2/21/2016 Day 2: Breakfast and a Tour
Thank you to Professor George Edwards who had the wherewithal to leave an electric blanket at the NGO lounge for observers to use. The tents are kept very cold and I think I was the only person in my tent who slept comfortably last night. This morning most of us left for breakfast at 7:30 AM. Our driver Carl and our escort Mark told us last night that the Gold Hill Galley is by far the best breakfast option on the island and they were not kidding. I had a big plate of bacon, biscuits and gravy, a few hard boiled eggs and fresh fruit (enough that I skipped lunch today). At about $3 for all-you-can-eat, it’s a very good deal as well.
After breakfast our driver Carl took us on a tour of the island. Around the Navy Exchange we saw the less-exciting familiar arches of a McDonald’s and later on a Pizza Hut. A Taco Bell and a KFC were formerly on the base as well, but both are no longer open. We passed a variety of recreation facilities including the Lateral Hazard golf course (which is where I assume that MCOP observer Paul Schilling golfed during his visit last week), a paintball range, a bowling alley, a 24 hour fitness facility, an outdoor movie theater showing first-run movies (schedule available here; we made tentative plans to see “The Big Short” on Wednesday night), an Irish bar, a Jamaican restaurant and a marina where we were told we could rent kayaks and anyone with a captain’s license can rent boats to take out on the bay.
We also had the unique opportunity to see two pieces of United States history from afar: Camp X-Ray and a facility where the some of the detainees are currently held. Camp X-Ray is the temporary detainment facility that inspired the independent drama film of the same name and a full-scale replica built in Manchester, England. Camp X-Ray is where the first detainees transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2002 were first held. It was originally built in 1990 to temporarily house some Cuban asylum seekers who had crossed the minefield surrounding the Guantanamo Bay facility, but were denied asylum for one reason or another. Now the facility looks spartan and overgrown. Compared to the current detainment facility, Camp X-ray offered a very different experience for the prisoners and guards as the facility’s open design meant that detainees and guards could communicate freely whereas the current facility is closer in design to a maximum security facility where detainees are much more isolated from guards and their fellow detainees.
While we were able to take photos of Camp X-Ray and see it from a distance of roughly 200 yards, we were very far away from the current detainment facility on top of a ridge above the base. We were absolutely prohibited from taking photos. Of the 91 detainees still housed at Guantanamo Bay, some of them are accused of horrific crimes while many others have already been approved for release. As of 2010, 48 detainees held in Guantanamo Bay were designated for indefinite detention. As I looked at the facility from afar, I felt a mixture of sympathy for those held who are already cleared for release and for the guards who are tasked with the duty of guarding and maintaining the facility (a job I do not envy) and frustration that this justice system we have created to determine guilt and prosecute those accused of some of the most notorious and horrific crimes in modern history moves so slowly. I only had a moment to briefly ponder the mixed feelings I felt looking at the facility from afar before it was time for us to return to our camp and our nearby NGO lounge.
I am typing this post from a desk in the NGO lounge. The NGO lounge is a couple of rooms in Camp Justice that are connected to the hangar where the media briefings are held. We can view press conferences via CCTV on the television here and some of the NGOs store supplies for observers to use during their time here (including the electric blanket that allowed me to sleep last night). The lounge also has desks, phones, a small refrigerator and we can access the internet here.
It is great to have a permanent space to store supplies, prepare for hearings and work to ensure that, “what happens at Guantanamo Bay, should not stay at Guantanamo Bay” (p. 29, Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, DRAFT , 20 Jan 2016, 4:15 am). Offering the NGO lounge is a good example of the U.S. government’s commitment to encourage independent observers to attend and monitor the Military Commission hearings. The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual provides an excellent description as to why the U.S. Government invites observers:
The U.S. government (the Pentagon / Department of Defense) invites NGO Observers to monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings to demonstrate to the U.S. and international community that the rules under which the Commissions operate are legal under U.S. law and international law, and that these rules are being applied in compliance with U.S. and international law. The Pentagon seeks to have NGOs examine whether the rights of all Military Commission stakeholders are being fully afforded to them, under U.S. and international law, and to confirm that these rights are being so fully afforded. (p. 29, Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, DRAFT , 20 Jan 2016, 4:15 am)
Since I arrived yesterday, I have been impressed by the resources provided to us and the access we have been provided to prosecution and defense counsel.
Day 2: A Briefing and Q&A with General Martins
This afternoon we had the opportunity to meet with General Martins and ask him questions regarding his personal history, the 9/11 case and the Military Commissions more generally. General Mark S. Martins is the Chief Prosecutor of the Military Commissions overseeing the 9/11 case. I was impressed with the ease in which General Martins’ discussed the various motions and answered our questions about the 9/11 case and the Military Commissions. Afterwards, several of the observers commented that they were similarly impressed and understand why he was selected as Chief Prosecutor. As Paul Schilling wrote last week, General Martins, “sounds like a prosecutor.” I very much appreciate General Martins taking the time to speak with us today and staying afterwards to take photos with us.
I hope to create a separate post in the next few days with a summary of some of the main themes in the comments made by the defense yesterday at the barbecue and by General Martins and the prosecution this afternoon. I will also summarize the hearing in the 9/11 case held on February 22, 2016.