I was approved and have traveled to the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for U.S. Military Commission hearings against five alleged September 11 conspirators.
I graduated with a J.D. from Indiana University McKinney School of Law in 1994, and am an employment lawyer in Indianapolis. When I was in law school, there were few international law opportunities for students.
Several years after I graduated, the school founded its Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), which for over 20 years has offered students and graduates many international opportunities. One of its projects is the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which sends faculty, staff, students, graduates to Guantanamo, after the program received special status from the Pentagon. I am thankful and excited about this opportunity!
My mission through the IU McKinney project is to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on the hearings against the 5 alleged 9/11 co-conspirators.
Khalid Shaik Mohammad is the lead defendant, and is accused of masterminding the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and overseeing the operation and training of the hijackers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Walid bin Attash allegedly ran an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan where two of the 19 September 11 hijackers were trained. Ramzi bin al Shibah allegedly helped the German cell of hijackers find flight schools and enter the United States, and helped finance the plot. Ammar al Baluchi, Khalid Shaik Mohammad’s nephew, allegedly sent money to the hijackers for expenses and flight training, and helped some of them travel to the U.S. Mustafa al Hawsawi allegedly also helped facilitate fund transfers. All 9/11 defendants were arrested in the early 2000s, were held in CIA blacksites, and transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.
My previous Guantanamo trip.
This is my second trip to “Gitmo” (the nickname for the naval station). In January 2018, I attended hearings in the case of alleged al -Qaeda commander Abd al Iraqi/Nashwan al Tamir. Al Iraqi / al Tamir has had five back surgeries in the past nine months, and that contributed to his having only two half-day hearings days the week I was here. Incidentally, hearings in Al-Iraqi’s case were again cut short this last week when he suffered spasms in the Courtroom and was rushed to a medical facility.
Last week, the sole high security courtroom at Guantanamo was double-booked, with hearings scheduled concurrently for the 9/11 defendants and for al Iraqi/al Tamir. Only one set of hearings can be held here at a time. Last week, the military judge in the 9/11 case, Marine Col. Keith A. Parella, held closed hearings in the Washington D.C. area, the first time a Guantanamo military commission criminal hearing in a death penalty case has been held in the continental U.S. Parella has presided since August 27 and replaced Army Col. James Pohl, who had presided continuously since 2011.
Preparing for My Trip to Guantanamo.
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, I traveled on a military flight from Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. to Guantanamo Bay. Motion hearings in the 9/11 case are scheduled to take place all week. There will be eight other representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) observing the hearings with me.
My preparation for the mission to Guantanamo has included reviewing several publications of the Program in International Human Rights Law. These include the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts, which has introduced me to the relevant international and U.S. law. I believe this publication will be very helpful as I seek to analyze, critique and report on my Guantanamo experiences.
The IU McKinney program also provided me with Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay: A Guide of Human Rights NGOs & Others Going to Gitmo To Attend U.S. Military Commission. This has also been very helpful.
One of the NGO representatives, from the National Institute for Military Justice, provided the other NGOs documents relevant to the issues that are expected to be addressed. These are about 50 pleadings in the case, and a docket showing 17 motions which the court needs to address. More recent filings remain confidential, an issue which Al-Baluchi’s team hopes will also be addressed. This will certainly make for a full and interesting week.
We attended a barbeque hosted by al Baluchi’s defense team on Saturday night. The al Baluchi team sent a summary of five main issues that they expected would be addressed, and confirmed that Judge Parella intended to address those issues in a conference held earlier on Saturday.
The first is issue political influence with the military justice process, including the coordinated firing of senior military commission officials and the current CIA Director’s comments regarding the guilt of the accused.
The other issues are: defense access to additional information about CIA torture, defense access to other evidence, conditions of confinement issues, and the transparency of the military commissions. In January, our group of NGOs attended a similar barbecue hosted by Al-Iraqi’s defense team later in the week. Our meeting with al Baluchi’s defense teams this early in the week has helped us all understand the issues that will be addressed this week much better.
I plan to draft more blog posts as the week progresses.
NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law