Month: December 2015

The Club No One Wants to Join

At the end of each week of the 9/11 hearings, there are a series of concluding media briefings at which the defense teams, the prosecution, and the families of the 9/11 victims speak to the members of the press who are present in Guantanamo Bay. This week the members of the media included representatives from news outlets, including among others, Associated Press, BreitBart News,  BuzzFeed, and Law DragonCarol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald was present as well and is the only reporter that has attended all of the Military Commission hearings. The NGO Observers are not allowed to attend these press briefings but are allowed to view them via a live stream in the NGO Office Lounge.

After Walter RuizJames Connell III, and David Nevin, defense attorneys, and Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins spoke, four of the Victims’ Family Members chose to speak to the media. It was apparent from their statements that each is on an individual journey.

Phyllis Rodriguez spoke first. Her 31-year-old son Greg died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. She started by saying she was a 9/11 victim’s family member and as such she was a member of a “club no one wants to join.” Phyllis then went on to say that she had always opposed the death penalty, but that her conviction had not been tested before 9/11.

Four days after the 9/11 attacks she and her husband Orlando Rodriguez wrote an open letter, “Not In Our Son’s Name,”calling on President Bush not to resort to a military retaliation against Afghanistan. The print version is here. As a result of the letter circulating on the internet along with several others by victims’ family members calling for non-violent solutions, they met others who held similar beliefs. From these connections, the non-profit September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows was formed on February 14, 2002.

The organization’s mission is stated on its website as follows: “an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn our grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating nonviolent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism. Acknowledging our common experience with all people affected by violence throughout the world, we work to create a safer and more peaceful world for everyone.” (Peaceful Tomorrows website). The organization has received numerous awards, including a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2004.

In 2015 film maker Gayla Jamison produced and directed a documentary about the ongoing reconcilation work of Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez. The film is entitled In Our Son’s Name.


Phyllis Rodriguez and her daughter Julia. (Guantanamo Bay Ferry)

The press briefings are recorded and the video posted on the Military Commission site for public viewing. The December 11, 2015 briefing will be posted shortly.  The words and stories of all the Victims’ Family Members are powerful reminders of the importance of making sure that the defendants are afforded fair and just proceedings by the Military Commission.

Sunrise at Guantanamo Bay, awaiting ferry to the base airport.

By: Catherine A. Lemmer, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay, 11 December 2015.

Question of Undue Influence

post theater

Front entrance of the Post Theater at Ft. Meade, Maryland, where Military Commission hearings are fed live from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Today, the court spent a third consecutive day questioning witnesses regarding the female guard issue. Colonel David Eugene Heath, the current overseer of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Defense focused heavily on Col. Heath’s understanding of the Geneva Conventions, as well as his understanding and application of the detainees’ status as prisoners of war.

Luke in front of post theater

Me in front of the Post Theater, just outside the room where Military Commission hearings are aired.

Defense council for one of the defendants also brought up the fact that a complaint had been lodged against the judge for undue influence by military officials. Judge Pohl quickly pointed out that he had refused to even look at the contents of the complaint. Defense council argued that even if there had been no undue influence, there was still an appearance of undue influence, which obliged the prosecution to provide defense council with the contents of that complain. The prosecution responded that “apparent undue influence” is determined through an objective standard of analysis–i.e. whether a reasonable person would deem that there had been apparent undue influence. Since this was not the case, argued the prosecution, the complaint need not be handed over to the defense.

I experienced a kind of Kafkaesque disorientation as I contemplated the microscopic issues being dealt with today when compared with the “Gorgon’s Knot” of a case being sorted out bit by bit at Guantanamo. I was particularly struck by the lack of timeliness evident at the tribunal. International Law grants the accused the right to a “speedy trial”–a name one could hardly give to these hearings with a straight face.

By: Luke Purdy, 11 December 2015, 9/11 Hearings Guantanamo Bay (viewed at Ft. Meade in Maryland)

9/11 Hearings In Morning Recess

The 9/11 Hearings are recessed this morning (Wednesday, December 9) because Mr. Mustafa al Hawsawi did not voluntarily waive his right to be present at the proceedings.


Mustafa al Hawsawi

Mr. al Hawsawi was forced to choose between attendance at today’s Military Commission hearings or a meeting with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Under the Military Commission’s procedures in place here for the 9/11 proceedings, a defendant must attend the proceedings or voluntarily waive his right to attend.  If a defendant chooses not to attend, but does not do so voluntarily, the Joint Task Force must “force” the defendant to come to the proceedings.

