After a 24-hour delay, and some slight troubles getting on Joint Andrews Base, I got checked in for my flight out to the Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO) to observe hearings for alleged al-Qaeda commander, Abd al Hadi al Iraqi.
Our group of NGO observers consisted of 8 attorneys and law students from different schools, and 1 non-attorney. We originally had 11 observers but lost 1 due to security clearances issues and 1 due to illness. While waiting, some of the observers had positive things to say about the Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual.
JAB to GTMO
I was fully expecting to fly on a military cargo/passenger plane.
However, we ended up flying on a chartered Delta Airlines Airbus A319. The flight contained us NGOs and our escorts, the Judge and his staff, the prosecution, a few press members, and Office of Military Commission staff, among others. The flight lasted about 3 hours. It was uneventful, other than seeing weird spots in the ocean. One of observers with a background in oceanography later explained the odd drop shapes in the ocean were algae formed in part by an el Niño weather pattern.
After landing at GTMO we got into a van and drove on to a ferry to make the 30-minute trip from the windward side of the island. It was a very beautiful ride.
Our NGO escorts got us settled into our temporary work and living quarters at Camp Justice, the location for the military commissions sitting on a former airfield. The NGO lounge is where various NGOs keep their materials, and is a meeting place for observers to discuss the day’s events. It is located in a room inside a dilapidated airplane hanger/tower building. The NGOs, press, and other personnel staying at GTMO for brief periods stay in the tents. The tents are kept super cold (probably around 55-60 degrees) to keep the local wildlife out. I luckily was given enough of a heads up to bring a sleeping bag, a sweatshirt, long johns, and a winter hat.
Tour of the Expeditionary Legal Complex
The NGO’s and two members of the media were given a tour of the Expeditionary Legal Complex (“ELC”) that was built to try the five 9/11 defendants. It’s a 12-million dollar facility located on Camp Justice, with a courtroom that contains state of the art transportable equipment. Aside from the courtroom, the facility also contains meeting trailers for the prosecution and defense, a Quick Reaction Force room in case something happens, holding cells with arrows on the floor pointing to Mecca, CCTV feeds, and a full body scanner that avoids the need for strip searches.
Preparations have begun for tomorrow’s hearings. The prosecution, defense, and judge met in a private session to presumably discuss the issues to be talked about tomorrow on the record. NGOs reviewed the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, and I feel prepared for my mission. I look forward to seeing what happens.
By: Tyler Smith, 3L, Indiana University Robert. H. McKinney School of Law