Month: March 2015

Human Rights Commission Addresses Guantanamo Secrecy

Building of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Organization of American States), Washington, DC

Building of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Organization of American States), Washington, DC

Lawyers for 9-11 Guantanamo Bay defendants issued this media alert Monday, 16 March 2015:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: James Connell (703) 588-0407 / (703) 623-8410

WASHINGTON, DC-Today, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear from attorneys for Guantanamo prisoners at 2:00 pm Eastern time.  Attorneys for Ammar al Baluchi and Mustafa al Hawsawi will address the impact of secrecy on the military commissions and ongoing detention.

“A state crime cannot be a state secret,” said James Connell, civilian attorney for al Baluchi.  “The secrecy at Guantanamo prevents accountability for torture and interferes with the administration of justice.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Organization of American States).

Building of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Organization of American States), Washington, DC

The hearing will include testimony from Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez, Dr. Stephen Xenakis, and Melina Milazzo of the Center for Victims of Torture.

The IACHR hearing is available streaming at http://www.livestream.com/oasenglish.

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Guantanamo USS Cole Case Day 2 — Hearings To Resume April

USS Cole on 1st deployment after 2000 suicide bomb killed 17 US sailors and wounded dozens more

USS Cole on 1st deployment after 2000 suicide bomb killed 17 US sailors and wounded dozens more

Yesterday, Monday (March 2) was a very interesting day at the court dealing with Unlawful Influence and hearsay evidence in the al Nashiri case against the alleged mastermind of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing in Yemen. Judge Spath ruled that a pentagon official (General Ary, retired) had exercised the Unlawful Influence over the case, and disqualified Ary from acting as “Convening Authority”, who is the person who organizes resources for the Military Commission case. The USS Cole case no longer has a Convening Authority, and Judge Spath declared that there  would be no further evidentiary hearings this week and that court will reconvene in first week of April 2015.

End of March USS Cole Session

Judge Spath addressed the next set of hearings, which happen to be scheduled to fall on the Easter holidays (first week of April). This was initially scheduled to be for two weeks but will be a one-week hearing after the Unlawful Influence “debacle”. The judge stated that in order to show that there was no pressure on him, he would truncate this April session. There is a possibility that travel to Guantanamo may be delayed to allow people to celebrate Easter, with the hearings possibly beginning on Monday or Tuesday, and extend into Saturday.

Al Nashiri’s “grooming”

There were several motions heard today, and I mention them in a separate post. I will discuss one here, related to the defendant’s “grooming”.

Mr. Rick Kammen, who is al Nashiri’s “Learned Counsel”, brought to the attention of the court the issue of al  Nashiri’s grooming. Mr. Kammen said the issue had still not been resolved and within the last 10 days, the policy had changed three times.

The prosecution said that the Joint Task Force – Guantanamo Bay (JTF-GTMO), which is responsible for the detention facilities, has endeavored to amend their Standard Operating Procedures to address this and the accused will have access to grooming before court and attorney-client meetings.

The judge added (emphasizing that this was not a ruling) that he expects that no prisoners will be in shackles in court if they don’t have to be, or in prison uniform before the members of the court, regardless of who the accused is.

It is not clear what falls into the category of “grooming”. It seems to deal with issues such as what clothes al Nashiri is able to wear to court, access to bathing facilities, haircuts, and the like. And, shackles in court also was mentioned in the context of this grooming discussion. I find myself wondering what exactly what “grooming” involves.

Whereas I am certain they must have very stringent rules on the Base, grooming  to me seems a basic right, entrenched in the right to humane treatment as espoused in domestic and international law.  The Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual considers the right to humane treatment and humane conditions of detention on page 114.

Furthermore, grooming ties in with the right to be presumed innocent, which is also covered in the Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual. The defendant’s physical appearance in the courtroom may affect the impressions of the jury, the press, the NGO Observers, the victims and their families, and others who may see the defendant. If he is dressed in “prison clothes”, appears to be unclean or unkempt, or is shackled at his hands and feet, an impression might be formed that is different than if he appeared clean and tidy wearing a 3-piece business suit.

Sunset at Girls Cout Beach,  Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Sunset at Girls Cout Beach, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

After hearings – The Beach & a Jamaican Dinner

The NGO Observers were taken on a short tour of several beaches on the island by a logistics specialist, Petty Officer Second Class Archie, and then had dinner at the Jerk House. I had authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken served by a Jamaican (I think), with Jamaican reggae music playing in the background. The only thing that could have made this better is if I had saved room for dessert.

