From Brazil to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – Monitoring Military Commissions through the Eyes of a Judge

“Aline, we nominated you for the 9/11 week to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings.”

This was the first sentence I had read on the morning of August 25, around 6 am, when, still in bed, I opened my mailbox on my phone. I could barely hold my excitement! The first step was given!

Well, let me start from the beginning…

My name is Aline Fagundes, I was born in Oakland, California, but I was raised in Brazil, where I received my first degree in law in 1993, from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, in Porto Alegre. From 1993 to 2005 I worked as a trial attorney, and on September 23, 2005 I became a judge in the Labor Court.


In 2015 I applied for IU McKinney Master of Laws Program in Human Rights, certainly one of the best steps of my academic and professional life. Through the program I was introduced to a great variety of opportunities, all of them incredibly well supported by the Law School. For instance, I attended an externship at the Indiana Supreme Court, where I improved in networking, state matters and law, also made friends for life. The most recent activity I engaged is the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).

MCOP was established by IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), once it was granted “NGO Observer Status” by The Pentagon’s Guantanamo Bay Convening Authority. Through MCOP, IU McKinney Affiliates can be selected to attend, observe, analyze and critique and report on hearings of the Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with war crimes. IU Affiliates can either travel to Guantanamo to observe in person, or monitor the proceedings from Ft. Meade, Maryland military base via secure video-link.

The selection process includes being nominated by the MCOP Advisory Council and having your name submitted to the Pentagon, who in last instance may grant or not the authorization to be an observer. In my case, I was nominated on August 24, 2016, and on September 9, just two days before the 15th anniversary of the September 11 Attack on the World Trade Center, I received this message from the Pentagon:

“You have been CONFIRMED to observe the 11-14 Oct military commission in-person at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We are currently scheduled to depart Andrews Air Force Base at 1000 on Saturday, Oct 8, 2016, and will return on Saturday, Oct 15, 2016, around 1330.”


Khalid Shaik Mohammed, the lead defendant in the 9/11 case against 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The date was extremely significant. The hearings I am scheduled to attend are in the case against defendant Khalid Shaik Mohammad, and four other alleged masterminds of the September 11 Attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It has been 15 years since that attack, and the defendants in that case are still in the middle of pre-trial hearings.

Logistics of the mission to Guantanamo Bay

Since I have received that message about the Pentagon accepting me to travel to Guantanamo Bay, I could not stop thinking about Guantanamo Bay all the time. I am expected to travel from Indianapolis to Andrews Air Force Base (where is based Air Force One, the United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States). At Andrews, I am expected to fly on a military transportation to Cuba, where I would stay in a military tent. Guantanamo Bay is a U.S. Naval Station (in 1903, Cuba signed a treaty that leased Guantanamo Bay to the United States for use as a Naval Station).

I plan to blog step by step my experience on behalf of the Indiana McKinney Military Commission Observation Project. It is part of my responsibility to be the eyes and ears from Guantanamo Bay to the outside world, as most people will never have the opportunity to travel there for these hearings. I hope to help promote transparency, to tell the outside world what I hear, see – what I experience as part of this Guantanamo Bay mission. I recognize that this mission has already begun, with my preparation. I plan to continue to blog before I go, while I am there, and after I return.

The academic meaning is even more exciting. If you search Guantanamo on the web, an enormous number of links will direct you to stories related to torture and human rights violations. Unfortunately, an expressive number of it are true, or were true. The fact that the United States are taking action in order to provide transparency represents a lot, and to be granted the opportunity of working on this goal is a tremendous responsibility. After my journey to Guantanamo Bay, I will have a better idea about how transparent the process really is.

Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual

As part of my mission, I will be contributing to the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, that Professor George Edwards is creating with students to help observers / monitors and others interested in the rights of and interests of Guantanamo Bay stakeholders. We are reminded that not only do the defendants have rights, but also other individuals and groups have rights and interests, including the prosecution, victims and their families, witnesses, men and women who guard the detainees, the media, and the domestic U.S. and international communities. I hope to share information about and with the full range of stakeholders.

Through the Manual and the observing / monitoring that I and others do at Guantanamo Bay, we are helping to ensure that “whatever happens in Guantanamo does not stay in Guantanamo”. Information is important, and I will do my best to help ensure that knowledge about Guantanamo Bay is share with others on the outside.

I am proudly part of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual project, and proudly part of the Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Laws’ Program in International Human Rights Law.


Aline Fagundes (LL.M. Candidate, ’17)

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law


All of my comments above are mine and mine alone, written in my personal capacity, and not in the capacity as a Judge, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Indiana McKinney’s MCOP, the PIHRL, or any other individual or group.


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