I was nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law and confirmed by the Pentagon to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor military commission hearings in the case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who has requested to be called Nashwan al Tamir, from 9 – 14 January 2017. Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda responsible for war crimes.
My earlier monitoring at Ft. Meade
Last month I traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor military commission hearings in the Guantanamo case against the 5 alleged masterminds of he 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The hearings were held at Guantanamo, but broadcast live into a secure facility at Ft. Meade.
Experiencing the hearings first-hand through live feed at Ft. Meade was intriguing in the sense that it seemed surreal. Watching the alleged 9/11 masterminds as one would any defendant on trial was incredibly interesting, considering that until then, the news was my only source of information regarding these men. Seeing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s red beard, and hearing the defendants speak in their native language, followed directly by broken English tinged with what appeared to be annoyance made these larger than life figures come to life.
My Guantanamo Bay travel nomination
When I monitored at Ft. Meade, I was excited, and had an enlightening experience.
But when I was nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay, I could not believe my eyes, or my fortune. The nomination email came from the program on the night before my first final exam of the fall semester, and I couldn’t wait to finish finals so that I could focus on preparing for my mission. Having had the experience at Ft. Meade and now gaining the experience of witnessing the hearings first-hand at Guantanamo Bay will enable me to contribute to Indiana’s project in a better, more informed way.
I was truly honored to represent Indiana at Ft. Meade, and am truly honored to represent Indiana at Guantanamo Bay.
My journey to this precise moment has been a long, eventful one.
My mother and father came to the United States in the late 1970’s to escape a military regime in Argentina. They ended up in Texas, where I would be born. When I was at the age of 3 months, my mother returned to Argentina with me in tow to finalize her Visa paperwork, and we were unable to return to the U.S. because the lawyer had not completed the paperwork properly. I was raised for 3 years in Argentina, while my mother and father tried desperately to reunite. Eventually, my mother and I were able to return to the U.S. and the family was reunited.
I moved from Texas to Indiana a couple of decades later to join my husband who is a native Hoosier. Indiana has given me so many incredible opportunities that I never imagined!
The nomination to travel to Guantanamo arrived in the middle of law school finals, but I was determined to see the requirements through.
The Pentagon sent me an e-mail containing 4 documents to complete and return in just a couple of days. The documents required by the Pentagon are 1) Hold Harmless Agreement, 2) Invitational Travel Worksheet, 3) Navy Base Access Pass Registration, and 4) NGO Ground Rules, along with a biography and picture.
I completed the paperwork using templates provided by Professor Edwards, since lawyers and Administrators at Indiana University have specific requirements as to how Indiana University affiliates must complete the paperwork.
I submitted my completed draft paperwork to Professor Edwards who sent it back to me once for revisions. I believe that he wanted to make certain that the completed paperwork met Indiana University requirements so that Indiana officials would endorse the paperwork, and he wanted to make certain that the paperwork met the Pentagon’s standards. The Pentagon has rejected paperwork that was not completed properly, so a second pair of eyes was necessary to make certain I was sending accurate, completed paperwork.
Professor Edwards tracked the documents through the appropriate IU channels for approval. Once I received the stamped endorsed documents from IU, I forwarded these to my Pentagon contact, who quickly approved them the same day.
Preparation: The Game Plan
As I prepare for the holidays with my family visiting from Argentina and Texas, I am also preparing for my mission to Guantanamo. I am paying careful attention to a 76-page document titled “What Human Rights Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observers and Others May Want to Know Before Traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba”. The guide may be downloaded by visiting this link (includes 76 pages, 2 Appendices). This document, of which Professor George Edwards is the principal author, provides all of the information necessary to successfully prepare for and complete a mission to Guantanamo. Without this guide, preparing for my mission would be near impossible. I have communicated with previous IU McKinney observers Justin Jones and Aline Fagundes, but having a script to fill in the rest of the details that one may forget has been invaluable in my preparation.
[The Know Before You Go guide (76 pages, 2 Appendices) may be found as a standalone document, or, it is included in the Excerpts (158 pages, Know Before You Go starts on page 75 of the Excerpts), which is a digest of the full and complete Manual (over 500 pages).]
I have also been reading other people’s accounts of travel to Cuba on the Gitmo Observer blog (Justin Jones’ and Aline Fagundes’ account of their mission to Guantanamo), and will continue reading where I left off from my trip to Fort Meade, Maryland in October, where I observed the hearings in the case against Khalid Shaik Mohammed.
I will also begin to prepare my travel arrangements to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where I will depart to Guantanamo Bay.
Sheila Willard (J.D. Candidate, ’18)
NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law