Meeting with the Prosecution; Departure for GTMO

Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 4) we will meet with the prosecution team at 2:00 p.m. and the defense team at 4:30 p.m.

We will depart Guantanamo Bay for Andrews Air Force Base at 10 a.m. Thursday.

It certainly feels like we have been here longer than three days.

The next blog will be list more motions from today, and the blog after that will deal with the life of an NGO Observer at GTMO’s Camp Justice.

(Avril Rua Pitt, NGO Observer Lounge, Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Wednesday, 4 March 2015)

 

USS Cole Case Day 1 Wrap Up: Guantanamo Bay

From the ferry crossing Guantanamo Bay, the GTMO airport where we arrived in the background.

View from the ferry crossing Guantanamo Bay, the GTMO airport where we arrived in the background.

Touch Down at GTMO

The first day we arrived at Guantanamo Bay was sobering. This side of the island is beautiful, and everyone at the Base who met us is very friendly. We arrived, went through security and got on vans to head to the Ferry. It is a short ferry ride to Camp Justice, and we had interesting conversations with other observers and different people going to Guantanamo for different purposes unrelated to the pretrial hearings. Our luggage was waiting for us when we arrived. We have all been set up in two tents; one for the men and one for women.

On Sunday, we went for dinner at an Irish restaurant. The food was everything but Irish, but I cannot judge seeing as I ordered tilapia! I found it interesting that we could not all sit together as we had not made a reservation 24 hours in advance. Yesterday (Monday, the 2nd) we switched things u and went next door the Irish place, the Windjammer, which has the exact same menu as the Irish place. Sigh.

Guantanamo Bay Courtroom from the viewing gallery, behind  the thick, bulletproof glass.

Guantanamo Bay Courtroom from the viewing gallery, behind the thick, bulletproof glass. (Photo credit: CBS News. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Courtroom Tour

Day 1 at Gitmo started with a tour of the Court. We were not able to go inside the actual courtroom as they had already prepared it for the session. We sat in the gallery, which is behind glass windows that have TV monitors transmitting with a 40-second delay to allow for time to censure any classified information that may be said in court.

We talked about the trial process in Military Commissions, Convening authorities and their roles, especially in light of the Unlawful Influence motion that was set to be ruled on., how juries and selected,  and went over some court rules and structure.

Court Session Begins – Victims & Family Join

We reconvened at the court at 10:30 a.m. This time we were joined by Victims and Family who sat on the opposite end of the room. In the room, we had our NGO escorts as well as some military personnel to escort us if we needed to leave the room, or if we needed anything else. One of them was actually from Indiana. Always great to meet “fellow Hoosiers”. Our escorts have been wonderful the entire time, and drive us anywhere we wish to go, including to the court a few yards away sometimes.

We were given assigned seats even though the gallery was half-empty.

Courtroom sketch of al Nashiri by artist Janet Hamlin. Today in court he was wearing a similar white jumpsuit.

File courtroom sketch of al Nashiri by artist Janet Hamlin. Today in court he was wearing a similar white jumpsuit.

From where I was in the back row, I did not see the bring al Nashiri in, but I did see him during our “comfort break”. He was in a white jumpsuit and was chatting with his team, looking very calm. At 50 years old, he certainly looks a lot younger in my opinion

Judge’s Ruling on Unlawful Influence by Marine Major General Vaughn Ary (retired)

First order of business, Judge Spath delivered his ruling on the Unlawful Influence Motion (AE 332, Defense Motion to Dismiss for Unlawful Influence and Denial of Due Process for Failure to Provide an Independent Judiciary). The Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual addresses the relevant laws on Unlawful Influence on page 63.

The judge ruled that there was an appearance of Unlawful Influence by retired Marine Major General Vaughn Ary, the Convening Authority (CA) but that because he found Ary did not act in bad faith he did not allow the defense remedies of dismissing the case (See pg. 5896 Unofficial Unauthenticated Transcript, al Nashiri, A March 2015). He further ordered that the CA and his legal advisors be disqualified from taking any further action and making any further recommendations in the case. He called for the appointment of a new CA.

There will be no further evidentiary hearings this week, and several people have mentioned that we may wrap up the sessions as early as today (Tuesday).

The judge mentioned that a ruling on a Motion 205 would be out soon, but that he had denied 205 BB (a motion to reargue) and 205 EE (a motion to supplement additional pleadings). I later learned during a briefing with General Martins that these were defense motions to seal some of al Nashiri’s medical records for privacy reasons.

