I was honored to be selected last week to serve as an observer for the Al Nashiri (USS Cole Bombings) hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba the week of Nov. 3-7. I have previously participated in the Program in International Human Rights Law and its U.S. Military Commission Observation Project at IU McKinney Law School in mid-June, 2014.  At that time, I observed the hearings of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and the other accused 9-11 co-conspirators via a secured video link at Ft. Meade in Maryland.  This June trip was after an earlier scheduled hearing I was planning on attending was canceled at the last minute due to a schedule change by the presiding judge.  Since then, and based on what has happened to other participants in this program, one thing I fully count on is last minute schedule changes.  For that reason, I’m trying not to get my hopes up to high about observing the hearings until I am actually on the plane headed to Cuba.

Plans for Future Blogging

The overall mission of the IU McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law and the U.S. Military Commission Observation Project is to “Observe, Analyze, Critique, and Publish materials on the hearings.” As I prepare for the trip I will be posting several bog entries about various aspects of this assignment including the preparation process, preliminary research, work on the Fair Trial Manual, and of course the actual hearings.  From what I hear, due to the lack of Wi-Fi and internet access at the base (at least for NGO’s and journalists) much of my reporting of my observations from the actual hearings may be more post-visit than actually during the week of my visit.

Preliminary Process & Logistical Preparation

The actual process to be selected to participate has several stages. Initially, since I previously participated as an observer at Ft. Meade, I had also expressed my interest in attending the hearings in person at Guantanamo Bay.  I was first notified last week about the possibility that I would be able to participate (there were many more steps to complete, some of which are still to come.)  Once I cleared my schedule to ensure I was available for the hearing dates, I received word that the IU Committee had approved my selection.  The next step was for the Pentagon and the Office of Military Commissions to approve me.  Fortunately that step was very quick (within 24 hours of having my name submitted.)  With the notice from the Pentagon that I had been approved came a number of forms to complete and sign with disclaimers, ground rules, and various other procedural information.  Since this program is being run under the auspices of IU, the forms have to also go through the IU legal department review process.

In addition to the procedural process, I have also had to figure out the specific logistics for the trip. The plane to Guantanamo Bay leaves Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday morning Nov. 2 and returns on Saturday afternoon Nov. 8.  Fortunately I have been able to talk to several other participants who have traveled to Guantanamo Bay who have been very helpful in finding out several useful tips like where to stay the night before the flight (Sleep inn & suites, upper Marlboro, Maryland- thanks Jeff Papa), and that even though you are going to Cuba you should make sure to include some warm clothes since they keep the tents where we sleep very cold to keep out the banana rats and other pests (thanks Judge Riley, very good to know).

I will be posting more as I continue to prepare for my trip and hopefully during the trip as well, Wi-Fi willing, and certainly after I return.

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