For two weeks this month, Guantanamo Bay war crimes hearings have been held in the case against Mr. Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is alleged to have masterminded the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding dozens more.
Representatives of Indiana University McKinney School of Law have monitored these hearings, live in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom, and remotely by CCTV at a secure facility in Ft. Meade, Maryland.
In addition to monitoring military commissions, Indiana affiliates also monitor Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board hearings (PRBs), that occur live at Guantanamo Bay but are broadcast live by CCTV into a secure room at the Pentagon. The PRBs are separate and distinct from the military commissions.
All Indiana monitors carry out the 5-part mission of Indiana McKinney’s Military Commission Observation Project, to: (a) attend; (c) observer; (c) analyze; (d) critique; and (e) report on the substance and the form of the legal proceedings.
All Indiana monitors contribute to research and writing of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, which is an independent and objective guide on rights and interests of all Guantanamo Bay stakeholders, and not just the rights and interests of the defendants. The Manual examines rights and interests of the prosecution, the victims and victims’ families, the media, the public, detainees who are not charged, witnesses, the military detention center guards, and others.
Indiana monitors also contribute to the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay Guide guide, which offers travelers to Guantanamo insights into what to expect there. Also, Indiana monitors contribute to the blog, resource database, and other components of our Gitmo Observer website – www.GitmoObserver.com (and our twitter feed — @GitmoObserver).
Indiana monitors who travel to Ft. Meade, the Pentagon and Guantanamo Bay carry out their responsibilities independently and objectively.
Indiana Observers at Guantanamo
On Saturday, 4 March 2017, Judge Aline Fagundes, who is a Master of Laws (LL.M.) student at Indiana, flew on a U.S. military flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor a week of al Nashiri hearings. At Guantanamo Bay, she witnessed the proceedings while seated in Guantanamo’s courtroom, in a gallery behind a double-paned glass wall that separated her and other observers from the lawyers, the judge, and the defendant. This was the second trip to Guantanamo Bay for Judge Fagundes, who traveled there in 2016 to monitor hearings in the 9/11 case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
A week after she arrived, another military flight from Andrews touched down at Guantanamo, carrying Mr. Tex Boonjue, a 3rd year Indiana J.D. student. Mr. Boonjue and Judge Fagundes met briefly at the Guantanamo Air Terminal, where the baton was passed for the second week this month of on-site monitoring. This interchange at Guantanamo marked the first time since 2003 – when Indiana McKinney affiliates fist became involved with Guantanamo – that Indiana has had 2 representatives on the ground at Guantanamo at the same time. On of the dozens of trips, Indiana has only had one representative on the island at a time.
The plane that carried Mr. Boonjue to Guantanamo picked up Judge Fagundes and brought her back to Andrews. Judge Fagundes spent the weekend in the DC area, then traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to witness, via CCTV, continued hearings in the al Nashiri case.
Both Mr. Boonjue and Judge Fagundes have published multiple blog entries on www.GitmoObserver.com. You can read about some of Judge Fagundes’ experiences here and about some of Mr. Boonjue’s experiences here.
Indiana Observers at Ft. Meade
Early Monday morning, 13 March 2017, Judge Fagundes arrived at the Ft. Meade Army Base in Maryland, where the Guantanamo Bay hearings are broadcast via satellite to a secure viewing room.
Upon her pre-dawn arrival, she stopped at the Ft. Meade Visitors Center, where she was able to collect a badge that granted her access to the base. She traveled about a mile onto the base to the McGill Training Center, where the Office of Military Commissions has organized a live feed from the Guantanamo Bay courtroom.
At Ft. Meade’s McGill facility, Judge Fagundes saw the Guantanamo Bay courtroom from a different perspective. While at Guantanamo, she witnessed the proceedings from the gallery, which is at the back of the courtroom, offering a view of the entire courtroom at all times. She was able to see the judge, the prosecution, the defense counsel, the defendant, the security officers in military uniform, and court staff. She could also see occupants of the viewing gallery, including other observers, media, Guantanamo Base residents who are able to sit in when seats are available, and victims and victims’ families (VFMs) (except when VFMs choose to close a curtain that separates the VFM section of the gallery from others in the gallery).
At Ft. Meade, she could only see what was broadcast from Cuba, through a courtroom camera that would point at the person currently speaking. When the judge spoke, a camera pointed at him and that was broadcast live. When the prosecutor spoke, a different camera pointed at him, and that was broadcast live. Cameras pointed at the defense counsel, the defendant, and the witnesses would come alive and broadcast when those people spoke.
When viewing proceedings at Ft. Meade, it is impossible get a clear sense of the scope of the proceedings, or the courtroom / gallery dynamics, as one can do when in they are observing live at Guantanamo.
At Ft. Meade, observers cannot witness any visual or oral reactions by VFMs, the defendant, or anyone else, unless a camera pointing towards them is activated. These cameras are only activated when an actual participant in the courtroom is speaking officially. The cameras would not necessarily point towards a defendant who was speaking out of turn, a VFM who might be reacting, or others on site who could clearly be heard / seen by any observer physically in the courtroom gallery.
At Ft. Meade, Judge Fagundes was met by Professor George Edwards, who is the founding faculty director of Indiana’s Guantanamo project.
Judge Fagundes and Professor Edwards viewed the hearings at Ft. Meade, while Mr. Boonjue viewed the hearings while in gallery in the back of the Guantanamo Bay Courtroom.