Judge Pohl “sternly” advised the government that although he understands that there are “a lot of fingers in  the pie” and “no unity of command” it is not acceptable to have these kinds of easily avoidable delays.  The hearings are now in recess to permit Mr. al Hawsawi to attend his ICRC meeting this morning and then attend the hearings this afternoon.

In the afternoon we are set to pick up with the female guard issue.

By: Catherine A. Lemmer, 9 December 2015, 9/11 Hearings Guantanamo Bay

Hearings on the Use of Female Guards at Detention Center

I arrived at Ft. Meade’s theater a few minutes before the day’s Military Commission hearings were set to begin. Guantanamo Bay’s courtroom broadcasts a live feed of the hearings to a number of bases throughout the continental United States, including Ft. Meade. Hearings were set to begin yesterday, but they were delayed by a day, as the judge decided to spend monday discussing evidentiary matters with council.

Post Theater 1

Sign for the Post Theater, where live feed of the Military Commission Hearings is Shown. The theater also shows regular hollywood films at the base.

As the session began, the judge had a brief colloquy with the five detainees in the room. After reading their rights, the judge asked them each in turn if they understood what had been said. The detainees all replied in the affirmative, though one of the defendants complained about his female defense council, claiming that she was not representing his interests.

After the judge finished the colloquy with the defendants, the remainder of the day’s session was spent in direct and cross-examination of a witness in the case, who for confidentiality purposes when by the name “Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col)”, relating to her use of female guards during her oversight of the detention facility where the defendants were being kept.

Emotions were fairly heated during these exchanges. The questioning related to a motion that would make permanent an order by the military commissions judge that would prevent female guards from having direct contact with detainees who, for religious reasons, are opposed to direct contact with un-related women. Defense council questioned the Lt. Col. about her awareness of the rules concerning cultural awareness, as well as her reasons for selecting the guards who would ultimately do searches of the prisoners’ rooms. The prosecution sought to emphasize the Lt. Col’s dedication to following Military Commission rules in a practical and efficient manner.

Throughout the hearing, trial participants voiced concerns about confidentiality. Prior to questioning of the witness, the military judge emphasized that today’s hearings would only focus on nonconfidential materials, and that feed would be cut off to the continental locations (such as Ft. Meade) if council or the witness mentioned any sealed information. As a result, there were numerous times throughout the hearing that the witness would hesitate to answer a question due to confidentiality concerns.

Council for the prosecution and defense spend both the morning and afternoon sessions questioning the Lt. Col. about her oversight of the detention center that she oversaw when female guards were given positions that put them in close contact with the detainees. Depending on whether the judge agrees, she may be brought back for another round of examination in the coming days.

By: Luke Purdy, 9 December 2015, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay

9/11 Hearings Set To Proceed

Professor Catherine Lemmer at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Professor Catherine Lemmer at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, December 2015

There were no open hearings today, December 7, 2015, in the 9/11 case. The hearings were closed for a 505H hearing during which the prosecution, defense teams, and judge addressed a number of evidentiary issues.

One of the on-going matters the parties discussed today was the use of female guards in the detention camps. The inmates object to the use of female guards for religious reasons. The court heard, during the open session in October 2015, extensive testimony and evidence on this issue.  Despite that the court was in open session the transcript has been significantly redacted and is now labeled: “Unclassified For Public Use.” This means that the previously available information is now classified. For example, there is less than one page of transcript for the 11:16 AM to 12:28 PM session on October 30, 2015.

GITMO transcript

gitmo transcript 2

All the transcripts are available on the Military Commission site. The unofficial word is that the female guard issue will be continued in the February 2016 hearings. Judge Pohl will hear additional classified evidence at that time. Until such time, the interim order will remain in place that prohibits female guards from interacting with the defendants for purposes of “legal activities.”  For example, transporting the defendants to attorney meetings or to court.  It is an order limited to legal matters, therefore the female guards are not prohibited from interacting with the defendants in such instances as escorting them to the recreation area or for matters other than legal.

The unofficial word is that the Military Commission will conduct four days of hearings starting tomorrow morning. At that point Judge Pohl will engage in a colloquy with each defendant regarding his right to be present in the courtroom. This colloquy occurs each time the hearings are convened.

As the NGO Observers were not able to be in the courtroom, we visited the Navel Exchange (NEX) for supplies. There was a huge Christmas display in the entrance to the NEX; many of the units decorate a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree pictured above features two local wildlife — the iguana and the banana rat.

