As this is my first post, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Megan Alvarez, a 2009 graduate of the IU McKinney law school. I am now an immigration attorney and program director of the Paralegal Studies program at Ivy Tech Community College in Evansville. I was very fortunate to take part in many opportunities that were offered through the Program in International Human Rights Law during my time in school.
I am now honored to be a part of this project. I will be traveling to Ft. Meade to observe hearings during the week of June 15.
Specifically, I will be observing hearings in the cases against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abd al Hadi. KSM is the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abd al Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda, who engaged in terrorism, funded suicide attacks, attacked civilians, and committed other crimes. I will be using this site to document my thoughts and impressions of the hearings.
First Impressions of Military Commissions
In preparation to travel to Ft. Meade, I have been reading from various sources about Military Commissions, their history, jurisdiction, and procedural safeguards. While I will not attempt to discuss the many questions and criticisms that have been raised by various organizations, there are a few things that have caught my attention. First, the cases that are currently taking place do not encapsulate all the inmates being held at Guantanamo. There are still, over a decade after the 9/11 attacks, individuals being held who have not been charged. I suppose only time will tell what the government will do with these individuals, whether they will be brought to trial or left to die in captivity. Such situation reminds me of instances when Americans have been detained abroad and accused of various crimes but never charged. These detentions have always seemed arbitrary and against our notions of justice. While I realize there are many difference between these two scenarios, it still seems that the current situation is not acceptable if we are to be the “Leader of the Free World.”
Second, I was surprised in reading about the jury system of Military Commissions. Essentially, the jury is made up of “members.” Those eligible to be “members” are active duty Commissioned Officers. Such strict limitations on jury composition would be inconceivable in a civilian courtroom. Clearly, this raises serious issues regarding bias. It is easy to see why many have questioned the legitimacy of these trials. In fact, I admit my own opinion has been influenced by the criticism voiced by many human rights groups. It is my intention however to approach these hearings with an open mind.
General Observations of Defendants and Charges
I have also been reading about the defendants and the charges against them. Reading this information now seems out of place given that the 9/11 attacks happened over a decade ago. Clearly, delays like this in bringing a defendant to trial does not fit in with our notions of the American justice system. While I do not think I would ever find myself in the position of these individuals, I have tried to put myself in their position and imagine how I would feel about being incarcerated for over a decade with no charges being brought against me. I can only imagine it to be a situation of pure desperation and hopelessness.
In reading through the Charge Sheets, I was surprised by the number of allegations. They read like a history of each defendant’s alleged terrorist exploits. They would serve as a perfect C.V. if terrorist organizations did indeed accept such documents for posted vacancies. One thing that struck me was the amount of money these individuals were supposedly handling. If such allegations are true, al-Qeada was rather effective at fundraising and concealing those funds despite being one of the most monitored terrorist organizations in the world. I was also shocked upon reading that KSM was educated in the U.S., having received his undergraduate degree in the States. I know that I had heard this previously in some news report years ago, but it still surprises me. I have traveled to many parts of the world, and each time I travel, I come back with a greater understanding and appreciation. I am more able to sympathize with those in far off lands. However, for KSM, his stay in the US seemed to produce the opposite effect. How this can be is a wonder to me.
I am pleased to be a part of this effort and hope that I am able to contribute to the ongoing discussion regarding Military Commissions. I look forward to traveling this upcoming week and posting about my experience.