Upcoming Indiana participants at Guantanamo Bay and Ft. Meade
On Saturday, 18 March, Mr. Brent Pierce, an Indiana McKinney J.D. graduate, is scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay. He is likely to be on the ground there for a few minutes with Mr. Boonjue, who is due to return to Andrews on the plane that carries Mr. Pierce from Andrews.
Mr. Pierce is scheduled to monitor the case against the five alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. That case has five defendants, including Khalid Shaik Mohammad. These five defendants, like Mr. al Nashiri in the U.S.S. Cole case, face the death penalty.
On Monday the 20th, when Mr. Pierce is in the Guantanamo gallery for the 9/11 hearings, Professor Edwards is scheduled to be back at Ft. Meade with another Indiana McKinney LL.M. student, who will join in monitoring the 9/11 case via CCTV.
You can read Mr. Pierce’s initial blog post here.
Substance of the al Nashiri Hearings
The testimony on the Monday morning that Professor Edwards and Judge Fagundes were at Ft. Meade (and Mr. Boonjue was in the Guantanamo courtroom gallery) focused on pre-admitting into evidence items that the FBI recovered from the U.S.S. Cole in the days after the ship was attacked. These items included photographs of the ship, harbor where the ship was attacked, the road leading to the harbor, and the beach front where debris from the attack was washed ashore. Among the debris on the shore depicted in the photographic evidence was an uninflated Cole lifeboat and a Cole baseball cap. Also
admitted into evidence were fiberglass fragments that are alleged to be part of the suicide boat that attacked the Cole, debris found on Cole’s deck following the bombing, photographs of the gaping hole in the side of the Cole where the attack boat hit, and photographs of devastation inside the attacked ship.
At Ft. Meade and in the Guantanamo Gallery, observers could see some of the exhibits, including those that were projected onto the screen by a device like an overhead projector. When exhibits were presented, at Guantanamo, observers could see and hear reactions / non-reactions by the defendant, VFMs, media, other observers, and others in the courtroom. At Ft. Meade, observers could see and hear only what came through the television monitor / speakers.
Substance of the upcoming 9/11 hearings
It is unclear what will be on the agenda for the 9/11 hearings. The military judge in that case has released a docketing order, and participants know the list of pre-trial motions scheduled. But experience has demonstrated that not all motions on the order are necessarily heard during a hearing week, and at times matters not listed on the order are raised.
On Tuesday, 21 March 2017, Professor Edwards, Judge Fagundes, and another LL.M. student are scheduled to travel to the Pentagon to monitor the PRB hearing of Saifullah Paracha, from Pakistan, who at 69 years of age is the oldest detainee currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. He is alleged to have associated with members of al Qaida.
PRBs and military commissions differ.
Military commission are criminal proceedings that are geared towards determining whether defendants are guilty of offenses that are charged. Generally, the outcome of a military commission would be that the defendant is found guilty of the charges or the defendant is acquitted of the charges. Military commissions operate pursuant to the Military Commission Act of 2009, a federal statute.
PRBs are administrative proceedings that seek to determine whether a detainee is a threat to the national security of the U.S. The outcome of a PRB is that a detainee is considered a threat and will thus remain at Guantanamo Bay, or is not considered a threat and can be placed on a list for possible repatriation to his home country or resettlement in a third country. PRBs operate pursuant to an Executive Order issued in 2011.
9/11 Hearings for the last week of March 2017; al Darbi hearings for the first week of April.
During the final week of March, Professor Edwards is scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay for the 2nd week of hearings in the 9/11 case. Mr. Brent Pierce and Professor Edwards will likely meet briefly at the Guantanamo Bay airport, to pass the baton for the final week of March hearings.
Currently, hearings are scheduled at Guantanamo Bay for the first week of April in the case of Mr. al Darbi, who is alleged to have conspired with Mr. al Nashiri in planning a failed attack on the U.S.S. Sullivan the year before the U.S.S. Cole bombing. Professor Edwards is scheduled to return to Guantanamo Bay for this hearings. Rumor has it that the April al Darbi hearings will be cancelled. Another round of al Darbi hearings is scheduled for May 2017.
Military commission hearings in the case against Mr. Hadi al Iraqi (a/k/a/ Nashwan al Tamir), an alleged high level member of al Qaida Iraq and liaison with the Taliban, scheduled for earlier in March 2017, were cancelled. The Indiana McKinney monitor who was scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay for the Hadi hearings — Ms. Johanna Leblanc — will be scheduled for a subsequent monitoring mission. Ms. Leblanc’s initial blog post on her cancelled Hadi al iraqi hearing mission can be found on www.GitmoObserver.com here.
Though each Indiana monitor has his / her personal perspective and opinions, Indiana monitors act independently and objectively in researching and drafting our Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and other materials that examine rights and interests of Guantanamo Bay stakeholders. The materials that Indiana has prepared are being used by many who have an interest in what happens (or what does not happen) at Guantanamo Bay. Though persons traveling to Guantanamo may have a particular interest in our Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay Guide, there is strong interest in our substantive publications as well.
Indiana monitors contribute to the transparency that the Pentagon has stated that it seeks with the military commissions. Indiana monitors also benefit, whether they travel to Ft. Meade, to Guantanamo Bay, or both.
Anyone interested in our work can check our blog / website / resource database at www.GitmoObserver.com.
Founding Faculty Member, Military Commission Observation Project
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law