Monday, February 9, was my first observation experience in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom. It is difficult to describe because I am prohibited from writing much of what I would like to say about the activities in the courtroom. It is a highly controlled area. A sign informs observers that among other things, sketching and even doodling, are prohibited in the gallery. After seeing the courtroom activity, I believe even more so that the courtroom proceedings should be broadcast live on C-SPAN or other network.
Observers, along with the media, are seated in a four-row gallery behind a glass window. Upon entering the gallery you are given an assigned seat number. Media representatives, along with the court sketch artist, are assigned to the front row. Media may also watch the courtroom action on a direct feed to their office/lounge. This allows them to send immediate updates. There is a special gallery section for the family members of 9/11 victims. A curtain can be drawn to protect the victim family members from view of others in the event there is a need for privacy.
The defendants are able to see into the gallery; and at one point Khalid Sheihk Mohammed looked back and acknowledged one of his pro bono attorneys who was present in the gallery.
The gallery is on a 40-second delay. It is amazing how long 40 seconds feels! The time delay gets a bit weird when the “all rise” is given when Judge Pohl leaves and the gallery is still processing the last minute of the activity. I was standing and still scribbling notes as I watched the monitor.
There are a lot of actions that seem unnecessarily proscribed at Guantanamo Bay. For example, the NGO Observer office/lounge is in the old airport hangar, as is the media’s office/lounge. However, we enter our NGO Observer office/lounge from a door on the outside of the building and can’t go into the hangar. During General Martins’ press briefing, the NGO Observers could not go into the hangar and watch. We had to stay in our office/lounge and watch it via a live link.
Similarly the NGO Observers had to watch the defense team press briefing in our NGO Observer lounge/office. The feed to the NGO Observer lounge/office was terminated at the end of the hour, even though the press asked the defense teams if they would continue with the briefing. The NGO Observers later learned that the questions and answers continued for some time after the feed was terminated.
After the startling allegations against the newly assigned interpreter by Ramzi bin al Shibh, one NGO observer remarked “you just can’t make this stuff up!” That about sums up the process here at Guantanamo Bay.
(Catherine Lemmer, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay, February 9-13, 2015)