Today I traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to observe pre-trial hearings in the criminal case against 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The hearings are being broadcast live from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into the Post Theater at the Fort Meade Army Base, and can be viewed there by media, human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), victims and victims’ families, and other stakeholders.
I traveled there as an official NGO Observer sponsored by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which Professor George Edwards founded at Indiana University McKinney School of Law. Our Project, which is also referred to as the Gitmo Observer, has sent dozens of IU McKinney Affiliates — faculty, staff, students and graduates — to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Ft. Meade to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on these hearings.
My trip to Maryland – Sunday
I flew to Maryland last night, and had time to re-review the wealth of background material the Project provided. One important resource is the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual – with lead author Professor Edwards, and whose researchers have included many IU McKinney affiliates. The Manual provides significant information — general and basic, as well as highly specialized information — about the military commissions. It summarizes the applicable law, explains the charges, identifies the individuals and entities who have rights and interests associated with the tribunal, describes a plan that Observes might follow as they carry out their observation mission, and even provides a chart of a who’s who in the courtroom. The Manual is a must read for anyone interested in Guantanamo Bay hearings.
Closed hearing – Monday morning
Early this morning I met Professor Edwards at the hotel, and discussed final details before we went to the army base, which happens to be the home of the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence entities.
We were forced to modify our plans to observe hearings of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad (who was waterboarded 183 times) and the other 4 defendants accused of planning the September 11th attacks. We learned that the military judge decided that today’s hearings would be “closed”, meaning that Observers were not permitted to observe. I was disappointed that I would not have a chance to witness today’s hearings. But, it was still a very worthwhile trip.
What we did at Ft. Meade – hurdles & highlights
The day had highlights and hurdles. I’ll mention some below.
First, Fort Meade recently instituted security procedures that require new visitors to stop at the Visitor Center at the base’s Main Gate (Reece Road Gate) and collect a hard plastic badge. Ordinarily Observers would submit their personal information 10 days before they arrive for a hearing, and can pick up their sturdy badges quickly at the Visitor Center. These procedures apply not only to military commission observers, but also to anyone with business on the base, and includes civilians visiting family.
We arrived at the Visitor Center to pick up my badge. We had quite a wait. There were dozens of other people also seeking to get badges. I was grateful that Professor Edwards had a permanent Ft. Meade badge, which made it easier for me to get processed in. The good news is that once you get cleared, you can swipe your badge at any of the gates and drive onto the base, directly to the viewing site.
A word to the wise for IU McKinney Affiliates who plan to observe Guantanamo Bay hearings at Fort Meade: Bring your drivers’ license and passport, and arrive early.
Second, after I gained clearance to enter the base, Professor Edwards and I went to the McGill Training Center, which will soon be the new permanent site for video observations of Guantanamo proceedings. (Until now, all the video hearings were broadcast into a large auditorium at the Post Theater, where they show feature films in the evenings and on weekends.) A staff member escorted Professor Edwards and me through the training center, and explained that the site change had been made for several reasons, including the ability to move hearings to a variety of different rooms to enhance security by keeping exact screening locations unknown until the hearings take place. Most of the rooms at the training center are also much smaller than the Post Theater auditorium, which may make sense since at times only a small number of Observers attend hearings on the base.
Third, Professor Edwards and I went by the Post Theater, where many IU McKinney Affiliates have viewed Guantanamo proceedings. Unfortunately, the doors were locked and we couldn’t go inside. But, based on what I have heard about the actual theater – that happens to be showing the PG film “Central Intelligence” now (see photo) – it’s very much like a Broadway theater with a big screen set up on the stage to show the Guantanamo Bay feed.
Fourth, Professor Edwards was able to brief me on the status of the Khalid Shaikh Mohammad 9/11 hearings, the substance of some of the upcoming motion hearings that I had hoped to observe today, other cases pending for trial, and the one convicted detainee who is awaiting sentencing. He also briefed me on the Periodic Review Board (PRB) that he observed at the Pentagon on Thursday the 14th, in which a Libyan detainee asked the Board to send him back to Libya or to a third country for resettlement. That PRB observation is through the IU McKinney Periodic Review Board Project.
Fifth, it was good to tour the facilities mentioned above. It was also interesting to drive around the base, appreciate its size and the breadth of work performed there.
Although I was disappointed that I could not observe a hearing today, I am glad that I made the trip, and I am proud that the McKinney School of Law and our Military Commission Observation Project provides this very special opportunity to members of our community.
Every IU McKinney Affiliate – faculty, staff, student, graduate — is invited to register for the possibility of undertaking an Observer mission to Ft. Meade, or to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, itself. Details about this process can be found here.
By Andrew (Andy) Klein
Dean & Beam Professor of Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law
Posted by George Edwards on behalf of Dean Klein