Month: January 2015

People Behind the Scenes

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Myself (Margaret Baumgartner) waiting to board the ferry across the base.

Now that I’ve made it home from GTMO, I am trying to process everything that I’ve learned.  I did not have the time I wanted to sit down and really delve into posts.  We were busy with hearings, sit downs, and other interactions, however, I was able to keep a journal.  I jotted items down as I went and from these, I will pull my next several posts.

People Behind the Scenes

One thing I enjoy about travel is meeting new people.  If you take the time to really listen, you can garner some fascinating information.  We had a picnic table that we NGOs would congregate around at night.  Various people involved in the process would join.  Others would meet up with us at dinner.  The base is very small and thus you start recognizing everyone.  There are a lot of people that are very involved in the hearings.

On the ferry ride to our quarters at Camp Justice, I spent some time speaking with the three folks who handle the transcripts.  They are responsible for making sure that the transcripts of the proceedings are done each day and available to the public on the website.  I ran into them again at dinner that night.  They have been involved since the beginning and make sure that the public is kept “in the know”.  They often work late nights to make sure that the transcripts are available at the end of each day.

I also spent some time skipping rocks at a beach with a contractor responsible for the CCTV feed that is sent stateside.  He really likes his job, takes pride in it, and is an integral part of making sure those stateside have access to the hearings.

Our drivers were really nice and willing to take any of us anywhere we needed to go.  One was a fountain of knowledge about the base and he would find out answers if he did not have one.  Most of our questions revolved around military life and what it was like to be deployed to GTMO.  He also knew a lot about the history of the base.  GTMO is more than just a place where detainees are kept.  Families of deployed soldiers live there.  There are recreational sports.  It is like a little town.  There’s even McDonalds, Subway, and Taco Bell along with several other places to get out and eat at.

GTMO housed Haitian refugees in the 90s.  It was a place where Columbus landed in 1494.  Teddy Roosevelt was by the base at one point in the Spanish American War.  GTMO is a port for the Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.  Detainees are kept there because no one else wants them, those who do may raise concerns for National Security, and mostly because Congress does not want them stateside.  Thus, GTMO has this horrible reputation when it was really one of the few places left to house those accused of terrorist acts while awaiting due process.

The old GTMO lighthouse.

The old GTMO lighthouse.

One person commented to me that the detainees have it better than they (those stationed there) do in regards to living conditions.  Would this be made known by the media or others reporting on it?  Probably not.  It doesn’t make for a good story.  The soldiers down at GTMO are someone’s brother, sister, father, mother, and loved one.  They are doing what their duty is and it really does sadden me when the collective whole receive a bad reputation for the acts of a few bad apples that are beyond their control.

I have noticed that everyone really does the best they can with what they are given and also the situation.  Defense, Prosecution, Security, Judge, Staff, Contractors, Deployed Soldiers…..it doesn’t matter who they are, they are all working hard.  I definitely gained a lot more respect for those involved in every aspect of the process on this trip.

(Margaret Baumgartner, Hadi al Iraqi Hearings, January 25-31, 2015) 

At GTMO’s Hadi al Iraqi hearings – January 2015

Margaret Baumgartner - GTMO NGO Lounge - January 2015

Margaret Baumgartner at GTMO’s NGO Lounge. Holding copy of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual

Greetings from the Pearl of the Antilles (Cuba’s nickname).  I must admit that I feel quite at home here as GTMO is very similar to most every other military base I’ve been to.  The accommodations are reasonable and I hate to admit that I really like galley food.  We had a bit of a delay at Andrews AFB, which is fairly normal.  There was a lot of standing around and waiting, which is also normal.  Our escorts were also on the flight and that gave us a chance to get to know them a bit before landing and for them to be more comfortable around us.

Our Octet of NGOs

I’m lucky in that we seem to a have a nice olio of backgrounds in this small group.  There’s myself, a law professor from SMU, law students from Georgetown, UVA, Seton Hall, a D.A. from West Virginia who is heavily involved with criminal rights, and two persons from interest groups.  One is Human Rights First. The other one escapes me at the moment, but he is affiliated with the University of Richmond.  Four men, four women.  One is a Marine Corps Officer who is finishing law school to go JAG.  Another wants to focus on National Security after law school graduation.

