Reporting from Guantanamo Bay:  Courtroom Clash and Hearing Delays

Reporting from Guantanamo Bay

I am a recent graduate of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) and I am representing the IU McKinney Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).

I traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba this weekend to monitor hearings in a U.S. military commission against an alleged high-level member of al-Qaeda who has been charged with war crimes.

My mission at Guantanamo is to attend, monitor, be seen, analyze, critique and report on the proceedings of the defendant, Mr. Nashwan al-Tamir / Abd Hadi al Iraqi (hereinafter “Nashwan / Hadi”).  More about the MCOP and Nashwan / Hadi may be read through my earlier blog posts found here.

Tuesday 25 September 2018 Hearing

Photo on 9-26-18 at 5.40 PM

Me reviewing the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual – Excerpts before the day’s commission hearing.

Tuesday’s hearing (25 September 2018) began with testimony from an Assistant Staff Judge Advocate (ASJA) of the U.S. Navy.  The ASJA testified that he provided Nashwan / Hadi notice of his right to be present during Tuesday’s hearing in accordance with Judge Libretto’s orders during the hearing on Monday (24 September 2018).  The ASJA further testified that Nashwan / Hadi declined to be present for Tuesday’s hearing, and that Nashwan / Hadi expressed feeling “medically unable to appear”.

Following a short recess, prosecuting counsel (Mr. Vaughn Spencer) and defense counsel (Mr. Adam Thurschwell) presented oral arguments regarding whether or not the week’s remaining commission hearings should proceed in Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence.

Thurschwell argued that Nashwan / Hadi could only waive his right to appear for Tuesday’s hearing after making his first hearing appearance during this week’s commission session.  As Nashwan / Hadi did not appear for the first hearing of this week’s commission session on Monday, Thurschwell argued that it would be erroneous to continue proceedings for the week absent a valid waiver of Nashwan’s / Hadi’s right to appear for those proceedings.

In other words, Thurschwell recalled the principle of express waiver as discussed under under the Rules of Military Commissions—R.M.C. 804(c).  In practice, this principle requires the military judge (Libretto) to require the defendant (Nashwan / Hadi) to appear for the first hearing of a new hearing session (the Monday 24 September 2018 hearing).  During that first hearing, the judge must inform the defendant of his rights, including the right to not be present at future hearings for the week.  On subsequent hearing days for the week, the defendant can waive his right to be present for any hearing day during the session, in which case the court requires the defendant to sign a formal waiver stating that he is voluntarily absenting himself.  Thurschwell applied this principle to the context of Tuesday’s hearing, and argued that the court did not properly follow the practice described above.

On the other hand, Spencer argued that the Senior Medical Officer (SMO) medically cleared Nashwan / Hadi to appear in court on Tuesday, and that Nashwan / Hadi had been adequately informed of Tuesday’s hearing.  Therefore, Spencer argued, Nashwan’s / Hadi’s failure to appear for Tuesday’s hearing was a voluntary refusal.  In other words, Spencer argued that Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence constituted a voluntary waiver as discussed under R.M.C. 804(c).

Judge Libretto ruled in line with the prosecution (Spencer), stating:

Central to the commission’s analysis is whether the accused’s refusal implicates the principle of express waiver or voluntary absence.  The two principles are distinct. Express waiver, to be valid, requires an accused to be fully informed of his right to attend and the consequences of foregoing that right.  Voluntary absence, on the other hand, has no such requirement.  The absence needs only be found to be voluntary. In order to be voluntary, the accused must have known of the scheduled proceeding and intentionally missed them.

As an initial matter, this commission finds that the circumstances presented by the accused’s refusal to attend the scheduled sessions thus far this week implicate the principle of voluntary absence, not express waiver, as argued extensively by the defense.

In reaching this conclusion, Libretto held that Nashwan / Hadi had been medically cleared to appear for Tuesday’s hearing, and that appropriate accommodations had been made to allow his appearance.  Libretto therefore deemed Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence from this hearing to be intentional, and accordingly found “the accused’s absence from this session to be voluntary and that the accused will have forfeited his right to be present if he continues to refuse to attend”.

Libretto then ordered the commission to reconvene at 9:00 a.m. each remaining day this week, beginning on Wednesday (26 September 2018).  Libretto further ordered that Nashwan / Hadi be allowed opportunities to appear for each scheduled proceeding for the week.  Libretto declared that the commission would not proceed in Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence on Wednesday or Thursday (27 September 2018).  However, Libretto explained that should Nashwan / Hadi not appear on Friday (28 September 2018), Nashwan / Hadi would be considered voluntarily absent from that hearing, and the hearing would then proceed in Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence.

Tuesday’s hearing then recessed for the day at 1:15 p.m.

Note:  For those wishing to access the unofficial / unauthenticated transcript of the Tuesday 25 September 2018 commission hearing as published through the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) website, you may do so here.

Nashwan / Hadi Suffers Further Back Spasms Causing More Hearing Delays

Abd Hadi al Iraqi (Nashwan al Tamir)

Nashwan al Tamir / Abd Hadi al Iraqi (pictured) underwent his fifth spinal surgery within an eight month period in May 2018 (2014 photo by the International Committee of the Red Cross).

Ms. Carol Rosenberg (whose twitter feed I have been monitoring for updates while at Guantanamo) tweeted on 3:01 p.m. Tuesday that Nashwan / Hadi suffered more severe back spasms sometime following the day’s earlier hearing.  She then explained that “Gitmo’s prison doctor” (presumably the Army SMO, but this remains unclear) revoked Nashwan’s / Hadi’s medical clearance to be transported from his cell.

Shortly afterward at 3:05 p.m., Ms. Rosenberg tweeted that Judge Libretto cancelled the hearing scheduled for Wednesday.  Around 9:00 p.m. that evening, I learned from an NGO escort that Judge Libretto similarly canceled the hearing scheduled for Thursday as well.  It remains unclear if the hearing scheduled for Friday will proceed should Nashwan / Hadi fail to appear.

Conclusion

Please stay tuned for further Guantanamo updates.

Jacob Irven, J.D. 2018
Military Commission Observation Project
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Voter Protection Legal Fellow
Indiana Democratic Party

Jacob.Irven@gmail.com

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