I arrived at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station yesterday, on a sunny Sunday July afternoon. I am scheduled to be here from tomorrow (the 20th) through 31 July to monitor hearings in the case against alleged al Qaeda official Hadi al-Iraqi.
I flew from Andrews Air Force Base – along with the judge, prosecution and defense attorneys, media, and other NGO Observers – on an air force flight. Check-in was similar to check-in for a regular commercial flight. I presented my ID card at the Andrews ticketing counter, confirmed my destination, and the attendant gave me a boarding pass.
Waiting to Board
In the Andrews terminal, I had the opportunity to meet fellow NGO Observers and other people involved in the military commission. Many people traveling with us appeared to have formed strong bonds, as they quite happily greeted one another with wide smiles, a change in the tone of their voice, and a strong handshake or hug.
When did friends and Colleagues last see each other?
Watching the men and women at Andrews greet each other so warmly made a lot of sense to me, since the different groups of people may not have seen each other in a while. I’m not sure when the last hearings were in the Hadi case, but there have been no military commission hearings at all for many months.
Unlike many courts, the Military Commission doesn’t conduct court hearings each and every day. Instead, the court only conducts hearings on the days or weeks designated by the judge in light of pending motions, the status of the parties’ trial preparations, and other considerations. Weeks and months can go by with no hearings in the Hadi case, or in any of the other few pending Guantanamo Bay cases.
The judge and others involved with the hearings (excluding the defendants) do not stay at Guantanamo Bay when there are no hearings. Instead, everybody (again, except the defendants) travel to the base only for the scheduled hearings.
Hearings have indeed been scheduled in multiple cases over the last several months, but most of those hearings were cancelled.
NGO Impact: A Cost – Benefit Analysis
The repeat cancellations present a potential problem for NGO’s, among other stakeholders. Such cancellations (particularly those that occur shortly before a hearing date) create a degree of uncertainty for NGO’s representatives regarding the cost of planning on attending hearings. This cost notably includes time reviewing relevant motions, statutes, and human rights treaties, and that time could instead be invested in other valuable projects. If hearings are rescheduled too often, there is a risk that NGO’s will elect to invest their time in other worthy goals that may have a more certain application, rather than preparing for a hearing that may be cancelled. Should this occur, then fewer NGO’s may send Observers, which could negatively impact the quantity and quality of Observer reporting.
A personal example
On three prior occasions, I was selected to travel to observe the proceedings as a representative of the Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University School of Law.
Each previous time the hearings were cancelled. Each time I prepared for the hearing, purchased flight tickets, paid for my ground transportation, and coordinated work schedules and assignments with co-workers. While I am fortunate to work in a very team oriented office, such cancellations (and subsequent rescheduling) put pressure on my co-workers.
As a trial attorney, I understand the need to continue court hearings, sometimes at the last minute. I also understand that the complexity of these issues often necessitates a fair amount of work by all parties to properly prepare for the hearings. Nonetheless, the potential danger to NGO’s remains as they work to balance their limited time, manpower, and other resources.
While these cancellations can be frustrating, I hope that Observers can use this time beneficially to review and re-review the law, commentary, and analysis. Perhaps this additional analysis under multiple deadlines will lead to creative ideas to contribute to the discussion.
Just moments ago, my fellow NGO Obsevers met for Sunday dinner to discuss the hearings set to begin tomorrow morning. While at the restaurant, we were notified that the hearings scheduled for Monday, July 20 and Tuesday, July 21 were postponed until Wednesday.
That’s not a big problem for us, as our Guantanamo Bay tents are only a few feet away from the courtroom, and it is not a logistical nightmare to have Monday and Tuesday without hearings. But, Indiana’s Military Commission Observation Project is sending 4 people to Ft. Meade, Maryland, to monitor these same Guantanamo hearings via a secure simultaneous video-feed. It must be more challenging for the Ft. Meade Observers to change their hearings schedule to get to Ft. Meade.
Its time now to re-read some material I brought along.
Greg Loyd – Guantanamo Bay, Cuba