More Motions

At the 1300hrs (1:00 p.m.) session, the court heard spirited arguments from both the defense and prosecution on the following motions:

  • AE 331 A – Government Motion To Amend the Docketing Order (February 2015 Hearing) To Allow The Government To Determine The Manner In Which It Presents Its Evidence Relating To The Admissibility Of Government-Noticed Hearsay And Evidence Identified In AE 207;
  • AE 319J – Defense Motion to Continue Further Hearings on the Government’s Motion to Admit Hearsay Until the Court of Military Commissions Review Renders a Final Judgment on Appeal;
  • AE 256D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 256C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5);
  • AE 257D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 257C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5).

Meeting with Chief Prosecutor General Martins

The session ended at about 3:30 p.m. to the public, and continued to discuss a classified Motion 505 in chambers. We met about an hour (for about an hour) later with Army Brig. General Mark Martins, the Chief Prosecutor in the Office of Military Commissions.

We went over some of the hearsay rules under the Military Commissions Act relating to some of the motions discussed in the afternoon session, and answered our questions relating not just to the USS Cole.

Meeting Carol Rosenberg

Before this meeting however, I bumped into Ms. Carol Rosenberg, a notable reporter from the Miami Herald who is known as the Dean of the GTMO Press Corps and has been reporting on Guantanamo since 2002. She said she had read my tweet, and that she knew how to adjust the air conditioning in the tents! Who knew! She later came back and showed us how to do just that. We made very minimal adjustments so as not to let any rodents in or get the tent moist and moldy. Thanks to that, night 2 was a sleeping-bag-only affair.

Tuesday’s Court Schedule

Today (Tuesday) the court session begins at 9:00 am.

Avril Rua Pitt, Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Tuesday, 3 March 2015

First Night at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

IMG_1307We arrived at Guantanamo Bay safely. It took a while to get settled in.

One of my first tasks was to set up the Gitmo Observer Resource Center, which is a compilation of Military Commission documents, Geneva Conventions, Briefing Books, and office supplies for all of the NGO Observers to use. It is set up in a room called the “NGO Lounge”. All of our Gitmo Observer materials were in a big black trunk, presumably placed there by the last Indiana University McKinney Law School Observer who was down here at GTMO last week.

On the plane to GTMO and while here, several NGO Observers have been reading Gitmo Observer’s Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual. They seem to be very intrigued. This 400-page document written by IU McKinney affiliates looks at rights and interests of all stakeholders, including defendants, prosecution, victims, the press and others.

It was freakishly cold last night in our tent. IU McKinney’s GTMO sleeping bag AND electric blanket came in very very handy!

In the morning we are taking a tour of the GTMO courtroom.

(Avril Rua Pitt, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 2 March 2015)

Going to Guantanamo – Overnight at Andrews Air Force Base

Air Force H20

Outside Andrew Air Force Base from my hotel.

I flew from Indianapolis to Washington DC to a beautiful 30 degrees. My hotel for the night is just across the street from Andrews Air force Base, where I’m to report at 6:45 a.m. tomorrow for my flight to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor the case against al Nashiri, who is charged with being a mastermind of the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 US sailors in 2000.

On this trip, I will be joined by ten other Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observers, some of whom have already expressed interest in the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, that we at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law have been researching and writing.

Flying to DC

My trip was uneventful, save for the look on all who tried to lift my carry-on luggage containing the Manuals, which at this point are in two Volumes, totaling over 400 pages. More about the Manuals later.

On my flight from Indianapolis there was an ‘interesting’ conversation going on behind me. I was sitting in front of the loudest three on this very small plane. Their conversations spanned from blue-collar job variations by state, Hoover Dam documentaries, Benghazi and then, Guantanamo! I held my breath.

Their biggest and only complaint was that US taxpayer money was paying for top-notch medical care “for those 9-11 prisoners down there in Cuba” while people here cannot afford it.

The pilot came on the intercom, and voices behind me were lowered for the remainder of the flight. I am still a little shocked that three people on that small plane going from Indiana to the East Coast would talk about Guantanamo Bay, on the eve of my first trip to that U.S. detention center on a remote Caribbean Island.

Preparing for my mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

As an NGO observer, I am tasked with evaluating whether the all stakeholders are being afforded the rights and interests to which they are entitled through the Military Commission process. Yes, I will be examining rights of the defendants. Also I will examine rights of victims and their families, rights of the prosecution, rights of the press, and rights and interests of others who have a stake in the proceedings.

