My Scheduled Trip to Monitor Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

I am scheduled to fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against Mr. Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Abdu Al-Nashiri. Mr. al Nashiri is facing war crimes charges as the alleged mastermind of the October 2000

USS Cole

Damage to the USS Cole.  Picture from CNN.

bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 sailors and wounding many more. I am a second-year student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and was nominated by our school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) and confirmed by the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions (OMC) for this monitoring role, from 11 to 18 November 2017.

Current Case Status

Mr. al Nashiri’s case is in a position no other Guantanamo case has been in before.

Several weeks ago, Mr. al Nashiri’s defense team consisted of Navy Lieutenant Alaric Piette, Ms. Rosa Eliades, Ms. Mary Spears, and Mr. Rick Kammen. Since Mr. al Nashiri faces the death penalty, he has, “to the extent practicable”, the statutory right to have a “Learned Counsel” — or an attorney who is qualified to serve in capital cases. Mr. Kammen served as Mr. al Nashiri’s Learned Counsel since 2008.

On 11 October 2017, Brigadier General John Baker, chief defense counsel for the Military Commissions, released Mr. Kammen, Ms. Eliades, and Ms. Spears for what he described as “good cause” due to “lack of confidence in the confidentiality of their privileged conversations with [al Nashiri] at Guantanamo” according to the release memo singed by General Baker.

Judge Spath ordered Mr. Kammen, Ms. Eliades, and Ms. Spears to appear in court at Guantanamo on 30 October 2017, however the three attorneys did not board the plane to go down there. Judge Spath said the hearings will continue and that General Baker’s release of the three attorneys was “null and void.”

On 1 November 2017, Judge Spath held General Baker in contempt for “willfully refus[ing] to obey the commission’s order to testify” and for “willfully refus[ing] to obey the commission’s order to rescind [his] excusal of [Mr. Kammen, Ms. Eliades, and Ms. Spears].” On 3 November 2017, a Defense Department lawyer agreed to defer General Baker’s punishment, and General Baker was released from confinement to his quarters.

BG Baker

BG Baker after being released from confinement to his quarters. Picture from Miami Herald.

 

Judge Spath has said that he intends on continuing with the hearings on “things that don’t relate to capital issues” through next week. It is still unclear whether the hearings will continue the week of 13 November 2017, when I am scheduled to be at Guantanamo.

Preliminary Thoughts                       

I am still hopeful I will have the opportunity to travel down to Guantanamo. I am currently scheduled to depart from Joint Base Andrews on 11 November. I am looking forward to attending, observing (and being observed), analyzing, critiquing, and reporting on the military commissions as a neutral stakeholder, and ultimately having this incredible potential opportunity that, unfortunately, not many people get.

 

Jessica Ayer (J.D. Candidate, ’19)

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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