Month: June 2016

Somali Detainee Guleed Testifies at Guantanamo Bay in 9/11 Case

Hassan Guleed - Somalia

Hassan Guleed, a detainee since 2006, testified today about “vibrations” and “noises” purportedly used to harass detainees in Guantanamo Bay’s secret Camp VII that houses “high value detainees” (HVDs)

On Thursday, 2 June 2016, I was in the courtroom at Guantanamo when an unusual rare event occurred. I was there when a detainee, named Hassan Guleed, was called to testify in open court. Guleed, who is a Somali detained at Guantanamo since 2006, testified about “vibrations”, “noises” and “smells” that allegedly have been used to harass detainee Mr. Bin al Shibh, who is one of 5 men charged with masterminding the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Below I provide some background on today’s hearings, details of the hearing, and some of my personal observations.  I am writing this entry soon after court ended today, in the middle of other activities in store for me and the other observers that the Pentagon permitted to travel to Guantanamo for this week’s hearings. I will seek to fix any misspellings or other errors later.


On 21 June 2013, the U.S. Military Commission hearing the case against the 5 9/11 defendants ordered the Government not to disrupt Mr. Bin al Shibhs’s cell. On 2 November 2015 the Military Commission again issued a” Do Not Subject Mr. bin al Shibh to Disruptive and Harassing Noises and Vibrations Order”.    Counsel for bin al Shibh filed a motion to hold the government in contempt because, according to bin al Shibh, the disruptions have not stopped.

Two witnesses were scheduled to testify today in support of bin al Shibh – Abu Zubaydah and Hassan Guleed.  Both witnesses are high value detainees (HVDs) who are detained in Canp VII, where bin al Shibh is detained, and which is a secret, isolated detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.  The two witnesses were purportedly fact witnesses with knowledge of the alleged continuous vibrations and noises “which are an extension of the traumatization of the torture he has experienced at the hands of the United States Government, especially during the nights leading up to a schedule hearing.”  (AE 152 LL (RBS), Emergency Motion for Show Cause why the Government, JTF Camp Commander And JTF Guard Force Members Should Not Be Held in Contempt filed 11 December 2015)

Witness Testimony

SPOILER ALERT: Abu Zubaydah did not testify.  There was only one witness, which is still more than most observers have been able to experience in-person.

The witnesses were to testify about the conditions at Camp 7, again where the witnesses and bin al Shibh are housed.  bin al Shibh has stated that he is being subjected to external sounds and vibrations while detained, even after Judge Pohl Ordered such activity, if occurring, to cease.   Hassan testified beginning at approximately 10 am. Zubaydah was scheduled to testify at 2:15 pm.


Hassan Guleed was the first witness.  The guards made a line, shoulder to shoulder, facing in opposite directions between the defendants and the witness as the witness walked in. I was told that the distance walked by Guleed from the entry to the witness stand is the longest he has walked without shackles since being detained in 2004. The defendants did not look around as the witness was walking in, however there appeared to be some “interaction” between the witness and the defendants when the witness was on the stand and the defendants were seated at their respective defense tables.

Mr. Harrington, Learned Counsel for bin al Shibh, conducted direct examination on Guleed.

Here is a link to a DOD Detainee Assessment on Guleed. The document, that was released in 2008,  contains some background information on Hassan Guleed.

Guleed, who has never testified in court and has never been charged with any Guantanamo Bay crimes, does not have an attorney and did not have an attorney in court with him today. Guleed refused services of an interpreter, and wanted to speak only in English.  In my opinion, language was a bit of a barrier in only a few specific instances, but overall Guleed appeared to have a good command of the English language.  Guleed noted the defendants were his “brothers”, and he called them “brothers” during his testimony.

The transcript of the testimony has been released on the Military Commission’s website.

Mr. Guleed testified that he heard noises and felt vibrations like those purportedly heard / felt by bin al Shibh.

Mr. Edward Ryan, for the government, cross-examined Guleed. It was interesting to watch.  Mr. Ryan started off on an aggressive tone which he carried throughout the cross examination.  He tried to establish that the witness was biased by asking questions which explicitly or implicitly point to the idea that Mr. Guleed considers the United States his enemy.  For example, Mr. Ryan asked if Mr. Guleed’s Kunya is his Al-Qaeda or Jihadi name.  He also specifically asked if America was Mr. Guleed’s enemy.

Red Light - GTMO

This “red light” in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom flashed twice when the witness Mr. Guleed purportedly referred to classified information about the secret Camp VII where he is housed.

During the testimonay, the court’s “Red Light” went off twice signaling that the court security officer was cutting the audio and video feed from the courtroom to the gallery where we observer were, with the cut presumably because classified information was being discussed during the testimony. The audio / video feed was turned back on after only a couple / few minutes.

