Preparing to Travel to Guantanamo Bay

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U.S. Military Commissions charging defendants with war crimes are held at Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo by Catherine Lemmer, Indiana University McKinney School of Law)

I am a practicing attorney with the Office of the Indiana Attorney General and an alumnus of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. I am also a veteran of Afghanistan.  I was selected to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (“Gitmo”) to represent the  Military Commission Observer Program (“MCOP”) which is part of the law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law (“PIHRL”).  This program, which was founded by Professor George Edwards, sends law school affiliates to Guantanamo to monitor hearings in criminal cases related to a range of international crimes. My participation in this program is in my own personal capacity, and my blog posts and other comments are my own, and not of my employer or of my law school.

 

AAFB - Paul Schilling - 13 Feb 2016

Updated — Here I am at Andrews Air Force Base on Saturday, 13 February 2016, waiting for my flight to Guantanamo Bay. I’m reading the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual that Professor George Edwards developed to help Observers understand rights and interests of stakeholders, and help them as they monitor the Military Commissions

I am scheduled to monitor the hearings scheduled for February 15-19, 2016, in the case against 5 alleged perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon.

 

I was previously scheduled to attend hearings in the case against Hadi al Iraqi, who was allegedly a liaison between al Queda Iraq and the Taliban.  Those hearings were postponed.  Those hearings were in Gitmo, but I was going to monitor them from a remote viewing site – at Fort Meade, Maryland, where the Gitmo courtroom proceedings are simultaneously projected by secure video link.

The Role of the Observers

The MCOP sends observers to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor the commission hearings in person. Our role as observers is to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the proceedings.  We seek to gather information that sheds light on whether the rights of all stakeholders have been afforded to them.  A stakeholder is an individual (or organization) holding rights and/or interests in the Military Commissions.  Military Commission stakeholders include, for example, the defendants, defense counsel, the prosecution, victims and their families, judges, witnesses, the press, the international community and countries with detained citizens at Gitmo.

The MCOP has been researching international and domestic U.S. Law that governs the Military Commissions, and analyzing it in the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.  The Manual, which is in draft form, is used by Observers and others interested in ascertaining whether a fair trial is being afforded to all stakeholders.

Background:
In preparation for my trip, I took some time to review the charges and some background research on the defendants. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked 4 planes in the US. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, 1 plane crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth plane crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. In all 2,921 civilians were killed as a direct result of these attacks. Al Queda, a reported terrorist organization said to be run by Usama Bin Laden (“UBL”) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Court documents charge that al Queda planned for the 9/11 attacks for years. It was charged that in August 1996, UBL proclaimed a holy war against the US, and that Khalid Shaikh Mohammad (“KSM”) and UBL discussed hijacking commercial airliners and crashing them into buildings in the US. Preparations would have included identifying the “pilots”, obtaining visas, funding the terrorists, flight schools and simulators and casing airport security to determine the feasibility of an attack.

All 5 of the defendants in the case I am scheduled to observe were allegedly involved in the planning process and allegedly provided material support to the hijackers.

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Khalid Shaikh Mohammad

KSM and and the other co-defendants, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hasawi are charged as having participated in various stages leading up to the 9/11 attacks.

The official charges against the defendants include the following, though it is not clear whether all the charges (e.g., the crime of conspiracy) will survive challenges by the defense:

Charges: All Defendants:
1. Conspiracy;
2. Attacking Civilians;
3. Attacking Civilian Objects;
4. Murder in Violation of the Law of War;
5. Destruction of Property in Violation of the Law of War;
6. Hijacking or Hazarding a Vessel or Aircraft;
7. Terrorism

The Military Commission Observation Program requires me to submit daily blog entries. My next blog post will be from Andrews Air Force Base, from where we are scheduled to fly to Gitmo on Saturday morning, February 13, 2016.

My next substantive blog post will likely summarize some of the motions that we are expected to hear this coming week. Also, I will report on my trip to Guantanamo Bay, noting my observations.

I recognize that I am serving as the eyes and ears of many people who will never be permitted to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I feel a special obligation to report comprehensively, thoroughly, and accurately on behalf of those who are not as fortunate as I am to have such an opportunity.

Paul Schilling — J.D. ’10, Indiana University McKinney School of Law; Indiana Deputy Attorney General (participating and commenting in my own personal capacity and not that of my law school or my employer).

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