I just arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside of Washington, DC, for my military flight to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This time I’m traveling as a non-governmental organization (NGO) observer on proceedings in the U.S. Military Commission case. I’ve been to Guantanamo Bay (also known as Gitmo) as an expert witness, on a media / research trip for my upcoming book (The Guantanamo Bay Reader), and as an NGO Observer. The rules on the ground have been different each time, in part based on category of travel. But I’ve also learned that rules change even for people in the same category. It’s always interesting to compare notes with other repeat Guantanamo Bay visitors.
I’ve had a chance to meet some of the other 6 NGO representatives who will be with us on this trip. They come from Human Rights First, the American Bar Association, Judicial Watch, the Pacific Council on International Policy, and Georgetown and Seton Hall Law Schools. Several of the Observers have deep knowledge on Guantanamo Bay issues, which will make the trip all the more interesting for us.
I’ve also looking forward to caching up with our Military Commission NGO escort, who will be with us most waking moments between now and when we return to Andrews late Thursday afternoon. Fortunately, our escort this trip is one of the escorts from my first NGO trip, a couple of years ago. It should be a good trip.
Who is here? What are we doing?
There are dozens of non-NGO representatives set to board our flight to Guantanamo. They are / could be Hadi’s defense counsel, prosecutors, the judge and the court staff, victims or family members of victims, media, and others associated with the Military Commission generally or associated with the case against Hadi. Passengers could also include people who are permanently stationed at Gitmo, returning from temporary duty or returning from vacation.
The Andrews air terminal is much like an air terminal in any small US city, with check in counters where you get your boarding pass, scales to weigh your check-in luggage, bus station like seating where you sit and way – and wait, x-ray machines to scan carry-ones and metal detectors to walk through, and vending machines with soft drinks and junk food. One difference is that the air ticket cost is zero for NGO Observers, who travel as part of the Pentagon’s stated desire to be transparent with the U.S. Military Commissions.