Month: April 2018

Heading to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Today for Next Week’s Military Commission Hearings

I’m at Andrews Air Force Base waiting for a plane to take me to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor hearings in the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and four other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks (the “9/11 case”). The hearings are scheduled to occur from 28 April through 5 May 2018.​

I arrived in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, April 26 and have been preparing for my final exams that I am taking the week after I return from Gtmo.IMG_2087

This week’s hearings may likely include the following issues, including motions regarding CIA black site location information, access for the Defense to interview current or former members of the CIA, the Trump administration’s influence on military justice process, access to further evidence through discovery, current confinement issues, and procedural issues regarding the speed at which unclassified pleadings are released publicly.

I will report back after my observation this week.


Sheila Willard (J.D. Candidate, ’18)

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

My Nomination to Observe War Court Proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba


I am a third-year law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and have participated in the law school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) as an NGO Observer since October 2016.  The MCOP is part of the law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

I was confirmed by the Pentagon to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on military commission hearings at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (GTMO) in the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and four other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks (the “9/11 case”). The hearings are scheduled to occur from 28 April through 5 May 2018.


Meeting fellow NGO observers in Gtmo during my last observation, October 2017.

This will be my fourth military commission observation. My first observation was at Ft. Meade, Maryland, where I observed hearings in the 9/11 case via CCTV in October 2016. My second observation was in January 2017 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where I observed hearings in the case against Hadi al Iraqi / Nashwan al Tamir, an alleged high-ranking member of al Qaeda. My third observation took me back to Guantanamo Bay where I attended the 9/11 hearings in October 2017.

Background and Interest in Observing

I became interested in the MCOP during the fall of my second year of law school after hearing about the program and other students’ experiences in observing the hearings. Stemming from my interest in human rights, I applied to participate in the MCOP observations.


Touristing in a bell tower while working with refugees at an NGO in Prague.

In the summer of 2017, I worked in Lisbon, Portugal and Prague, Czech Republic at non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), which is the program that administers the MCOP.  During my time in Prague, I had the incredible experience of working with people seeking asylum in Czech Republic.

The PIHRL recently celebrated 20 years of successful internship placements around the world. I was also a research assistant to the program director of PIHRL in the fall of 2017. This coming fall, I will be working abroad  in an area of international human rights law.

Preparing to Observe

Even though my observation is a few weeks away, I am preparing now so that I am fully informed and updated on the hearings. I am paying careful attention to a document developed and written by MCOP participants titled What Human Rights Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observers and Others May Want to Know Before Traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This document, of which Professor George Edwards is the principal author, provides all of the information necessary to successfully prepare for and complete a mission to Guantanamo.  Without this guide, preparing for my mission would not be complete, even though I have traveled to Ft. Meade and Guantanamo in the past. It is a resource that is full of information not only for the first-time participant, but also for the seasoned observer.

I have also been keeping up-to-date on the hearings and goings on at Guantanamo by following the Miami Herald online, as journalist Carol Rosenberg keeps close watch on the proceedings and reports on the hearings and beyond. I have also found Twitter to be instrumental in keeping informed about the hearings.

I will soon begin to prepare my travel arrangements to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where I will depart to Guantanamo Bay.

NGO Coins

The MCOP has developed a special coin for distribution.  I will have a few coins available during this observation.



Sheila Willard (J.D. Candidate, ’18)

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Final Mission to Guantanamo Bay as Law Student

I am preparing to depart for Guantanamo Bay on my final observer mission as a student at the Indiana University McKinney School. I will be traveling for the Hadi al Iraqi/Nashwan al Tamir hearings taking place on 17-18 April 2018. Although the hearings were initially scheduled to last the entire week, observers were informed that the 14-21 April hearing week has been shortened to 16-19 April 2018. Two travel days are normally allotted for in person missions to Guantanamo. The schedule change is not atypical as my last trip to Guantanamo was initially expected to last a few days longer than originally scheduled, and although we ended up returning on the originally scheduled date, we did not learn this until we were already in Guantanamo.


How I Got Involved

I learned of the Military Commission Observation Project at McKinney before I applied to the Law School and the Program did play a role in my decision to apply. During my first year I was determined to become involved in the program and I applied using the link on the Law School’s web site. Before I considered traveling to Guantanamo Bay I attempted to travel to Fort Meade, Maryland to view hearings via closed-circuit video stream on the military base. Unfortunately, the hearings were cancelled when I was first scheduled to travel to Ft. Meade, so I tried again. Poetically, the first set of hearings that I was able to view at Ft. Meade were the Hadi al Iraqi/Nashwan al Tamir hearings, the same case that I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo for next month on my last mission. When I traveled to Ft. Meade, I met Professor Edwards and a few other students on the base and Professor Edwards explained what was going on during short court recesses. The military commission is different from civilian courts in the United States. I learned about concepts such as: the convening authority, sensitive compartmentalized information facilities (SCIF), the prisoner/detainee distinction, unusual chain of custody rules, accusations of violations of attorney client privilege, and many more. I cannot begin to account for the volume of knowledge that I acquired through my travels to Ft. Meade, Guantanamo Bay, and attending law school events. When I was eventually allowed to travel to Guantanamo Bay, I knew a little of what to expect because I had already seen the courtroom, although nothing can substitute for being there in person.


Observers from Indiana at Ft. Meade monitoring a Guantanamo Bay Military Commission hearing in 2016.

Developments in Guantanamo Bay

As I prepare to depart for Guantanamo I am cognizant of changes that are occurring in the Bay. Secretary Mattis fired the Convening Authority, the case involving the U.S. Cole bombing has been abated, a new attorney client meeting building is in the works, and a contract was awarded to construct a new school. Further, Joint Task Force Guantanamo is examining prisoner/detainee capacity and what it would take to increase capacity and bids are requested for a mental health facility with padded cells . Staying up-to-date is essential to the role that we have as observers. I will continue to update this blog through my return so that others will know the goings-on during my travels.


Ben Hicks

3rd Year Student

Indiana University McKinney School of Law