I was recently selected to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on my second mission to monitor the U.S. Military Commission hearings at the remote U.S. Naval Station.
I am representing the Military Commission Observation Project, which is part of the Program in International Human Rights Law at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where I am a 3rd year student.
Once again, my remit is to attend, observe and be observed, analyze, critique and report on hearings against 5 men who are alleged to have plotted the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Preparation for My Mission
I traveled to Guantanamo Bay once before to monitor hearings. I also traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where a different set of Guantanamo hearings were broadcast live from the Guantanamo courtroom via CCTV to a secure room at the Maryland army base. My past trips have helped shape my preparation for this trip.
I found court papers in this case on the Military Commission website – www.mc.mil. The filings are not complete, or at least I do not have access to all of the filings since some of the filings are behind a security shield and will not be posted on that website until about two weeks, enough time for the documents to undergo a security review. I can see the names of some of the unavailable documents, and that gives me an idea of what substantive motions to expect.
A central and important question in December seemed to be; what constitutes “Part of Al Qaeda”? Throughout unofficial and unauthenticated transcripts on the mc.mil website this issue is discussed during the December hearings and an FBI agent and behavioral analyst’s testimony is available in a second transcript. The second transcript includes testimony about 2007 interrogation of Mr. al Hawsawi as well as a variety FBI activity throughout the world.
Another important issue that was litigated in December is “when did the armed conflict with al Qaeda begin”, since if there was no armed conflict at the time the alleged crimes were committee, they cannot be tried at Guantanamo, since the military commissions only try war crimes and you have to have an armed conflict in order to have a war crime.
It can be difficult to stay up-to-date on the hearings due to the limited access to court documents and the fact that hearings can only be viewed from specific secured locations, such as Ft. Meade. A good way to stay up-to-date on the proceedings is read the websites of journalists who cover Guantanamo, and websites of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that focus on Guantanamo. Another way to stay up-to-date is to speak with previous observers who have traveled to monitor the hearings. This can help provide a context to understand some issues that might otherwise not be clear because they continue from previous hearing dates.
Of course, it is also very helpful to review materials prepared by the Indiana McKinney School of Law’s Military Commission Observation Project, also known as Gitmo Observer – http://www.GitmoObserver.com. We have the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, and the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay.
I was originally scheduled to be in Guantanamo Bay for a week, however the Pentagon stated that they needed to consolidate NGO flights during the month of January, and they asked observers to extend our stay a few extra few days. This means that we will be in Cuba for eleven days, instead of 7. The Pentagon informed us of this schedule change only a few days before our scheduled departure, and it has prevented a few NGO observers from attending the hearings.
During my last mission to Guantanamo Bay Judge Pohl granted a motion to continue the hearings, and we had far less time in court than would have otherwise been the case. I hope that during this trip we are able to proceed with full hearings, as that will permit me to report on substantive court proceedings.
Because of the motion to continue the hearings during my last trip I had the opportunity to see parts of Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and Joint Task Force Guantanamo that I might not have otherwise had time to see. I was fortunate enough to see the Northeast Gate and also ride back to see some of the detention facilities of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, and eat lunch at the seaside galley restaurant with other observers and chat with defense teams.
3rd Year Student
Indiana University McKinney School of Law