3rd GTMO Observer Gears up to Depart-James Zender


In what can only be described as a whirlwind couple of days, I was fortunate enough to have earned a nomination by the MCOP to represent it during the next round of hearings at the end of this month. After Professor Edwards notified me that I was the one selected, I tried my best to keep my emotions in check. The Pentagon still needed to confirm my spot.

Thankfully, I was not in limbo for long. The following morning I received the confirmation from them, along with the requisite documents to make it final. I was so excited to be a part of such an historical event, it was not until a couple days later that I really processed on a personal level what this trip would mean for me.

What should I think about as I prepare?

Professor Edwards was quick to send along some prompting questions to get me started on this blog, and once I read them, things began to sink in.

As I read the second question on his list, “Do you have any reservations about going?”

I laughed to myself. Could he be serious? This is an unprecedented opportunity to go to Guantanamo Bay, why would I have any reservations?

I quickly moved onto the next question, “Do you have any preconceived notions about the hearings?” I truly had to think about this question. I had followed what was happening in GTMO from merely an informational point of view. If it popped up in an AP story, I might click on it. I knew various appeals were made in federal court and that laws were passed forbidding the trials from being conducted in the States. However, I never bothered to look into it more. It was happening so far away and being kept mostly under wraps in the media. Besides, these were bad people whose depravity does not warrant due process, let alone my attention. This was an honest-to-goodness thought I had as I wracked my brain trying to think what I already knew about the hearings.

I realized that I had major preconceived notions, and suddenly, I was having reservations about traveling to GTMO. These trials would no longer be happening in a far off court room, under lock and key by the government. There was not going to be an occasional news story summarizing a few points of the hearings. I was going to be staring the accused in the face. I was going to be in that courtroom. I was going to be the one summarizing the hearings. I needed to reevaluate my notions, and figure out why I felt these accused men did not deserve my time or care, because they are about to take up a week of my time, and be the only thing I care about for the extent of the hearings.

It was not that difficult to pinpoint the root of these ideas. I was fifteen years old on September 11th, 2001. I was a teenager who knew everything. I was angry and scared. I had family in the armed services, one of whom ended up being part of the first troops into Iraq. I was nearly 18, and there was talk of a possible draft. Patriotism and raging hormones allowed me to demonize those accused of such heinous acts as the USS Cole bombing and callously turn my back on any thoughts other than swift justice. My notions of justice back then blurred heavily with vengeance.

I went to college and quickly had other things on my mind. While war was an ever present topic, I was on my way to earning a business degree. A sinking economy loomed large over most of my classroom discussions. Heading straight into law school after college, I was finally confronted with discussions on justice, equality, and due process. But we learned about American jurisprudence, and terrorists are not American citizens. It was easy to dismiss the notion they deserved more than they were getting. For another three years, I was able to mostly avoid having to think about the situation of those accused of terrorism and detained in Guantanamo Bay.

Professor Edwards’ question showed me that my preconceived notions are over ten years old. I have spent a ton of money to get the tools necessary to form an educated opinion on issues like those presented in the GTMO hearings, and I think it is about time to do so.

Reservations about going to Guantnamo Bay?

It is not easy to tear down your walls and open yourself up for reevaluation. It is because of my preconceived notions that I am now having reservations about going to GTMO. The thought of change is never comforting. I do not know if I will ever be able to overcome those preconceived notions. I do not know if I will ever be able to definitively rest on one side of the fence or the other in regards to many issues put forth in these hearings. However, I believe the journey is the important part. If nothing else, this experience will allow me to explore, understand, and educate myself on the many important topics raised by these proceedings. Whether on the flip side I am capable of coming to a firm stance, or if it takes 50 years to finally form an opinion, the opportunity MCOP has given me with this trip will serve as the catalyst. I hope those following along are able to use the reports and observations of myself and fellow MCOP affiliates to earn a better understanding not only of this process, but of their own notions of equality, fairness, and justice.

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