I am a third year law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and am traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba through our law school’s Military Commission Observation Project. The Pentagon granted our Project status to send McKinney faculty, staff, students and graduates to Guantanamo to monitor military commission hearings. I am monitoring hearings in the case against Mr. Majid Khan, who pleaded guilty at Guantanamo to war crimes charges. His hearings are scheduled for 17 and 18 July 2018.
Our plane to Guantanamo departs from Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. Andrews is known as the home of Air Force One, the plane used by the President of the United States.
My Experience at Andrews Air Force Base
Last week the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commission (OMC) sent me and other monitors a “Trip Brief” that provided detailed instructions for today’s trip, and informed us of what to expect.
We were instructed to meet at the Andrew’s Visitor Center, just outside the main gate of the base. There, a Pentagon driver picked us up and drove us to the Andrews air field. We checked in for our flight, just as we would check in for any commercial flight. In addition to our passport, we had to show certain documents that the Pentagon had sent us to obtain a boarding pass.
Briefing for NGOS
After I checked in for my flight, I was introduced to our two “escorts” who would be traveling to Guantanamo with the monitors. We were taken to a separate room, and the escorts introduced themselves to everyone present. We all introduced ourselves and asked questions. I also distributed the manuals provided for us from IU McKinney for NGOs. Our group consisted of five monitors (or observers)–3 law students, 1 attorney, and one law professor–from 5 different states.
The escorts reviewed different rules for us on the ground at Guantanamo. For example, we were told about photography limitations, badge requirements, opportunities while on base, and the approximate schedule for the next 3 days. Our escorts emphasized that we need to remain observant of rules and restricted areas. In addition, they explained that we needed to remain flexible, because rules and day to day activities can and do change with little to no notice. Our escorts also said we could possibly pet the iguanas and to watch out for banana rats.
Feelings About Being on Andrews Air Force Base
I felt very humbled. As I sat there waiting among other NGO’s, members of the press, and members of prosecution and/or defense teams, I readily acknowledged that I was now a part of something very important that many people are not privileged to experience. I already felt this mission is pertinent; however after overhearing partial conversations about Khan’s case (that I will not regurgitate, because some of it may very well be privileged) and witnessing men and woman in uniform who have signed contractions to join our armed forces in person, I began to develop an even deeper admiration for the commission.
After our briefing we were sent through security, which looked like security at any U.S. airport. Here the scanner machine was inoperable. We put our personal items into a bin for hand inspection and then walked through the metal detector.
Around the corner from security we provided our passport and boarding pass to a soldier. We waited for approximately 15 minutes before we were taken from our terminal to our plane. In the plane, the flight attendants completed a head count. We are now headed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A. Shashan Deyoung, J. D. Candidate, 2019
NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Indiana University School of Law Program in International Human Rights Law