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

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