What to do at Ft. Meade when Observers are barred from hearings?
The Judge in the al Nashiri case determined that hearings for the remainder of the week were to be classified. NGO Observers, like those of us representing the IU McKinney Military Commission Observation Project, are not permitted to monitor classified hearings.
After receiving word that the hearings were done for the week for us, I scrambled to catch a flight back to Indianapolis on Thursday (what would have been the second day of hearings for this week). I was hopeful that my run-in with the Commander of Ft. Meade would lead to a tour, but I had not heard anything and was therefore just planning on driving around the base with Whitney Coffin to explore it on our own.
An official tour of Ft. Meade!
After an early morning incident with our fire alarm, Whitney and I were ready for the day around 7:30am. We were eating breakfast when my phone rang with a caller ID identifying my caller as being from Ft. Meade, Maryland. I answered, and to my surprise, was invited back onto Ft. Meade to meet with some active JAG officers and get a personal tour of the base. Captain Tony Cardona told me that the Commander passed along my information and instructed him to give me a call.
I was thrilled!
We rushed to get ready and head over to the base. After making multiple wrong turns and going to a “Clearance Only” entrance, we finally made it to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.
We were met by two uniformed JAG officers, Captain Tony Cardona and Captain Iris Yao. Captains Cardona and Yao welcomed us into their building and then gave us the rundown of the different offices within the JAG program and the various responsibilities of a JAG officer. Both of our hosts went straight out of law school and committed to become active members of the military for at least four years. Cpt. Yao told us that from the moment you raise your hand and take the pledge, you must be committed to four years of active service.
Cpt. Cardona told us that he was stationed in Korea before coming to Ft. Meade. When the Army determines a JAG placement, the lawyers provide their leaders with a list of ten places where they would be comfortable living. Out of those ten places, your placement is determined and if you are transferred to a different location, it will likely come from that list as well. Cpt. Yao’s husband is also an Army JAG stationed at Ft. Meade. The Army tries to keep married couples together when placing them in their respective bases.
Cpt. Cardona and Cpt. Yao then took us on a driving tour of the base. The first thing that I noticed was how expansive the base really was. They told us that Ft. Meade is unique because it was not a place where soldiers come to be trained as soldiers. Rather, Ft. Meade is base for those service men and women who desire to be trained as writers and photographers. A lot of the behind-the-scenes work is completed at Ft. Meade. Cpt. Cardona pointed out that it is rare to even see an Army vehicle on base and that the only ones they have are used to help grant Humvee licenses to the service men and women. They both spoke about how nice it was to be based at Ft. Meade.
What is Ft. Meade like?
Ft. Meade almost seems like it’s own little village. There is an elementary school just for children of service members, and a high school that also pulls students from the surrounding county. It has a grocery store, shops, churches, a movie theatre, and doctor’s office. The only thing Ft. Meade does not have is an emergency room, but there is one close enough to the base that it is not a huge issue.
I am extremely impressed by and grateful for the hospitality that Captains Yao and Cardona showed us and am looking forward to reconnecting with both of them during the 9/11 trials.