Guantanamo Bay Arrival, Base Tour, Counsel Meetings

2/20/2016 Day 1: Arrival at Guantanamo Bay

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Matt Kubal in front of the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Station sign by the Naval Exchange

It was a hot 87 degrees and humid  when I arrived at Guantanamo Bay. I exited the plane, removed my sweater and immediately wished I could change into shorts. I made it to Guantanamo Bay and it felt good. I had little time to relish the feeling as our escort Mark corralled the observers and told us we would need to rush as the plane had arrived late. We were in danger of missing our ferry across the bay from the airport to Camp Justice. The tents we are sleeping in and the Expeditionary Legal Complex, where the Military Commissions are held, are at Camp Justice.

 

Our passports were checked prior to leaving the airport (yes, a passport is required to travel to Guantanamo Bay) and we were hurried to a van to drive us to the ferry. Our bags were loaded directly from the plane to a box truck and followed us onto the same ferry. The breeze on the second level of the ferry from the airport to Camp Justice felt great and we had a nice view of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base as we approached from across the bay. About 10 vehicles and a dump truck accompanied us on the same ferry.

We were told on the way to the ferry to be very careful what pictures we take as many areas are off-limits for photography and the military police on the base are very serious about enforcing rules against photography. Mark suggested we ask him or our assigned driver prior to taking any pictures if we weren’t sure whether or not it is allowed in that area. Given that I need to provide several photos for each of these posts, that made me a little nervous, but Mark continued by giving us a short-list of places and things to not take pictures of. Over the next 24 hours we were reminded several times of various places we should not take pictures of.

Day 1: Arrival at our Tents

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The tent I share with three other NGO Observers at Camp Justice

After exiting the ferry we made our way to our tents. The area that was formerly McCalla Airfield is now the part of Camp Justice that houses visiting media and observers in tents. Before arriving I knew that the tents had some amenities, but I was pleasantly surprised by all they did have. I share my tent with three other fellow observers. The tent has seven beds with twin size mattresses and wood frames, wooden floors, dressers and side tables, couches for lounging, a table and chairs, electricity, a refrigerator and air conditioning (set very cold to keep out unwanted critters).

 

We were given some time to unpack and settle in before we all went to obtain our badges. The badges are government property and we were told we should not take photos of them. We were also advised regarding the specific procedures of when and where we should and should not wear them. This was my first time visiting a secure facility of this nature and I I actually expected more security hoops to jump through. Given the potential risks inherent in conducting a trial of persons who are allegedly members of al Qaeda, I understand the need for strict rules and restrictions. We were told that previously observers were far more restricted and could not leave Camp Justice at all. I feel fortunate that I will be able to see much of the base and travel relatively freely to most areas without an escort.

Day 1: Venturing out from Camp Justice

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The Navy Exchange and Commissary

After a brief visit to the Navy Exchange (like a supermarket and department story rolled into one) we returned to our tents for a brief rest before attending a barbecue hosted by the defense counsel for the 9/11 hearings. Meeting the defense counsel for each of the defendants at the barbecue was exciting and a little overwhelming at first. These attorneys are the defense counsel in what one of the attorneys present described as the most significant capital case in United States History. After a year of reading the transcripts of their arguments and their quotes in news stories, it felt surreal to meet them in person. I was very grateful that they were willing to take the time to host an events such as this on our behalf. We were told that the weekly barbecue for observers started as a way to get observers out of the Camp Justice complex in the past when the rules prevented observers from leaving. At the end of the evening, the defense team answered questions and I learned much about the Military Commissions, the hearings in the 9/11 case from last week and regarding expectations for the hearings we will view this week.

 

AE 400 Tomorrow and Expected Motions this Week

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Supplies and resources available to all observers in the NGO lounge at Gitmo provided by IU McKinney’s Program in International Human Rights Law’s U.S. Military Commissions Observation Project

We expect that the hearing tomorrow, February 22nd, the hearing will begin at 9:00 am with motion AE400. Motion AE400 is unusual as it was filed by a group of members of the press (17 news groups) rather than the defense or prosecution. The press is seeking to unseal the transcript of the public hearing of the Military Commission hearing that took place on October 30, 2015. That hearing and the later redacted testimony was heard by observers, the members of the press and victims families in the observation area, but the transcript was later heavily redacted. The movant argues that the redaction after the public hearing is contrary to the Office of the Military Commissions claims of providing transparency. The prosecution is expected to argue that redacting the transcript after the information was made publicly available is currently and has historically been within the government’s authority to protect sensitive information.

We were informed that other motions that may be heard this week may include:

AE254Y and AE254YYY concerning the use of female guards during confinement,

AE396 regarding the classification of documents requested in discovery, and

AE397 regarding the consolidation of the defense’s discovery motions.

Both AE397 and AE 396 were discussed last week as well.

 

 

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