the U.S. military strongly denies that claim, calling it “a fabrication,” and instead says only 14 detainees are actively engaged in hunger strikes detrimental to their health.
In a letter of concern sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday, a group of 51 detainee attorneys wrote, “at least two dozen men have lost consciousness due to low blood glucose levels.” The Pentagon said it was aware of the letter but declined to discuss it.
“That there is any concrete, mass hunger strike — that is an utter fabrication,” Breasseale said. “Some who claim to be hunger striking are in fact eating handfuls of trail mix, nuts, and other food. They are taking in plenty of calories.”
Interestingly, Defense Department spokesman Todd Breasseale claims that Guantanamo is following the US Bureau of Prisons protocol for handling hunger strikers, but the document describing the protocol linked to the CBS News account seems to differ from Breasseale’s claims. In the document (pdf) we have this: Read more →