Guantanamo Bay – Arrival and Defense Counsel

Flight to Guantanamo

“What’s the movie on this flight?” One hardly expects that to be the first question one hears on a chartered Miami International Air flight bound for the Guantanamo Bay 9-11 hearings. One also doesn’t expect to engage in a humorous movie selection process with members of the defense teams, NGO observers, and a flight attendant – in the end, the “chick flick” was vetoed and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” went into the play slot.

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Tent 9A – My Home Sweet Home for the next few days.

The Saturday flight from Andrews Air Force Base and the ferry ride to the island were uneventful. I sat in the back of the plane with the media and other NGO observers.


Upon arrival, the NGO observers were directed to our tents in Camp Justice, taken to get our base badges, and given a brief NGO orientation about the Guantanamo Naval Base.  What is easy to forget is that the Guantanamo Naval Base has been in existence and operating since 1898; it is only since 2002 that it has served as detention camp for alleged enemy combatants.

Defense Bar-B-Q — Meeting lawyers, press, and others. The week’s agenda.

On Saturday evening the NGO observers were invited to a BBQ by the defense team for Ammar al Baluchi.  Carol Rosenberg and members from the other defense teams attended as well.

James Connell, Learned Counsel for Mr. al Baluchi, gave a lengthy briefing on motions set to be heard Monday and Tuesday. In addition to the conflict of interest matters (see my earlier post), the issue of the use of female guards is occupying a fair amount of time. At issue is whether female guards should be able to physically touch the prisoners as they are being prepared for transfer from their cells. The prisoners object on religious grounds to being touched by the female guards. They have forgone meetings with their attorneys if female guards were part of the rotation that would move them from their cells to the meeting.

The Senate Torture Report

The Torture Report was a big topic of the evening. There was much speculation that the hearings will be reduced to just Monday as both the defense and prosecutorial teams seek to better understand how to deal with the impact of the report. One defense attorney noted that his client is deeply humiliated and embarrassed by the disclosures in the Torture Report. His client refuses to even discuss how the Torture Report should or could be part of his defense strategy.

My role as an NGO Observer

As an NGO observer, it is my job to observe, analyze, and assess whether the defendants are being afforded a fair trail. Given that the defense counsel are military personnel I’ve wondered how zealous they were in the pursuit of justice on behalf of their clients. I had a long conversation with Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas, lead counsel for Mr. al Baluchi, and learned that the men and women on the defense teams are dedicated and passionate about defending their clients. In his case, the defense of Mr. al Baluchi is the only matter he is working on (outside of some administrative duties). The defense attorneys are often outraged and frustrated by the ever shifting ground of the military commission process. No stakeholder need have a concern from a fair trial perspective that the defendants are not afforded talented, compassionate, driven, hard-working lawyers who are interested in justice for their clients.

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Entrance to Camp Justice – Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

Today — Sunday

Today, Sunday, we will get a tour of the courtroom. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed, but I’ll post on that experience later this evening.

I also plan to talk more with my fellow NGO observers and get their impressions and comments on the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.

(Posted by Catherine Lemmer)

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