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U.S. may sedate Afghan detainees during flights

The C-17, which can operate from shorter runways, will most likely take the detainees out of Afghanistan.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The transport of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees is considered so dangerous that the Pentagon is considering administering Valium to them to keep them sedated during the 15-hour flight from Kandahar to the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Officials emphasize that no final decision has been made on using the drug but that the idea of sedating the detainees for the trip from Afghanistan remains under consideration.

Pentagon officials said U.S. Air Force crews that will provide security for the transfer flights have received special training at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

Officials said a number of other measures are being taken to ensure the prisoners are kept under control during the flights, including using secure enclosures on the planes to confine the prisoners.

The total number of detainees being kept at the Kandahar air field swelled to 351 with the addition of 45 on Wednesday night. The detainees are to travel in groups of 15 to 20.

The detainees are being treated as though they were "prisoners of war" but they have not been declared as such formally under the Geneva Convention.

As "detainees," they could be held in some "indeterminate" status for a period of time. They will be interrogated but no decisions have been made about which individuals will be sent to military tribunal and how those tribunals will be held.

The C-141 will transport the detainees from an undisclosed transfer point to Guantanamo Bay.  

The flights taking the detainees from Afghanistan to Guantanamo won't be nonstop, military sources said Wednesday, because the air field at Kandahar where the detainees are being kept cannot handle a big Air Force transport.

The plane selected for the main part of the mission is the aging C-141, an aircraft with intercontinental range. However, it is not able to land at Kandahar because the field is too rough.

Instead, another plane -- probably the smaller C-17, with its short landing and takeoff characteristics -- would be the likely choice for the first hop out of Afghanistan. The four-engine C-17 jet can land on a runway only 3,000 feet long and 90 feet wide, according to a document from the Department of Defense.

The detainees would be flown initially to an undisclosed secure location. The prisoners would then be transferred to specially outfitted C-141s for the final leg to Guantanamo, where they will be held in a new detention facility to be overseen by the U.S. Southern Command.

Military officials will not disclose the actual route of the flight as a precaution.

The flights could begin as soon as this week, officials have said.

-- CNN Pentagon Correspondents Jeff Levine and Barbara Starr and CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this story.




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