A few quotes I jotted down during the hearing, copied here from the transcript on the Military Commission’s website:

Guleed: They didn’t charge nothing for me, I’m staying, only staying in the camp.  They didn’t charge anything for me against.  So I’m just waiting charge or whatever it is.  … No charge.  They don’t have nothing to charge me.  I did nothing.

Guleed on why he is testifying: There’s two things:  Helping brother, and same thing that I got a problem.  So there’s nowhere else that I can tell them.  So the people outside here…so that’s the chance for me to testify at the same time and tell my problem.
Mr. Ryan: All right.  I’m going to start with vibrations.  What does that mean?

Guleen: What means vibration?

Mr. Ryan: Yeah.

Guleen: Vibration is vibration.

Mr. Ryan: Thank you.  That helps me.
Mr. Ryan: Mr. Gouled, I don’t want to cut you off.  If I cut you off, please tell me so.  Okay?

Guleed: You did already.

(I have seen the last name spelled differently on several government documents)
Mr. Ryan: Is America your enemy?

Mr. Guleed: I’m not in Guantanamo if it’s not my enemy.

Mr. Ryan: Thank you for that, but now my question is, is America your enemy? Do you believe America is your enemy?

Mr. Guleed: No, I’m not believing.  I think they’re my friend.

Mr. Ryan: You think they’re your friends?

Mr. Guleed: Yeah.

Mr. Ryan: Are you kidding right now?

Mr. Guleed: No, they give me food in my Camp VII.
Mr. Ryan: Is it true that under your version of Islamic law, it’s acceptable to lie to infidels?

Mr. Guleed: My Sharia tells me that I have to tell the truth.

Mr. Ryan: To whoever is asking the questions?

Mr. Guleed: Depends.

Mr. Ryan: Okay.  Sir, in the course of your testimony today, am I correct to say that you’ve like to us many times.

Mr. Guleed: I’m not lying.

Mr. Ryan: That’s all I have, Judge.

Abu Zubaydah:

Abu Zubaydah, a high value detainee, who has not been charged and has not been seen by the “public” (press, observers) since his capture in 2002, was scheduled to testify at 2:15.  Mr. Zubaydah was transported to Camp Justice from Camp 7 over lunch and was waiting outside the courtroom.  He never entered the room, and no one in the gallery ever saw him.

Mr. Zubaydah is also being held at Camp 7 and was going to testify in support of allegations made by bin al Shibh regarding the continuous noise and vibrations at the facility.

Zubaydah was represented by counsel, Commander Patrick Flor.  Commander Flor was present in the courtroom during the hearing.  The afternoon session started with a conversation among the Military Judge, Commander Flor, Mr. Harrington, and Mr. Ryan.  The conversation ended with a decision that Zubaydah would not testify today.

An issue concerns whether any testimony by Zubaydah might incriminate him, and whether immunity could be granted so that he could testify fully without his testimony being able to be used against him should charges be filed against him.

During the discussion among the Military Judge and the lawyers, the prosecution (Mr. Ryan) noted that he would ask questions attempting to show bias in favor of the bin al Shibh.  Mr. Ryan planned on showing bias by asking questions about alleged illegal activities as well as asking about any bias against the United States, shared values with the accused, and relationships with the accused. Harrington and Flor suggested that the Judge provide immunity for the questions asked.  The Military Judge did not believe he had the authority to provide immunity, and the parties were not sure at what point the immunity would kick in.  There was also a question of what information would get struck if immunity was not given, but instead if objections were raised during cross examination.  The parties could not determine if, in that situation, both the cross and direct examination would be struck from the record, or just the cross.  It was decided that his testimony would be postponed until the next hearing. The parties were requested to file briefs with the court.

Personal Observations

All five of the 9/11 defendants were present for today’s hearing.  Today KSM, bin ‘Attash, and bin al Shibh wore cameo jackets. All of the defendants had their heads covered. al Baluchi wore a Pashtun hat. KSM and al Baluchi had “scarves” draped over their shoulders with a golden dome and the word “Palestine”.

It seems the laweyrs involved in the Zubaydah fiasco could have worked out any issues before Zubaydah arrived at the court today.  I have no experience with the substantive issues, but it does seem that bin al Shibh’s defense counsel or counsel for Zubaydah could have known the sort of questions that the prosecution was going to ask, and could have been prepared on the self-incrimination / immunity issues.  If the witness is testifying in support of a motion made by the defense, wouldn’t it only make sense that the prosecution would attack the witness’s credibility by trying to show bias?  Hindsight is 20/20 but it is possible that the parties were well aware that the immunity issue would come up and for whatever reason decided to not work out the issue prior to testimony.

