On Monday, 30 May 2016, the U.S. Military Commission held the first day of this week’s pre-trial hearings in the case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I was sitting in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom during today’s hearings, which were fascinating.
This post will share about the substance of today’s hearings. Near the end of this post I will share some of my personal observations and opinions about the proceedings and process.
May 30 2016 9/11 Hearing
Yes, it is Memorial Day, but the Judge made it a while ago clear that today’s hearings would take place.
The hearings started with a discussion of the schedule of motions to be argued this week. The following is a list of some of the motions that will be argued, in the order they will be argued, at least as of the end of Monday’s public hearing. Each motion is assigned an “AE number”.
AE 380: Whether or not Walid bin ‘Attash can remove his counsel.
AE 161: Defendants motion for release of unredacted copies of unclassified information.
AE 400: Defense motion for the release of full transcript of the open hearing which government redacted after the fact.
AE 018W: Defense motion to correct problems with the legal mail regime.
AE 018Y: Prosecution motion to block communications between defendants and other except through JTF-GTMO Protocol.
AE 152: bin al Shibh motion for Contempt of the Government for not stopping the “harassing noises and vibrations”.
AE 422: Prosecution motion to depose victim’s family members during October 2016 hearing.
As of now both the defense and prosecution will present witnesses for the 152 motion. The defense will present two current detainees, one on Thursday morning, and one on Thursday evening.
I have no doubt that both detainees will present captivating testimony, but the potential presence of one of the detainees is is particularly noteworthy.
Abu Zubaydah has not been seen since his 2002 capture by the CIA. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article80052562.html
The Prosecution will present a former Camp commander on Friday morning.
Late start to hearings
There was a bit of a late start to the hearings today, in part because there were new guards assigned to secure the proceedings. This fact was brought up several times during the hearings today, most notably after the lunch break when counsel for Khalid Shaik Mohammad (“KSM”) stated that the guards would turn down the A/C in KSM’s holding cell. [Side note, I was able to go into one of the holding cells as part of the tour of Camp Justice on Sunday (he was not there).] Bin ‘Attash actually jumped into the conversation twice expressing his displeasure with the situation. This lead to a “that’s enough Mr. bin ‘Attash”, from Judge Pohl.
A Brief Overview of Some of the Hearings on the Motions
AE 380: bin ‘Attash audibly confirmed that he would like to remove his counsel and later followed up by saying that in 2013 he was able to remove an assistant D.A.G. from his team. He argued that he should be able to remove the current assistant attorney, Mr. Schwartz as well. The issue is whether or not the defendant can remove non-statutorily required counsel. The Judge gave defense 2 weeks to file a brief showing why such counsel cannot be removed from the defense team up request from bin ‘Attash.
AE 161: There are laws that allow the government to redact certain information from disclosure. The defense argues that the prosecution is overstepping its bounds because information is being withheld improperly and the redacted information makes it impossible for the defense to use some of the documents they receive. For example, in one discovery response the prosecution redacted administrative information from the provided documents, which made difficult to match up the documents with their respective attachments.
AE 400: This was a continuation of oral arguments on a motion that I heard argued when I travelled to Ft. Meade in February, 2016. The controversy revolves around an open hearing held on 30 October 2015. After the 30 October 2016 hearing, a redacted transcript was released. The Defense and media companies filed a motion to release the entire unredacted transcript. I published an earlier blog on the motion on 22 February 2016. I found it interesting that this motion may be one of the few times when news outlets such as Fox, MSNBC, and New York Times are all on the same side of an issue. In today’s hearing the parties argued weather or not the discussion of the redacted information can be had in an open session. The defense argued that it could, the prosecution argued the opposite. The Judge stated they will meet in a closed session (505 hearing) to determine if the substantive hearing (806 hearing) can be held in open session.
David Nevin, Learned Counsel for KSM, requested that KSM be present at both, the hearing to determine if there should be a closed hearing, and at the closed hearing if one is held. The Judge ruled that KSM cannot be present at the 505 hearing, but withheld a ruling regarding the 806. He later denied the request for KSM to be present at the 806 hearing as well.
