Today is my 4th scheduled trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since January 2017, the month of the inauguration. The first three of these early 2017 war crimes pre-trial hearings were cancelled, the last one just hours before our military flight was scheduled to depart Andrews Air Force base.
I’m back at Andrews again pre-dawn, with dozens of other people – civilian and military – heading to Guantanamo for US military commission pre-trial hearings in the case against al Tamir (Hadi al Iraqi), an alleged high-level Al
Qaeda member who allegedly committed war crimes. These hearings were originally scheduled for two weeks — five days this coming week and five days next week — but next week’s hearings were cancelled.
We were meant to arrive at Andrews at 6:00 AM for a 10:00 AM flight — four hours in advance is standard. While waiting, there is time for me to meet the other 4 non-governmental organization observers (described below), and to see who else is scheduled to fly with us. There has not been much air traffic at Andrews on any of my trips to and from Guantanamo. On occasion, dignitaries on official planes will pass through the otherwise spartan Andrews Air Terminal.
The defendant – al Tamir
al Tamir is a high-value detainee who is an alleged high-ranking member of al Qaeda who served as liaison between al Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban. He is charged under the U.S. Military Commissions Act with a series of war crimes, including attacking protected property, perfidy / treachery, denying quarter, and targeting noncombatants such as medical workers and civilians. Among other things, he is alleged to have helped the Taliban blow up the monument-sized Bamiyan Valley Buddha Statues, which were a UNESCO World Heritage site.
al Tamir was officially charged in the equivalent of an arraignment in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom in June 2014. I happened to be present at Guantanamo and in the courtroom for that proceeding.
Unlike most of the other detainees charged with international crimes, al Tamir is facing a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, rather than a death sentence faced by, for example, the five men charged with masterminding the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Our Pre-Trial Hearing Week at Gitmo
It is unclear what will transpire during this week of pre-trial hearings. I downloaded an official docket of motions originally scheduled to be argued in court this week. However, the amended docket is hidden behind a pentagon security firewall, beyond the reach of the small handful of “observers”, like myself taking today’s 3-hour flight to this remote outpost tribunal. Rumor has it that we will only have 2 days in the courtroom this week, though the hearings are scheduled morning and evening, Monday – Friday. This means that we may have plenty of time to explore non-courtroom endeavors, including research and writing. Time permitting, I will be able to focus on research for my new book, The Guantanamo Bay Reader: Voices of Those Living and Shaping the Gitmo Experience.
Inevitably, many of us on these trips find time to engage in recreational activities.
It’s good to see some familiar faces here in the terminal, weary as we all gear up for a solid week of Guantanamo work.
It is also great to meet the 4 other observers who will be with me on this trip. Most appear to be lawyers, with two being prosecutors.
With us are the military judge and his staff, prosecutors, defense counsel, interpreters and translators, security personnel, media, escorts for various groups, and us observers. I also noticed some families, with young children, returning to Guantanamo where they are stationed as part of the 3 to 4 thousand permanent U.S. military living at Guantanamo. Another approximately 1,600 are at Guantanamo to handle matters related to the 41 detainees remaining there.
Please stay tuned for more reports from Guantanamo Bay. Among other things, I plan to provide updates on the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, produced by the Guantanamo Bay Military Commission Observation Project of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and share information about the 4 other NGO representatives scheduled to observe this week’s proceedings with me. I also plan to discuss my new book, The Guantanamo Bay Reader.