This morning I sat down to begin reading the transcripts from the two-week February 2016 session of the 9/11 hearings in preparation for my work as an NGO Observer at the upcoming April session of the 9/11 hearings. I will be attending week one of the hearings (April 4-9), and a recent alum of IU McKinney Law School will be attending week two (April 11-15).
The transcripts are made available to the public on the Office of Military Commissions website. Simply select the “Cases” tab and open the case you are interested in following. The left navigation panel lists all the available documents for the case, including transcripts.
I often refer interested individuals to the Office of Military Commissions page. Reading the transcripts gives the reader a good understanding of why the 9/11 proceedings are an estimated 5 to 8 years from going to trial. For example, on February 17 David Nevin, Learned Counsel (death penalty counsel) for the KSM team, describes the inability to get an interpreter processed through the system so he can join the team. The KSM team has been waiting nearly a year for a replacement after the team’s interpreter was removed without explanation after 2.5 years of service to the team.
If you are going as an NGO Observer, reading the transcripts gets you up to speed, both on the issues that may be on the docket during your observation and for understanding how the courtroom works. For example, in the February 2016 session Jay Connell, Learned Counsel, details the classified information process (pages 10332-10376). Perhaps most importantly, reading the transcripts prepares you with questions to ask the Prosecution and Defense teams. For example, does the manner in which the Prosecution approaches classifying information unreasonably delay the process or harm the defense team’s ability to represent the defendant?
For the general public the transcripts are an easy way to stay informed about the process. Granted there are gaps when the sessions move to classified hearings, but reading the transcripts works for the most part. There are typically two responses when I tell people that I am going to Guantanamo Bay to observe the 9/11 hearings. The first is, “why is it not moving faster?” The second is, “why are we not trying the defendants in federal court in the U.S.?” Reading the transcripts answers both these questions.
As Judge Pohl said in the February hearings (page 10270):
“I want to make something very clear here. I am just a judge. I didn’t pass the MCA; two Congresses did, and two Presidents signed it. I didn’t promulgate the rules, the Secretary of Defense did. Okay? So I want to make this very clear. I take the rules they have and my job as a judge is to do the best that I can. I am not vouching for the system or criticizing the system.The system is, from my perspective, as the system is.”
The Military Commission website hosts 195 transcripts for the 9/11 hearings all labeled as “unofficial/unauthenticated.” Usually I read the transcripts as soon as they are posted at the end of the day; but teaching two classes got in the way of this goal in February. At a minimum I like to download the transcripts as soon as possible. Why? — because sometimes the transcripts change–that is, content is redacted even though it occurred in open court. As Judge Pohl stated, the participants, be they defendants, judiciary, defense, prosecution, victims, or observers, didn’t make the military commission system, it is simply the system we have to work with and we all find our way to work best in it. Downloading and reading the transcripts is one of the ways I work with the system.
Posted by Catherine A. Lemmer, IU McKinney Law School