Preparing for the 9-11 Guantanamo Bay Hearings

My work with the The Gitmo Observer

I have been involved with the U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (“MCOP”) (also known as The Gitmo Observer) since mid-spring 2014.  In my position as a law librarian at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law I have worked on developing and maintaining The GITMO Observer site and providing research support for the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Observation Manual.  Thus I am honored and excited to have been selected to serve as an NGO observer at the upcoming military commission hearings on December 15 and 16 at Guantanamo Bay.

My work in South Africa

I begin assisting Professor George Edwards and the MCOP upon my return from South Africa in April 2014. I spent six months (September 2013 – April 2014) in Johannesburg as a Senior Fellow at the Legal Resources Centre of South Africa (LRC). The LRC is South Africa’s largest and oldest national public interest law organization. Established in 1979, the LRC lawyers challenged apartheid and played important roles in drafting the South African Constitution. In 1994, Nelson Mandela appointed LRC’s founder, Arthur Chaskalson, to serve as the first President of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. The LRC advances research and provides free legal services to the poor and vulnerable in the areas of land and housing rights, children’s rights and education, environmental justice, HIV/AIDS, health and social services, refugee matters, and women’s equality.

George Bizos 85th Birthday 010During my time with the LRC, I enjoyed many a brown bag lunch with George Bizos, an LRC lawyer. An internationally renowned South African human rights lawyer, George Bizos is credited with crafting the three words in Nelson Mandela’s statement during his 1964 treason trial which resulted in the imposition of life imprisonment rather than the death sentence. Upon learning that an American sat across the tea table from him the first time we met, George looked at me and said, “I have sympathy with his position but your President Obama has to shut down Guantanamo Bay.”  The topic of Guantanamo Bay would come up often during the six months I spent at the LRC and my knowledge of what was happening and why at Guantanamo Bay would prove woeful in comparison to that of George Bizos. The MCOP provided a fortuitous opportunity to learn more about the military commission process at Guantanamo Bay upon my return to the States.

The 9-11 case / Khalid Shaik Mohammed case that I will monitor next week

I will be observing hearings with respect to the five 9-11 defendants: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi.

Earlier this week Professor Edwards was able to confirm that the hearings will involve matters of guard gender, the FBI probe/conflict of counsel, and the hearing schedule for 2015.

My preparation for the hearings

Even though I have been involved with the MCOP project, I had and still have lots of preparation to do. I’ve reread parts of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Observation Manual to better understand my obligations to observe and analyze the proceedings. I am also reading the many documents related to this matter that are hosted on the U.S. Office of Military Commissions website. This is a complex case with five defendants and five separate defense teams.  As a result, I have also been reading biographical information on the Human Rights Watch and other sites to help me identify and keep separate each of the defendants. Later this week I am meeting with two other observers, Hattie Harmon and Chuck Dunlap, who have recently observed proceedings at Guantanamo Bay for advice and information.

Lecture by Gitmo Defense Counsel – Rick Kammen

I recently attended a lecture by Rick Kammen, the lead lawyer for al Nashiri  in the USS Cole case. His presentation focused on the many systemic problems of the Guantanamo Bay military commissions. What was readily apparent from his presentation is that Americans as a whole don’t pay much attention to the activities of the military commissions. In addition to its critically important work to ensure fair and transparent trials for all the stakeholders, MCOP is equally important in that it offers opportunities for many of us to become involved and expand awareness in others.

(Posted by Catherine Lemmer)

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