I’m heading back to Guantanamo Bay to Observe hearings

I am at Andrews Air Force Base now waiting to board a military flight to take me to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor U.S. Military Commissions in the case against al Nashiri, who is alleged to have masterminded the 2000 suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding dozens more.

For the second time, I was nominated to represent the MCOP – the Military Commission Observation Project of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

My first trip to Guantanamo Bay was in October of 2016 and my experience can be found in this www.GitmoObserver.com blog post, clicking here.  There was also a 4-page article by Larissa Roso published in the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora (see photo in this blog).

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The defendants

As mentioned, this time I will attend a pre-trial hearing in the case against al Nashiri, who faces the death penalty for his alleged participation in the suicide attack against the USS Cole .

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USS Cole being towed

From public sources I have gathered the following information about al Nashiri:

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. He was arrested in Dubai in 2002, was held for 4 years in CIA black sites and was taken to Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. He was first charged at Guantanamo in 2008. The charges were dropped in February 2009 and reinstated in 2011, and now, six years later, the proceeding remains at the pre-trial stage.

al Nashiri

On my first visit, I attended the pre-trial hearings in the case against Khalid Shaik Mohammad and 4 other allged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It will be interesting to compare the 9/11 hearings to what I expect to witness at the al Nashiri hearings.

Why go to Guantanamo again?

I am a Master of Laws (LL.M.) student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and my second trip to Guantanamo Bay is part of my in-field research about transparency under the Military Commissions. My research is being supervised by , Professor George Edwards, who is Founding Director of  Indiana’s Military  Commission Observation Project.

I remember, as a first-islander (this is how people in Guantanamo Bay call those who are on the island for the first time), I felt like not even blinking my eyes, afraid of missing any detail from which I could learn something.

This time, of course, it will not be different. My eyes will be wide open. My initial focus was to fulfill goals of our MCOP project – to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the Military Commissions. I did that on my first visit, and I will do that on this visit as well.

But this time  my attention will be focused specifically on transparency.

The whole process of my involvement, since I was nominated to be an observer, represents a rich source for research on Military Commission transparency for NGOs. The several steps to comply with the requirements presented by the Pentagon, the limited information NGOs can access, the location of the hearings, the restrictions and overwhelming rules while in the island, the fact that rules seem constantly to change for NGOs (with some rules being different now than they were when I went to Guantanamo in October), the limited areas at Guantanamo where NGOs can circulate, visit or take pictures – those are just a few examples of things that I am thinking about in the context of transparency. Of course, the cases before the Military Commissions are related to national security, and deserve special care. This research will try to understand what international and U.S. domestic law require regarding transparency of the U.S. Military Commissions for NGOs, recognizing that a balance must take into account national security as well as NGO exposure and access to information. Do the Military Commissions comply with international and U.S. law regarding transparency when it comes to NGO observers?

At Andrews Air Force Base

I am now at the Joint Base Andrews, and the sun is about to rise on this chilly Sunday. Our chartered flight – a Delta Airlines – is scheduled to depart at 8am. The NGOs were scheduled to arrive arrive at Andrews at 5 a.m., 3 hours in advance, to check-in for the flight.

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At this time there are 10 NGOs representatives from different organizations scheduled to travel with us. On my first trip, we had 12 NGOs observers. Each authorized organization can indicate and send only one representative at the time, even if there are places available. So, if we in fact only have 10, then there are 3 or 4 empty seats that could have been filled by NGO representatives. I know that there are many observers from Indiana and other organizations available to fill those seats, and I wonder why those spots are empty.

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NGOs waiting at the AMC’s Children Area, also called Family Lounge.

The flight time is about 3 hours 15 minutes, and we are expected to arrive at Guantanamo Bay around lunch time.

I am looking forward to gathering as much information as possible on this trip, and I hope to learn from as many participants as possible, including other NGOs observers, media, the defense team, the prosecution, escorts, etc.

Soon I will be sharing more information here on this blog. Also I will be tweeting @alinedoral.

Stay tuned.

Aline Fagundes, Master of Laws (LL.M.) student

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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