There was disappointment in the gallery when the Military Judge stated Zubaydah would not testify today. I was disappointed.  However, those in the courtroom seemed un-phased.  Although I was disappointed to not have a chance to see Zubaydah in person, I am glad I was able to see and hear Guleed’s testimony live.  It is very rare to be able to see an in-person testimony during these proceedings, let alone an in-person testimony from a high value detainee.  His testimony was surprisingly entertaining, which feels odd to write given the context.  Parts of the testimony caused laughter to break out in the gallery, while other parts led to tears.

There is a book which touches on Zubaydah called Black Banners, by Ali Soufan.  I hope to listen to it on the drive to Indianapolis from Andrews Air Force Base on Saturday.

I have had some time to explore the Guantanamo Bay Naval base and will be posting about my down time experience here at Guantanamo Bay as time permits.

20160601_170134Many of the notes 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


31 May 2016 Hearing in 9/11 Case — Tuesday At Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba


9/11 lead defendant Khalid Shaik Mohammad, in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom. (Sketch by Janet Hamlin)

9/11 lead defendant Khalid Shaik Mohammad, in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom. (Sketch by Janet Hamlin)

Today’s hearings in the 9/11 case started on time in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom.

Defendants KSM, Ramzi bin al Shibh, and Ali Abdul Axis Ali (aka Ammar al Baluchi or “Triple A” or “AAA”) were present when I walked into the Gallery.  The other two defendants chose not to appear, which is not uncommon.

The Gallery is a small room with soundproof clear glass through which NGO Observers, Victim’s Family Members, Media, and other visitors are able to watch the hearings.  The Gallery has several televisions that show the hearings, with audio on a 40 second delay.  We can see what is happening live through the Gallery glass, and 40 seconds later see what we just saw on the TV.  It is only through the TV that we can hear what happened in the courtroom, 40 seconds after it actually happened.  The purpose of the delay is to prevent the release of classified/confidential information.

There is a curtain in the Gallery separating separating the media and Non Governmental Organization (“NGO”) observers from the victims and victims’ families.  The curtain is usually not in use. I have already written about the selection and approval process which allowed me to attend these hearings as an NGO observer. Victims and Victims’ family are chosen based on a lottery system.

Today’s Motions

The day’s hearing touched on three sets of motions:

  1. AE 018: The hearings on these motions deal with how certain information is treated and released to either the parties or nonparty actors.  I believe there were a total of 13 AE 018 motions on the docket for the week’s hearings.
  1. AE 422: The 422 motion was filed by the Government. The Government seeks the deposition of family members of the victims of September 11, 2001 during public pre-trial hearings scheduled for 4-14 October 2016.
  1. AE 133: This motion was filed by the Defense. It is an Emergency Motion to Remove Sustained Barrier to Attorney-Client Communication and Prohibit any Electronic Monitoring and Recording of Attorney-Client Communication in any Location, including Commission Proceedings, Holding Cells, and Meeting Facilities and to Abate Proceedings.

All the filings related to each motion can be found on the military commission website. Howeve,r not all will be public.

 AE 018

I will not discuss each motion that falls under AE 018, but generally they deal with how communications and information can be released, how those communications are reviewed by the various security processes, and the format and timeliness of prosecution’s discovery responses.  There are processes in place for the how various communications are to be reviewed and delivered, however the processes continue to evolve as the litigation continues.  The discussions on these motions appear to be good examples of the types of issues that have delayed the 9/11 trial.  A few of the specific AE 018 motions are:

  1. AE 018 BB: Government Emergency Motion for Interim Order and Clarification that the Commission’s Order in AE 018U Does Not Create a Means for Non-Privileged Communications to Circumvent the Joint Task Force Mail System.
  2. AE 018EE: Defense Motion to Compel Discovery Responsive to Mr. Mohammad’s Request for Discovery Dated 14 March 2014. (emphasis added)
  3. AE 018 KK: Defense Motion to Invalidate Non-Legal Mai Restrictions Unrelated to Legitimate Penological Interests.
  4. AE 018MM: Defense Motion to Compel Reasonable Privilege Review Team Hours of Operation.

AE 422

This motion was filed by the prosecution to conduct depositions of certain witnesses. Specifically, the prosecution seeks to depose 10 victims’ family members during the October 2016 hearing. The prosecution wants the depositions conducted in open session at Guantanamo Bay, during the October 2016 hearing.  The prosecution cited ages and health concerns, the uncertain posture of the case, and the logistical difficulties for potential witnesses to travel during the actual trial.