AE 428: The defense filed a motion for a continuance because various members of the different defense teams have not received proper clearance from the government to view certain evidence. The prosecution argued that a continuance is not necessary because some of the necessary clearance forms were not filed properly. The Judge did not grant a continuance but did bring up a point worth discussing – judicial economy. If clearance is given after many issues have been litigated to conclusion, motions to reconsider will be filed for each such issue since the granted clearance would create new evidence. New evidence bolsters the case for reconsideration of a previously litigated issue.
AE 426: This motion dealt with the habitability of facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Specifically, this motion dealt with the presence of toxins at Camp Justice, which happens to be the place where I will be living for for the next week. Here is a Link to an article discussing various carcinogens found in the soil at Camp Justice as well as an Order forbidding defense staff from sleeping at Camp Justice.
AE 018W and AE 018Y: The hearings on these motions dealt with the transmission of communications by defendants to third parties through the defendants’ counsel. Defense argued that it should be able to transmit any unclassified documents to third parties, or alternatively there should be a specific process they can follow to determine what communications can be cleared for release.
However, Counsel for Hawsawi (defendant # 5 in the 9/11 case) made it clear Hawsawi would not agree to any such process, they would especially not agree to any such process unless the process was transparent and those involved in any review were identified. Counsel for Hawsawi argued that the government is not releasing certain communications because it does not like the message, not because the communications are a threat to national security. The AE 018 motions dealt with a handful of communications that were provided to third parties including a defendant’s family and the White House.
AE 183: Defense argued that defendants should be able to call their attorney from Camp Justice whenever necessary, and vice versa. Currently there is no efficient way for the defense counsel to communicate with their client without being in the same location. Prosecution argued that there is no way to establish a secure connection between the detainees and their counsel. Some research into the current logistics, including any security hurdles, of the communication between defendant and counsel both in person and from the U.S. would likely lead to interesting findings.
My Personal Observations
There just is not enough time to process and report in a meaningful way my experience so soon after the end of the first day’s hearings. I feel very grateful to finally be here and have the opportunity to observe these hearings and interact with the other people here.
All five defendants were present on the first day of hearings. KSM wore his cameo jacket as a statement to show that he is a combatant. There does not seem to be a simple explanation here for anything, while KSM’s attire at first seems to be just a statement in support of the actions he has allegedly committed, there are deeper issues at play. For example, since KSM is a combatant, he, based on precedent, should be able to wear his uniform in a military trial. Denying his request to do so, may impinge on his right to a fair trial. This article briefly touches on the KSM’s attire choice. I also noticed that Hawsawi sat on his pillow, presumably to minimize discomfort caused by events occurring during his detention.
Our NGO group was able to return from lunch in time to catch the end of the defendants’ and one defense counsel’s prayer session. During the prayer, each defendant had two guards standing back to back. One in the direction of the defendant, and another facing the opposite way. My first thought was that the guards were there to protect everyone from the defendants. I quickly realized how insane that thought was. Given the circumstances, the detainees are very powerless. The main reason for the guards, in my mind, is to protect the detainees.
Unrelated Personal Observation
We have had some issues with connectivity which partly explains the reason for not posting more about my travel and arrival. There are 8 ethernet jacks in the NGO lounge for NGO observers to use to hook up to the internet. Only two of them worked over the weekend, and even those two are still very slow. There are many rights and interests that come into play with what may seem like an “inconvenience”. For example, NGOs have an interest to report the ongoings at Guantanamo Bay to the outside world. The public has an interest to know the ongoings at Guantanamo Bay. The defendants have a right to a public trial. Both the Government and the prosecution have an interest in allowing the public to be aware of the ongoings at Guantanamo Bay. All of these rights and interests are effected by a slow and inconsistent internet connection. Additional unrelated point — there is an active bee hive a few feet away from the entry to the NGO Lounge. The NGO Lounge is the only place where internet connection is available to NGO Observers at Camp Justice. Other than the internet, the experience here has been excellent. Everyone we have encountered has been pleasant including our escort, drivers, members of the media, and the attorneys for both sides.
Many of the ideas above are based on my memory and understanding of the 30 May 2016 hearing and related motions and transcripts. The foregoing is my opinion in my own personal capacity, and my blog posts and other comments are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law or anyone else, for that matter.
Leontiy Korolev, J.D., Indiana University McKinney School of Law
Participant, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), Indiana University McKinney School of Law