To help prepare for this mission, I have familiarized myself with the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, which at this point I find to be of ‘biblical’ importance. As I mentioned, it is now in two Volumes. Volume I is the main body of the Manual, and identifies the international and domestic U.S. law that governs the Military Commissions. It provides a good idea of what a fair proceeding should look like, so that NGO Observers will have a good point of reference. It also contains a number of extensive, comprehensive “checklists” that Observers can use to give an idea of what to look for when they are observing.

Volume II contains the Appendices, which include hard copies of many important legal documents, such as parts of the Military Commission Act, Rules of Procedure, and International Documents, including parts of the Geneva Conventions.

Both Volumes have been instrumental in helping me prepare for my role as an observer. I have done background readings on blogs from other participants who have attended the hearings, as well as from the Military Commission Website and other resources. The Gitmo Observer Blog also contains Briefing Books under Research and Resources, which have been very helpful in orienting myself with the details of the hearings.

March 2 – 6 Hearings

Vaughn Ary - https://www.linkedin.com/pub/vaughn-ary/3b/644/b7

Retired Major General Vaughn Ary

This week, the al Nashiri court dealt with Unlawful Influence (AE 332, Defense Motion to Dismiss for Unlawful Influence and Denial of Due Process for Failure to Provide an Independent Judiciary). See Alleged Unlawful Influence over Guantanamo Bay Judges.  It is argued that a high ranking military official, retired Marine Major General Vaughn Ary, engaged in “unlawful influence” over the judges of the Military Commission by ordering them to relocate to Guantanamo Bay to help speed up the proceedings.

The defense argued that no military official should be able to order a Military Commission judge to take such actions, since the judges are supposed to be free from outside influence.

The Learned Counsel for al Nashiri’s made a statement about who “can be trusted to act impartially” (Pentagon scraps judges’ Guantánamo move order; 9/11 case unfrozen, Miami Herald). The order of Major General Ary was reversed at the end of this past week, after Ary testified from the Pentagon.

Motions scheduled to be argued next week while I am present as per the second amended Docketing Order are:

  • AE 334 – Defense Motion for Appropriate Relief to Allow Mr. AI Nashiri to Groom Prior to Court Sessions and Meetings with his Defense Team.
  • AE 272D – Government Motion for Reconsideration and Clarification of AE 272C- Ruling- Defense Motion for Appropriate Relief: Inquiry into the Existence of a Conflict of Interest Burdening Counsel’s Representation of the Accused Based on Ongoing Executive Branch Investigations;
  • AE 331 A – Government Motion To Amend the Docketing Order (February 2015 Hearing) To Allow The Government To Determine The Manner In Which It Presents Its Evidence Relating To The Admissibility Of Government-Noticed Hearsay And Evidence Identified In AE 207;
  • AE 319I – Defense Motion to Continue the Evidentiary Hearings Related to AE 166 et seq and AE TI 9 Until Preliminary Matters are Resolved;
  • AE 319J – Defense Motion to Continue Further Hearings on the Government’s Motion to Admit Hearsay Until the Court of Military Commissions Review Renders a Final Judgment on Appeal;
  • AE 328 – Defense Motion for a Fair Hearing on the Admissibility of Evidence as Noticed in AE 166 and AE 166A; 3 (8) AE 319F, Defense Motion to Compel Discovery Related to AE166/166A/166B and Seeking Further Appropriate Relief;
  • AE 319G – Defense Motion to Compel Witnesses to Testify at the Hearing on AE166/166A/166B/319;
  • AE 256D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 256C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5);
  • AE 257D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 257C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5).

Tomorrow (Sunday), we are scheduled to leave for Guantanamo from Andrews. I plan to post again once I cross the street and enter the base.

I look forward to meeting the other NGO observers.

Aside from the hearings, all that is ringing in my head is ‘banana rats’ – these animals that are supposedly running around pretty freely on Guantanamo Bay. They say that they have to keep the temperature in our GTMO tents very low to keep these rats out at night.

Also, I hear there is a Jamaican shack with the best food on the GTMO base!

Seriously, I am very keen on furthering the goals of the Indiana University Military Commission Observation Project, which include to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the Military Commissions. This is a very important project that I believe serves all stakeholders in the Military Commission process.

Avril Rua Pitt, Across the Street From the Andrews Air Force Base Entrance, 28 February 2015