After the hearings were over for the week in the al Nashiri case (4 – 7 November 2014), the prosecution and the defense teams held a brief press conference with the four media representatives who were with us at GTMO for the week.
Victims and Victims’ Families
During the press conference, the victims and their families had an opportunity to also speak to the media. When the victims and their families spoke it was a reminder of what this trial is all about and the 17 people that died on the USS Cole and the 39 wounded. During the hearings it is easy to get caught up in the “legal arguments” and the various details and tactics and lose sight of why we are here. For me, hearing the victims and their families at the press conference really made me re-focus on them and their experiences. In addition to the overall suffering that they have been through, the main point that they expressed was their frustration with the slowness of this process and their desire for there to be an end to this and to see justice done.
Last Days Events
On the last days of the trip, we had an opportunity to do several things.
Time with Defense Team – Rick Kammen and defense lawyers
The NGOs spent an hour and a half with Rick Kammen and the defense team. They were extremely generous with their time and were able to answer many questions about the hearings we had observed.
Again, some of the overall themes from that meeting were similar to others; the incredibly difficult logistics and the high costs that result; the complicated issues associated with the case which are compounded with the issue of classified information; and also how politics at the highest levels impacts the trials. Speaking specifically to this last point, Rick talked about a time when the former leader of Yemen was in the United States to receive medical care and the defense team tried to depose him. The US State Department denied it due to their policy of not wanting to impose on foreign leaders in the US who are here for medical treatment.
Visit to Camp X-Ray
The NGOs also had an opportunity to visit Camp X-Ray, which is the outdoor detention facility where they held the detainees when they first arrived. We were not able to take photos of the site but we were able to see it. It is abandoned now but there is a federal court order in place to preserve it as evidence in some of these proceedings. Camp X-Ray was only used to house the detainees for a few months when they first arrived on the base because they didn’t have any other facilities to house them in at the time. Within a few months they were moved to more permanent structures indoors.
Another place NGOs were able to visit and tour was radio GTMO. The base has a radio station that broadcasts 3 channels on the base. They have an arrangement with Cuba so the signal is not broadcast into mainland Cuba. The radio station has one of the largest collections of vinyl records in the world with many being extremely rare and limited editions. The stations still plays the records on the air. One unfortunate fact is that due to the licensing rights from the record companies, if the records are taken out of circulation they must be sent back to the record companies where they would be destroyed. It’s crazy to think that some of these one of a kind records made especially for the military would be lost forever and destroyed but that is what is required due to the licensing rights.
One of the last few stops was to the abandoned lighthouse on the edge of the base. One of the interesting things was the collection of old boats that was in the area which were used by people who fled Cuba or other areas to try and immigrate to the United States.
I want to thank Professor George Edwards and the Indiana University McKinney School of Law for allowing me to participate in this incredible experience. It is something I will remember forever and a trip that has given me so much information. There are so many things that I was not able to include in this blog but that I will try and address in other forums since one of the goals of the NGO program is for those that witness the process to tell others.