The Navy commander at Guantanamo has rescinded an order issued last month halting commercial air travel to Guantanamo from Florida.
In an email obtained by Truthout, the contents of which were confirmed by a Pentagon official, the flights to the prison will continue as usual, albeit it "until at least the end of the year." The author of the email, Angela Weidenbenner, is legal counsel at the Defense Department's Office of General Counsel.
-----Original Message-----From: Weidenbenner, Angela, Ms, DoD OGC Sent: Friday, April 05, 2013 3:16 PM
To: Weidenbenner, Angela, Ms, DoD OGC
Cc: Roberts, Kernovia, Ms, DoD OGC
Subject: Habeas Counsel Visit Travel - IBC Air
Dear Habeas Counsel,
It is now official - IBC Air has confirmed that they have resumed their normal schedule until at least the end of the year (to be renewed annually.) IBC Air is the preferred method of travel to/from Guantanamo Bay. There is always the possibility Habeas Counsel could get bumped if traveling via Military Air. Additionally, the OMC [Office of Military Commissions] flights are ONLY intended to be used in emergency situations.
We respectfully ask that when planning a visit with your clients that you book your travel through IBC Air. The flights depart from (and return to) Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Sundays, Mondays and Fridays. The internet link to IBC Air is below. If you need to call the reservation department, they can be reached at 1-954-834-1700, or toll free 1-866-422-7000.
Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg reported last month that the flights were due to cease this week on orders from Navy Capt. John "JR" Nettleton.
According to Rosenberg's report:
Base spokeswoman Kelly Wirfel declined to say whether a specific episode caused the base to abandon commercial service on small aircraft that stretched at least into the 1980s. "After a detailed review of Federal Regulations it has been brought to the attention of the installation commanding officer that allowing IBC Airways to operate out of NS Guantánamo Bay is a violation of regulation 32CFR766," she said by email.
Rose said the interpretation meant that no commercial operator could provide regular passenger service to the base. IBC was the latest in a series of small South Florida airlines including Tropical Aviation, Air Sunshine and Lynx, which since at least the '80s been regularly flying the base where about 6,000 residents live today.
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.
Once IBC stops flying, according to base spokeswoman Wirfel, lawyers and journalists can ask the Defense Department's Office of Military Commissions for a seat on its weekly flight from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C. The government mounts the mostly wide-body charter flights for $90,000, usually departing Washington on Monday, according to a May 2012 war court filing. The schedule for return flights varies.
Some attorneys who represent the prisoners interpreted Nettleton's order as an attempt to limit access to their clients, especially because it was issued during the height of a hunger strike, which is now in its third month.
A Guantanamo spokesperson did not return Truthout's request for comment regarding the reasons the flights from Florida were reinstated.