Concerns have been made in the past that the NGOs that do attend are just there to warm seats, without a real connection or interest in the case, or to get a free vacation.  I do not see that with this group.  All are bright eyed, interested, and I saw many using the hours we were delayed at Andrews to peruse the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.  It seems that everyone travelling knows each other pretty well (the same people go every time).  NGOs receive 14 spots in the gallery, according to one person, so it is a shame that only 8 of us are on this trip.  This brings me to my focus of the trip, which will be exploring the issue of Public Access to the hearings.

General Martins center) and NGO representatives at GTMO. January 2015

General Martins (4th from right) and NGO representatives at GTMO. January 2015

The Hearing Schedule

Monday, we had only a half day of hearings before they were classified.  The gallery was only about half full of observers.  Of those present, about half were in uniform.  The gentleman who sat behind me was a member of the U.S. Army.  I struck up a conversation with him while we were waiting on proceedings to begin.  He did not know much about what he was going to be observing, so I shared my copy of the charge sheet with him.  We discussed a lot of it and I also told him about the NGO mission.  The hearings on Tuesday were closed and Wednesday is going to be witness examination for the issue of female guards coming into physical contact with devout Muslim detainees.  Thursday should be open and Friday will be closed.

Access to the Proceedings

A lot of what I’ve seen has been that people are not informed.  This concern was reiterated by several others that I spoke with.  They also wish that civilians were more interested in the proceedings.

Access to Fort Meade is fairly easy.  One only needs a valid driver’s license and their car registration and insurance to get onto the post.  Once they are approved by gate security, the Post Theatre is accessible to observers.  Of course, people are not allowed phones or recording devices, but this is the norm throughout civilian courts as well.  Concerns can be raised about the lack of public theaters for observation, but conversely, there is not a public outcry for more.  Accommodations have been made for the locales of the victim families, such as Fort Devins in Massachusetts, Fort Dix, etc.  However, it should be noted that we are in the pre-trial motion phase.  For most people, this stage is boring.  I think that more accurate observations can be made once the trial phase begins as to whether there is a greater demand for places to observe.

(Margaret Baumgartner-GTMO, January 2015)

Jurist Publishes Indiana McKinney Law Student’s Torture Article

JURIST Guest Columnist Clarence Leatherbury from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law discusses the debate over torture techniques and our nations security. Clarence published a piece for the JURIST since he is a participant in Professor Edward’s Military Commission Observation Project.

The JURIST (jurist.org) is a legal news and commentary publication run by Professor Bernard Hibbitts and professional and student staffers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. The original column can be seen at: http://jurist.org/dateline/2014/12/clarence-leatherbury-guantanamo-bay.php

(Catherine Lemmer)

Op-Ed: Torture is ineffective in getting information

The Indianapolis Star published Clarence Leatherbury’s  Op Ed: Torture is ineffective in getting information on 17 January 2015. Mr. Leatherbury is a third-year law student at IU Robert H. McKinney who traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings in 2014.  Courtroom proceedings at Guantanamo Bay can be viewed by simultaneous secure videolink at the U.S. military base at Ft. Meade.

(Catherine Lemmer)

Andrews Air Force Base Terminal – Heading to Guantanamo Bay

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Inside the terminal at Andrews.  Getting ready to board the plane.  It’s early!  I will blog more on that later.  Everyone in the group is very talkative and interested in the proceedings.  The copies of the Manual were much appreciated that I passed around!

(Margaret Baumgartner, Hadi al Iraqi hearings)

DoD Orders Received

I just received my DoD orders via e-mail today.  Preparation for this trip has been a whirl-wind.  I’m almost done meeting next week’s deadlines for work, since I will be out of the office (I should be careful, they might expect this type of productivity from me on a regular basis!).  My state-side brother and I were talking logistics and he laughed at me for getting excited about the mess hall.  I always have enjoyed the food in the messes and I think it annoyed my brother that I would insist on eating there when I would visit.  In his words, the mess hall only has good food when a General visits.  It’s a lucky week for me then, since there will be a General in camp!

Late night at the office, trying to get through some items in preparation for Sunday's trip!

