From 1 – 8 October 2016, I am scheduled to be in Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), Cuba as a non-governmental organization (NGO) representative to monitor U.S. military commission proceedings against 5 men alleged to have masterminded the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I was selected to as a monitor for the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.
I was first introduced to the complex issues surrounding Guantanamo Bay during the summer of 2015 when I monitored a pre-trial proceeding of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who is an alleged high ranking member of al Qaeda and liaison between al Qaeda Iraq and the Taliban. Those proceedings were held at Guantanamo Bay, but I observed them through a secure video feed at Ft. Meade, Maryland, along with Ms. Hee Jong Choi (an IU McKinney School of Law alumni), and Professor Edwards (who founded and directs the IU McKinney Guantanamo Bay project).
Since 2015, I have learned a great deal about military trials and the rights of all stakeholders during this arduous process. I applied to travel to Guantanamo Bay to gain a further understanding of the military proceedings and to observe firsthand whether the rights of all stakeholders are being afforded to them. I recognize that detainees have the right to a fair trial. But other individuals and entities have rights and interests as well – for example, the victims and family members, media, the prosecution, and the general public all have rights and / or interests in this process. Because of this, I am very excited that I have been selected to travel to Guantanamo Bay.
Initial thoughts on my travel to Guantanamo Bay
Throughout the past 2 years of law school, I have had a few experiences related to the U.S. Military.
During the summer of 2015, I worked with the Navy JAG as a legal clerk for the Military Court of Criminal Appeals located at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
Also, as mentioned, during that summer I had the chance to observe a military hearing of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, an alleged senior member of al-Qaida, at the Fort Meade military base. During these proceedings I was able to listen to Hadi speak at length with the military judge – in open court — about whether he understood the rights afforded to him. Also, at this proceeding I was able to observe the issue of whether there was a potential conflict of interest in having the defendant’s lawyer represent another detainee, with whom the defendant had close ties.
Upon returning to school for the Fall 2015 semester, as part of my International Criminal Law class, I conducted high level academic research on the use of hearsay in military courts for the Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual.
I believe the ability to remain objective is an essential skill for human rights advocates and lawyers. Collectively, my past experiences involving the military have greatly shaped how I view the issues surrounding military trials and Guantanamo Bay. I believe my ability to remain objective during the upcoming proceedings will require less mental effort as my prior experiences have given me a balanced understanding of the issues.
My Indiana McKinney Law School Career
Since beginning law school in the fall of 2014, I have been engaged in a variety of activities.
During my 1L year, I was a legal intern at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis. Also, as previously mentioned, during the summer of 2015 I was an intern for the Navy JAG in Washington, DC and participated in the MCOP at the Ft. Meade military base.
During my 2L, I participated in the JESSUP international moot court competition in Chicago as well as my school’s Staton moot court competition. I was also an executive board member of the Asian Law Students Association (ALSA) and the International Human Rights Law Society (IHRLS). Through the IHRLS, we were able to raise over $8,000 for Women and Law Swaziland (WLSA), an NGO in Swaziland involved in promoting women’s rights.
During the summer of 2016, I was a participant in my school’s Program in International Human Rights Law Overseas Internship Program. As part of that program, I had the opportunity to work at Women and Law Southern Africa (WLSA), a women’s rights NGO in Manzini, Swaziland for 5 weeks, and HURIGHTS, a human rights NGO in Osaka, Japan for 8 weeks.
Now as a 3L, along with being a full-time student, I am an intern at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in downtown Indianapolis.
I am hoping to work as an intern for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the spring of 2017, and delay my law school graduation.
I am hoping that my travel to Guantanamo Bay and my observation of the week’s proceedings will give me insight into the U.S. military’s approach with high profile cases and will help clarify some of my questions, namely, how the legal mechanisms in place are implemented and are they implemented in a way that conforms with international standards of justice and a fair trial?
I am glad that I had an opportunity to travel to Ft. Meade for the Hadi al Iraqi hearings and to work on the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual. I would encourage any IU McKinney law student, graduate, or faculty or staff member to participate in the MCOP.
Tex Boonjue, J.D. ’17
NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law