Finally headed to GTMO for Hadi al Iraqi Hearings

A Delta Airlines Airbus A319 (file photo). Definitely a much more comfortable way to fly than by military plane.

A Delta Airlines Airbus A319 (file photo). Definitely a much more comfortable way to fly than by military plane.

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.

Odd droplet shaped formations dot the ocean near the Cuban island.

Odd droplet shaped formations dot the ocean near the Cuban island.

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.

Ferries shuttle people across from the airport on the leeward side to the windward side of Guantanamo Bay.

Ferries shuttle people across from the airport on the leeward side to the windward side of Guantanamo Bay.

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.

One of the many tents of Camp Justice. This particular tents is one of two Male NGO tents. Shower and bathroom facilities are housed in different tents.

One of the many tents of Camp Justice. This particular tent is one of two Male NGO tents. Shower and bathroom facilities are housed in different tents.

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.

 Tomorrow’s Hearings

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

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