Turned Away from Guantanamo Bay Hearing Held at Pentagon

I was nominated to travel to the Pentagon to monitor a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board hearing for a detainee who was asking the U.S. to release him from Guantanamo.

The PRB – Periodic Review Board – is a discretionary administrative procedure held in Guantanamo Bay and transmitted via a secure link to the Pentagon. PRBs analyze whether the detainee will remain in Guantanamo, will be transferred to a third country to resettlement, or will be repatriated to its original country. PRBs do not address the legality of any individual’s detention, but attempt to assess whether the detainee is a threat to the national security of the United States.

podium

I was nominated to monitor this PRB by the Periodic Review Board Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law. This is similar to the way I was nominated to monitor military commission hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where I traveled last year and posted about on this blog here, and on twitter.

I understand that the Pentagon is interested in Guantanamo Bay military commission hearings and PRBs being transparent, so they permit observers / monitors to be present.

pentagon

The Pentagon

I flew from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C. on 8 February 2017, in anticipation of an early trip to the Pentagon the next day for the PRB. I stayed at a hotel near the Pentagon.

On the morning of 9 February  2017, at about 7:30, a hotel van dropped me off at the Pentagon, where I went to the Visitor Center. There I walked through a maze as I entered the Pentagon, and went through a security system that seemed more intricate than at an airport. After, I entered the Visitor Center waiting room, where I saw representatives from other non-governmental organizations and members of the press who were also waiting to be escorted to the PRB.

When the escorts came to take everyone to the PRB room, I learned that my name was not on the list. I was not among the cleared NGOs! It was noted that they apparently did not receive my form within the deadline. I immediately called the McKinney director of the program who also immediately forwarded to me e-mail copies of messages to the Pentagon requesting my clearance. We had about 10 minutes to try to solve the issue. Unfortunately, it was not resolved and I could not benefit from the Pentagon’s last-minute clearance procedure even though I could show my completed, signed, required PRB Ground Rules form. I was not allowed to attend the PRB that day.

So, I was left behind.

not-cleared

 

It was very disappointing. The sole purpose of my flight to DC – for fewer than 24 hours – was to attend and monitor the PRB on behalf of our law school’s project. I flew from Indianapolis to DC one evening, was at the Pentagon early the next morning, and was due to fly back to Indianapolis in the afternoon of the same day.

Well, what is done, is done.

And, my trip was not wasted!

Two weeks before, when I knew I was going to be in the Pentagon, I requested a tour. The tours can be requested at this link at least 14 days in advance and not more than 90 days away from of the visit.

tour

My escort during the tour. To be admitted in this position, he had to memorize, word by word, 33 pages of the information presented during the visit.

The guided Pentagon visit is very basic but interesting. We passed through areas that did not look like what I imagined the Pentagon would look like at all. For instance, we started in a theater with a brief explanation of the rules. No photographs were allowed during the tour, of course. After that, we crossed an area similar a mall, with all sorts of storefronts like for candy, clothes, flowers, ceramics, shoe repair, leather accessories, candles, a bank, Starbucks and fast food such as McDonald’s, Subway, and Burger King. Everything to serve the population of 26,000 people. The visit also included the Pentagon Memorial Quilts. After the 9-11 attack in 2001, people from all over the country sent quilts to pay tribute to the victims.

Why quilts? Jeannie Ammerman led the September 11 Quilt Memorial Project, an idea given by Drunell Levinson, an eyewitness who felt a strong desire to do something helpful but was uncertain how to proceed. As a fabric artist and quilter, she was not qualified to help with rescue and recovery efforts, and blood donation centers were already crowded with volunteers. Thus, she came up with the idea of gathering quilts, as a symbol of a communal activity.

 

<> on June 28, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia.

This photo is from the internet.We are not allowed to take pictures or use any device during the Pentagon tour.

After my Pentagon tour and my lunch, the hotel shuttle too me back to the hotel to pick up my luggage and then to the airport for my return flight to Indianapolis. The shuttle driver shared with me his story of life. Living in the U.S. for ten years already, originally from Ethiopia, after two degrees (one from Nairobi), he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Business and Economics, with a United Nations Scholarship, as a political exile. Nice story to end a day of frustration.

What’s next?

Another PRB is scheduled for a different detainee on 28 February 2017. When asked, I declined a nomination to attend since I have a conflict and cannot attend. I hope to be nominated for a future PRB, as I would very much like to gain the experience of this different type of Guantanamo Bay proceeding. PRBs involve detainees who are not charged with crimes, and who are asking to be released. The PRB non-criminal proceedings are different from U.S. Military Commission proceedings, which are criminal proceedings, and the question is whether the detainee is guilty of a crime. In PRBs, there is no question about criminality, just about whether the person in question is a national security threat.

Aside from PRBs, I am now scheduled to return to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor regular U.S. Military Commission hearings in the criminal case against al Nashiri from 4 to 11 March 2017, and am scheduled to travel to Ft. Meade, Maryland on Monday, 13 March 2017 for hearings in that same case – simultaneously broadcast from the same courtroom I will have monitored from live the preceding week. Mr. al Nashiri is the alleged mastermind of the 2000 suicide bomb attack on the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen that killed and wounded dozens of U.S. sailors.

 

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

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