Late night at the office, trying to get through some items in preparation for Sunday’s trip!

On Tuesday, I had breakfast with former rep (and fellow 2010 graduate) Hattie Harman.  She highly recommended the book “The Terror Courts” by Jess Bravin.  I plan to dig into that book before getting down to GTMO as it mentions several people who are involved in the proceedings.  I hope this will give me a better sense of who I am talking to when I meet people.  The book should also give me some talking points to pass time while we wait in the lines.

I have also started my refresher with “the Manual” in preparation and I also went to the GTMO website for information.  I am not myself until I’ve had coffee in the morning (see my prior Fort Meade postings describing said addiction), so I was scouring the site for information of a rumored cafe.  I will also have my own trusty stash, just in case.

On Friday, I will be attending Professor Edwards’ class as a guest to field questions, talk about the project, and meet other participants.  That is the extent of my preparation outside of the mandatory paperwork to date, however, that will increase as Sunday approaches.

Guantanamo Memoir Published

G-Bay Diary Book CoverGuantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, was published today (20 January 2015) by Little Brown & Company. It is the first memoir to be written by a detainee who is still incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay. The author, who has not been charged, has been held at Guantánamo Bay since 2002.  The memoir details his journey from when he was seized in his home country of Mauritania, sent to a prison in Jordan, and eventually imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay. In 2010, a federal judge ordered his release, but the government appealed that decision.

See the transcript and hear the National Public Radio interview with  Mr. Slahi’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander, and book editor Larry Siems. Mr Siems is a writer and human rights activist. He is the author of The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program.

(Posted by Catherine Lemmer)

Travel to GTMO Notification & Initial Thoughts on Hadi al Iraqi, 26 – 30 January 2015 – Margaret Baumgartner

Me (Margaret Baumgartner) and one of my favorite members of our armed services.

Me (Margaret Baumgartner) and one of my favorite members of our armed services.

Notification of Travel

Wow.  I am thrilled to be a part of this opportunity. I think all of my co-workers are also just as excited to hear about the experience, as well as read about it, on this blog.  In fact, one of my Dutch co-workers happened to stop by my office and he was very interested in hearing about this project in general.  A word of caution to the over-achievers (like me), the process for travel is NOT as clear-cut at it seems (is it ever?).  There is a fair amount of paperwork that needs to be filled out precisely and reviewed by other parties.  Luckily, Professor Edwards has a lot of patience and experience!

About Me

By trade, I am a Patent Attorney with a tech company in Indianapolis.  I graduated from the McKinney School of Law in 2010 and have been practicing in a corporate setting since.  My family is heavily involved with the military which has affected me and my interest in the events that have shaped their lives.  I also travel extensively and am incredibly fascinated with foreign policy and history.  I also am fascinated with how people in other countries in the world view the U.S.  This opportunity allows me to help inform people about our country, GTMO, and the ongoing proceedings (or lack thereof) of the detainees. (more…)

Year End Update: More Guantanamo Detainees Released (Catherine Lemmer)

Keeping informed. 

Carol_Rosenberg,_by_Colonel_Bryan_Browles

Carol Rosenberg by Colonel Bryan Browles (from Wikipedia)

The most important thing I observed during my time at Guantanamo Bay is that the activities that occur there are far from the minds of most Americans. In my small opinion, this physical and virtual distance creates a situation ripe for abuse. On the flight home I sat across the aisle from Carol Rosenberg (Miami Herald) and plied her with questions. She is perhaps the best source of knowledge as she has been on the story since the arrival of the first detainees in 2002. During the NGO Observer Tour of the courtroom facilities, the Officer in Charge of the Office of Military Commissions, John Imhof, often looked to her for information.

I made a commitment to myself to stay informed. It shouldn’t take a lot of effort — I’ve started following Ms. Rosenberg’s twitter feed and set up an alert on my news feeds.

National Public Radio interviewed Ms. Rosenberg at 6:45 pm EST on December 31 regarding the release of an additional four detainees and the efforts to close Guantanamo Bay. As of this date, there are still 127 detainees, 59 of whom have been cleared for release. While the rest of the world prepared for year end celebrations, she maintained her vigilance on our behalf.

(Posted by Catherine Lemmer)