Following 9/11 anniversary, hurricane Florence cuts Guantanamo hearings short

Phoebe Leila Barghouty
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On the 17-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the week-long pre-trial hearing at Guantanamo Bay was cut short due to the anticipation severe weather from Hurricane Florence.

The schedule change marks yet another major speed bump in the already slow moving Military Commissions case. Newly appointed commissions judge, Marine Colonel Keith Parrella, opened Tuesday’s session by ruling on the defense teams’ call for his disqualification from the previous day.


Judge Parrella urged the court that despite the arguments from the defense, he believes he is more than qualified to assume the role. Tuesday was Parrella’s second appearance in the war court after being appointed to the role in late August.

ALSO READ: Defense teams in 9/11 case call for disqualification of new judge

By midday, the court schedule had already been heavily altered by the unexpectedly drawn out examination of the new judge. However, in addition to addressing the call for his recusal, Judge Parrella was forced to delay proceedings even further in order to address the possibility of Hurricane Florence making landfall on the East Coast.

The Category 4 hurricane is expected to ground air travel and cause severe damage along the East Coast of the United States later this week.

However, it’s not only a matter of disrupted travel plans. Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay spokeswoman, Navy Commander Anne Leanos, told Al Arabiya that the detention center itself is also taking special precautions as hurricane season looms over the Caribbean.

US flag flies over Camp VI at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, March 5, 2013. (Reuters)
US flag flies over Camp VI at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, March 5, 2013. (Reuters)

Destructive weather

According to Leanos, the Joint Task Force plans and prepares for destructive weather several times throughout the year. Guantanamo Bay is nestled on the southern tip of Cuba, and faces the seasonal threat of high intensity storms that build strength across the Atlantic Ocean.

“We have plans and procedures in place to ensure the safety of detainees in our custody during destructive weather,” Leanos said. Though catastrophic storms such as Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria rocked the region in 2017, Leanos says the detention center on Guantanamo Bay has faced no significant weather-related interruptions to date.

While hearing schedules and base travel are often affected during hurricane season, the Commander says operations and detainee safety remain intact despite the threat of inclement weather.

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“In cases of destructive weather, JTF Guantanamo maintains a supply of essential supplies including Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) for both the staff and the detainees;” Leanos said, noting that the MREs for the detainees are prepared to meet Halal standards.

In anticipation of the hurricane, the 31st pre-trial hearings for the 9/11 case will close on Wednesday, instead of Friday as initially scheduled. In addition to the added cost of altered travel, a shortened hearing schedule means defense attorneys’ time with their clients is also cut short.

Because of Guantanamo Bay’s remote location, attorney-client meetings are already extremely limited. It is unclear how this session’s disruptions will affect the future of the complex case.

The five men charged with planning the September 11th attacks are currently held indefinitely at the high security detention center in Guantanamo Bay. All five face the death penalty. At this time, no trial date has been set.

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