This is my second trip to observe the military commission hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as part of the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. My role is to observe the proceedings and provide an independent, impartial, and accurate account of the proceedings.
I left Indianapolis Friday afternoon August 18 and drove for 9 hours to joint base Andrews, where the charter plane to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was scheduled to depart at 09:00 on Saturday morning August 19. I was told to arrive at the Andrews Visitor Center by 06:00 and meet the escort from the convening authority who would fly with us. Upon my arrival at the visitors center, one of our escorts vouched for me at the front gate guard station so I could drive onto the base to the terminal. I followed our escort to the terminal where I met the other 3 Non Governmental Organization representatives (NGO’s) who are traveling to Guantanamo Bay for the KSM / 9/11 hearings with me. There were representatives from the American Bar Association, the New York City Bar Association, and the Pacific Council on International Policy.
I handed out copies of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and the Know Before You Go: Guantanamo Bay (which were produced by the MCOP and are routinely distributed to other NGO’s traveling to Guantanamo Bay for the military commission hearings) books at the terminal for them to have as resources during our trip.
After an uneventful 3 ½ hour flight we arrived at about 1:00 in the afternoon in Guantanamo Bay. Upon landing we were the last group to exit the plane since we were seated in the very rear of the aircraft. We entered the main hanger and were processed through initial security procedures which consisted of a review of our travel orders issued by the Pentagon, our passports, and the other documents we had completed in order to travel to Guantanamo Bay.
After clearing through the initial security process in the hanger, we entered the terminal next to the hanger where I briefly got to say hello to Tyler Smith who was traveling back on the same plane we arrived on after observing the Abd al Hadi al Iraqi hearings the prior week. Since we were the last ones to be processed through security, we had to hurry up and get loaded up onto the vans that were waiting to take us to the waiting ferry. The ferry is a large military transport boat boat that can hold hundreds of people and also vehicles to cross the bay from the airport to the other side where the military commission hearings are held.
After traveling across the bay on the ferry we collected our luggage and got settled into our tents. After that, we went to get our security badges which took place within the secured area of the courtroom compound at camp justice. After that we made a trip to the Navy Exchange (NEX) to stock up on supplies for our week’s stay. The NEX is essentially like a Super-Walmart with food, clothing and general merchandise.
Later in the evening the 4 of us (NGO’s) were invited to attend a BBQ hosted by representatives from the Al Baluchi defense team. In addition to the Al Baluchi defense team, several other members of other detainee defense teams were also present. During this time we had the opportunity to talk with some of the defense attorneys about what to expect during the week ahead and how they expected the various issues on the docketing order to be addressed. We learned that the defense teams anticipated a full day of public hearings on Monday followed by a closed session (closed to the public) on Tuesday due to the discussion of classified information, a public hearing day on Wednesday, and most likely closed sessions on Thursday and possibly Friday. The members of the defense teams stressed that this tentative schedule is subject to change depending on how the hearings proceed day to day, but if the schedule stays as has been predicted by the defense teams, we should have some down time during the day so we may have opportunities to visit some other parts of the base including Camp X-Ray, Marine Hill and radio GITMO.
While we don’t know our full schedule for tomorrow yet, we have been told that at some point we will also have an opportunity to meet with the prosecution team as well and discuss the proceedings from their perspective.
Charles R. Dunlap, J.D.
Member, Military Commission Observation Project
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law