The defense generally agreed with the need for depositions but expressed expected concerns about holding the depositions in open court and the proposed dates.  The defense teams were not all on the same page with respect to the deposition issue, but some of the arguments expressed by the defense were:

  • public hearing will taint potential panel members (jury)
  • there is no need to preserve the testimony because there are so many witnesses
  • the age and health of potential witnesses is not a factor
  • there is no need to have the depositions in open court if the evidence may never be admitted
  • if the prosecution wants to preserve evidence for the elderly and those in poor health, bringing them to Guantanamo Bay would be counterproductive
  • it does not make sense to have public depositions so close to the election
  • there is a difference between having the victims’ voice heard and presented vs. creating a public spectacle

I tend to side with the defense, and if I were to bet, I would bet that depositions will take place, but not in open session and not during the proposed dates. A very recent article by Carol Rosenberg on this issue.

AE 133

This is an ongoing motion dealing with allegations that the government has been trying to pierce the attorney – client privilege.  The defense is concerned that they are subject to monitoring which prevents frank exchanges between the attorney and the client.  The motion stems from the finding of microphones in fire detectors in rooms that were used for attorney/client meetings.

I suggest reading the AE 133 motions on the military commission website.  The discovery of these microphones is documented.

The prosecution stated that while the recording capabilities were present, they were not used during attorney/client meetings. The prosecution stated that while the microphones were used for other law enforcement purposes in the past, they have not been used to monitor attorney/client meetings related to these trials.

Mustafa_al-Hawsawi_2012My Personal Observations

One issue that stood out for me was the AE 018MM Motion.  This motion was filed by the defense to compel the Privilege Review Team (“PRT”) to have reasonable hours of operation.  The Privilege Review Team, among other duties, reviews all documents that are taken to a detainee, including any notes attorneys may bring to an attorney client meeting.  If the PRT is not operating, then the team of attorneys cannot take any notes into the meeting.  Counsel for Hawsawi told the Judge that the PRT was not “open” on the Saturday and Sunday before Monday’s (Memorial Day) hearing, so they had to meet with their client without being able to bring any notes.  To me, this sounds outrageous.  How is it possible that a team of attorneys who are only able to see their client during very limited hours, after chartering a military flight that flies infrequently, are not able to bring in notes to a client a day before the hearing just because staff of the Period Review Team did not want to work?

I was initially “convinced” by the defense arguments. However, the prosecution presented a different side to the story.

The prosecution argued that PRT staff are like any other employees and it is not unreasonable for them to have the weekend off, especially a holiday weekend.  Additionally, the prosecution stated that the PRT is available as long as appointments are made in advance.  Prosecution also stated that it is not uncommon for the defense team to not show up to scheduled appointments.  After the prosecution presented their argument I was less outraged, and more confused.

I noticed this sway in many of the arguments I have seen in my limited experience with the Military Commission: the movant pulls on emotional strings and presents facts that help their case, the opposing party presents facts in a way that appear to be unemotional and paint a fuller picture.  In the end, I am happy I don’t have the burden of having to make a decision.  Having only been at Guantanamo Bay for a few days, and only being able to see what I am allowed to see, I find it very difficult to have a strong opinion one way or the other.  It is difficult to gather unbiased information because of the emotions and passions tied to the subject matter.  Information I receive could be driven by agendas that I do or do not understand.  I have made an effort to keep a neutral point of view in order to allow me to gather as much information as possible before I start to lose impartiality.

AE 422

The hearing on AE 422 was understandably emotional.  The curtain separating the media and NGOs from the victims’ family members was drawn shut.  The parties argued about the prosecution’s motion to depose, in public court, family members of the 9/11 victims.  One particular testimony would revolve around a telephone conversation occurring as a plane hijacking was taking place, just before United 175 flew into the South Tower.  The arguments went into additional details, which I will not do here, but the hearing’s transcript is available on the website of the Military Commission.

KSM was also emotional.  He, without the Judge’s permission, expressed his feelings regarding the proceedings.  I could not make out everything that was said but part of it dealt with the fact that his attorney is an American person and is representing American interest, which is not neutral.  Judge Pohl responded with, “one more word and you’re leaving”.   Later, Mr. Nevin (Lead Counsel for KSM) explained that his client was upset because an objection was overruled and that a lack of an interpreter prevented the defendant from understanding the meaning of “deposition”.


On Wednesday the Commission held hearings open to NGOs, Media, and Victims’ of Family Members in the morning session; the Commission held closed session in the afternoon.  I will write about these later, but I need to get some rest before the hearings tomorrow.  The hearings tomorrow are scheduled to include two witnesses.  Both of the witnesses are high value detainees who have not been charged with a crime.  They will testify during the hearing on AE 152 which is the Emergency Motion for Show Cause Why the Government, JTF Camp Commander and JTF Guard Force Members Should Not Be Held in Contempt.  The motion’s allegation is that Mr. Bin al Shibh continues to be subjected to external sounds and vibrations while detained.  Hassan Guleed is expected to testify at 10 in the morning and Abu Zubaydah is expected to testify at the start of the afternoon session.

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