Guantanamo defendant Hadi al Iraqi Fires His Legal Counsel

Tyler Smith, standing in front of the sign at Camp Justice, the site of military commissions held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Tyler Smith, in front of Camp Justice, the site of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba U.S. Military Commissions

I traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for hearings in the Military Commission case against alleged al Qaeda member Hadi al Iraqi.

The hearing, which had been postponed by one day, was set to begin at 10 a.m. today, Tuesday the 22nd of September 2015. Finally, at 10:45, the military judge commenced the hearing.

It did not really surprise anyone that the first thing that occurred was that Hadi al Iraqi “released” his military defense counsel, essentially firing US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jasper and Air Force Major Ben Stirk, who had been representing Hadi al Iraqi. Hadi expressed his desire to have a civilian attorney represent him.

The military judge ruled that the military defense counsel would be released, and would be replaced by other military defense counsel, probably Army Major Robert Kincaid. The Chief Defense Counsel, Marine Corps Brigadier General John Baker, had already tapped Major Kincaid for this role, but was still undergoing clearance review and briefings, and could not meet with Hadi until those processes had been completed. The military judge said that in the meantime, LTC Jasper and MAJ Stirk would still act as a “mouthpiece” for Hadi in communications with the military commissions.

Carol Rosenberg, of the Miami Herald, published this article regarding today’s proceedings indicating the paralysis of the commission’s lone non-capital case.

This Pentagon approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin shows Hadi al Iraqi during his arraignment in June 2014. Second from the left is Hadi’s now former counsel, Air Force Major Ben Stirk.

This Pentagon approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin shows Hadi al Iraqi during his arraignment in June 2014. Second from the left is Hadi’s now former counsel, Air Force Major Ben Stirk.

As was explained on our tour of the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC), there was a 40 second delay during the hearing with what was happening in the actual courtroom to the audio video feed we saw on five TV screens from the gallery.  What is said in the courtroom must be vetted through an intelligence officer to help ensure nothing classified is leaked and has to be translated. The delay can cause some confusion as to what is happening in the courtroom in real time and the delayed audio. For example, at the conclusion of the hearing, everyone in the courtroom and in the gallery were given the “all rise” order in real time, while the audio from the previous 40 seconds of hearings was still going. Other than that, the delay didn’t really cause much of an issue during this hearing. Most of the observers simply watched the screen in front of them instead of watching the happenings in the courtroom through the glass.

Candid Meeting with Hadi’s Former Defense Counsel LTC Jasper

Hadi al Iraqi's former defense counsel, US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jasper.

Hadi al Iraqi’s former defense counsel, US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jasper.

One of the highlights of this mission was the post-hearing meeting with Hadi’s newly-former defense counsel, LTC Jasper. He talked to us for a solid hour about his experience as Hadi’s counsel, his feelings on being fired, and his opinions about the military commission system. LTC Jasper represented Hadi for about a year, and he said that over that period of time built a good personal relationship with him. All indications are that it will take time for MAJ Kincaid to come up to speed on the case and build a rapport with Hadi. LTC Jasper explained that even though Hadi didn’t tell him why exactly he was firing his attorneys, LTC Jasper attributed it, in part, to the distrust Hadi has with the military commission system and that Hadi’s fellow detainees (his “brothers”) all have civilian counsel. In my opinion, it is a miracle that LTC Jasper was able to build any kind of rapport with Hadi given the logistical issues of meeting with his client, and the fact that LTC Jasper was a Marine Corps officer that served in Iraq and Afghanistan around the same time Hadi allegedly commanded elements of al-Qaeda.

As now former defense counsel, LTC Jasper was very candid with us when talking about his views of the military commission system. Based on what I have read and observed about the military commission system I was not surprised when I heard LTC Jasper’s observations and opinions he gained from his experience in working within the military commission system. I was very impressed to hear a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, with as much experience as he has be so candid and down to earth. LTC Jasper expressed disappointment, though I can’t quote him as saying so, perhaps a bit of relief as well. He indicated he has already accepted a non-litigation job at the Pentagon.

Post Hearing Activities

Following the hearing, our Office of Military Commission (OMC) escorts drove us to the various areas of interest on the base.

One of the many beautiful beaches at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

One of the many beautiful beaches at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Though Guantanamo Bay is synonymous with the infamous detention facilities, it is a naval base of 45 square miles (Camp Atterbury, Indiana is approx. 54 square miles, the US’s largest military base, Fort Bragg, North Carolina is approx. 254 square miles) with the typical military base accommodations. It has a military grocery/department store (Navy Exchange, or NEX for short), souvenir shop, radio station (which we toured), very large recreation and gym facilities, housing, schools, and restaurants (yes, there is a McDonald’s and a Jamaican run Irish-pub).

Not typical of military bases, at least the ones I have been on were the beautiful beaches, lighthouse, and large reptiles. Also the Internet is incredibly poor. Odd considering that Internet is often the only lifeline military members deployed have to their loved ones back home.

A special area of interest we stopped at but could not tour, was Camp X-ray, the infamous temporary detention camp that received its first prisoners in January 2002.

By: Tyler Smith, 3L, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s