The NGO Observers were taken on a drive up on the windmill ridge. From there you could see the entire naval station. The JTF detention centers are on the other side of the island and off-limits to the NGO Observers.

By: Catherine A. Lemmer, 7 December 2015, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay

Monday’s 9/11 Hearings Are Closed

At the end of today’s (Saturday) 802 conference, we were informed that there will be no open hearings on Monday, December 7, 2015.  The Defense teams, Prosecutor, and Judge will be conducting a 505H hearing to discuss evidentiary matters related to a number of motions. If Monday’s 505H hearing resolves some matters, we will start up on Tuesday with the female guard issue, the CIA interpreter on Mr. bin al Shibh’s team, and again the conflict of interest matters.
By:  Catherine A. Lemmer, 5 December 2015, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay

Enroute to Guantanamo Bay for 9/11 Hearings

I arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in the dark and am all checked in. I got my ticket and had a chance to read the Andrews Gazette while waiting for the rest of the NGO Observers to arrive.

Andrews gazette

I’ve introduced myself to the other NGO Observers as they arrived and I’ve handed out the newest version of our Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual. There are seven observers this time, representing law schools, human rights and other non-profit organizations, and the private bar. I look forward to sharing conversations and learning from them this week.

Andrews Air Force Lemmer

Professor Catherine Lemmer at Andrews Air Force Base     5 December 2015

The issues before the hearing this week are of great interest — classified information, the female guard issue, the CIA interpreter issue, and the continuing conflict-of-interest issues. I was at Guantanamo Bay for the February 2015 9/11 hearings when the CIA interpreter issue stopped the hearings. I am very interested to see how that issue will be advanced.  It will also be interesting to see if the recent move by the military to open all combat positions to women will have an impact on the discussion of the female guard issue.

The chatter in the departure lounge is that the week is shaping up to be very productive.  It is sure to be an interesting and informative week.

By:  Catherine A. Lemmer, 5 December 2015, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay

Travel to Ft. Meade for Hearings on Alleged 9/11 Architect

Main Gate of Ft. Meade, where I am scheduled to attend hearings this coming week.

Main Gate of Ft. Meade, where I am scheduled to attend hearings this coming week.

In a few days, I will travel to Ft. Meade in Maryland to observe, analyze, and report on the upcoming hearings for Khalid Shaik Mohammad and 4 other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The U.S. Government has alleged that Mohammed was the “principal architect of the 9/11 attacks”, as reported by the 9/11 commission report. While at Ft. Meade, I will be viewing a secure live feed that links directly to  Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the defendants have been detained since at least 2006.

My role with the MCOP

I have been participating in the IU McKinney School of Law’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) program for over a year now. I have had the opportunity to research on our Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual which observers and others can use to help them ascertain whether the rights and interests of all stakeholders have been afforded to them. The Manual examines rights and interests not only of the defendants, but also of the prosecution,  victims and their families, the media, observers / monitors, and others.

I have also registered for multiple trips to Guantanamo Bay to view hearings live in the courtroom. However, all of those sets of hearings were cancelled in the days prior my departure. The repeated delays have given me a sense of the monumentally sluggish pace at which these trials move.

Who am I?

I am a 3L law student at IU McKinney, and am set to graduate in December 2015. Until recently I was a human rights intern with the Universal Rights Group, which is a Human Rights think tank in Geneva, Switzerland. My ongoing interest in the Guantanamo Bay is driven in large part by my passion for human rights work, combined with my ongoing interest in criminal law.


Luke Purdy in front of the UN Building (Palais des Nations) in Geneva, Switzerland (Fall 2015).

Next week’s hearings

I am particularly excited about the fact that judge is scheduled to engage in a colloquy with the defendants on Monday morning the 7th, which will give me a chance to view and report on the spoken words of the accused.

I am also interested to hear evidence/testimony on the defendant’s request to prevent female guards from having direct contact with the defendant for religious reasons.

The hearings are scheduled to begin on Monday, December 7 and run until Friday the 11th. I will continue to blog about my observations at the base. I am expected to be joined at Ft. Meade by IU Affiliates Bob Masbaum (a J.D. graduate) and Professor George Edwards (founder of the Military Commission Observation Project). IU McKinney Professor Catherine Lemmer, who is an international librarian, is scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay this weekend to attend these 9/11 hearings live.

By: Luke Purdy, 3L, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law