April 15, 2014 at Fort Meade

I’ll let Jeff provide the update on the courtroom events of the day – stay tuned for some interesting information! In the meantime, I thought I’d give a little background on the setup here at Fort Meade.

According to (the dreaded) Wikipedia:  “Fort George G. Meade is a United States Army installation that includes the Defense Information School, the United States Army Field Band, and the headquarters of United States Cyber Command, the National Security Agency, the Defense Courier Service, and Defense Information Systems Agency headquarters. It is named for George G. Meade, a general from the U.S. Civil War, who served as commander of the Army of the Potomac.”

The base is located southwest of Baltimore and is a short drive from BWI airport. Entry to the base for NGOs is easy; I simply proceed through the main gate (which is probably six miles from my hotel) and to a vehicle inspection checkpoint where uniformed men check my driver’s license and car registration. They ask my business on the base send me on my way. It is a short drive to Smallwood Hall, past the impressive-looking headquarters of the Defense Information Systems Agency, which provides IT and communications support to the President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, and military services.

Entrance to Smallwood Hall where we view the proceedings via video link.

Entrance to Smallwood Hall, where we view the hearings via secure video link.

Smallwood Hall is a small, house-like building.  In front of the building are two large satellite dishes. I spoke with an IT contractor for the Office of Military Commissions who is on site and operates the system while we are here. He informed me the dishes receive the video and audio from Guantánamo through two satellites, a KU band and a C band. The satellites reside in a geosynchronous orbit in what is commonly referred to as the “Clarke orbit” 36,000 miles above the equator. The dual signals provide complete redundancy in the event of an interruption in the signal from one of the two satellites. In the event of heavy rain, which we are experiencing at Fort Meade today, the KU band is often interrupted and the C band is used. Interestingly, the satellites are owned by a Canadian and a Belgian firm, from whom the government leases bandwidth.

 

Notice the two large satellite dishes in the right of the photo.

Notice the two large satellite dishes in the right of the photo.

 

After the IT contractor, I have been the first to arrive each day, a little after 8:00 a.m. There is no particular protocol for entering the Post Theater; the door is unlocked and I just walk in and select a seat in a small auditorium similar to a classroom at our law school. A large screen fronts the room flanked by a United States flag and a U.S. Army flag. Around 8:35 a group of reporters and bloggers arrives together. They are required to meet at the main base entrance and their vehicles undergo a bomb sniff before proceeding to the theater with an escort.  They also must be escorted off the post. Present today were representatives from Reuters, Huffington Post, New York Daily News, and Agence France-Presse, and a blogger/reporter from the Brookings Institution. Yesterday an L.A. Times reporter was also here. In addition, there is a reporter from the Armed Forces Press Service (of the Department of Defense) and also an observer from the “OSD” – Office of the Secretary of Defense.  He described himself as a “media analyst” for the DOD and was very personable and helpful.  Today he provided the media escort off the base.

Auditorium in Smallwood Hall

Auditorium in Smallwood Hall

 

The family members watch at another location on base; I’m told by one of the press here that some NGOs may be at that location as well, and when Smallwood Hall is occupied with another event, the press may view the proceedings from that location also.

We are permitted to bring cell phones and laptops into the theater.   In fact, a white board at the front of the room provides the WiFi password for the building. The reporters are thus able to post reports in real time as court is in session. I would be interested to know what (if any) monitoring is done by DOD of this connection.

Another nice amenity is that someone from a canteen on base is here every morning to take our lunch orders. For a not terribly unreasonable price (e.g., $8.00 club sandwich; $2.50 piece of pizza) we can order lunch which is delivered to us at midday. And finally, on the first day of the hearings we were provided with a CD-ROM containing PDFs of what appear to be all the public filings in the case to date. This is all very helpful but I also suspect it is aimed at limiting the media’s exposure to the base and exercising some control over what documents are “officially” provided.

The atmosphere is congenial; the other attendees were happy to answer my questions and discuss issues.  While the hearings are ongoing there is not a lot of discussion, but during breaks and after adjournment they ask each other questions and confirm certain details of the hearings with each other as they prepare to post their stories for the day.

We adjourned early again today – Jeff will have more later on all the excitement!!

 

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