Traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to U.S. Monitor Military Commission Hearings

I am a second-year student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law pursuing a certificate in human rights law. I am traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor the hearings of Mr. Khalid Shaik Mohammad and 4 other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks. My job will be to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique and report on these hearings. I am representing the Military Commission Observation Project, which is part of the Program in International Human Rights Law of our Indiana McKinney School of Law. Professor George Edwards founded the human rights program and the Guantanamo project.

Travel to Andrews Air Force Base to fly to Guantanamo

I flew to Washington DC yesterday (Friday, 26 April 2019) because our flight to Guantanamo Bay is scheduled to depart from Andrews Air Force Base (Joint Base Andrews), which is located just outside of DC, in Maryland. I stayed at a hotel right across from the base, and took a local taxi from the hotel onto the base, all the way to the Andrew’s Air Passenger Terminal. My grandfather was in the Air Force for many years, so I had been on military bases before (mainly Minot AFB in North Dakota.) While no two bases are the same, I found Andrews similar to other Air Force Bases. When I am on base, I feel the need to be on my best behavior, as everything feels very official.

I arrived at Andrews around 5:30 and checked in for the flight, that was scheduled to depart at 10:00 a.m. The check in process was similar to that at a commercial airport.

Office of Military Commissions NGO Observer Escorts

I immediately met Cathy Nardo, who would be the non-governmental organization (NGO) observer escort for the week the week of hearings, scheduled for 29 to 3 April. Our Indiana program is one of a handful of NGOs that are permitted to send observers / monitors to Guantanamo.

Each time NGOs travel to Guantanamo, they are accompanied by an escort provided by the Office of Military Commissions (OMC). The escort organizes logistics for us at Andrews, on the ground at Guantanamo, and on the flight back to Andrews at the end of the week. At Guantanamo, the escort drives us to where we need to go on the base and helps us acquire the professional and personal items we need on base. The escort also keeps us informed on the schedules of the hearings, and anything else that happens around base, as well as attend the hearings with us.

The check in desk at Andrew’s terminal.

Other NGOs arrive

As 6:00 approached, other NGO observers started arriving. There are six NGO observers on this particular trip. They include, in addition to me, a law student from the University of Toledo, and representatives from the ABA, the September 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the Pacific Council on International Policy, and the National Institute for Military Justice. I each of the observers a copy of Know Before You Go to Guantanamo and Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts, which are Manuals authors by Professor Edwards with the assistance of other Indiana observers. The other observers were very interested in the material contained in the Manualsand were thankful to have been provided them.

BrA fellow NGO observer reviewing her manual.

Briefing from our Escort

Once the NGOs arrived Cathy took us to the children’s play room of the terminal. and gave us a briefing. She began by giving us the schedule for the day. NGOs would be the first to get on and last to get off the plane. She explained that when the plane arrived at Guantanamo, we would take a ferry from the Leeward side of the Guantanamo base to the Winward side where she would take us to the tents where we would live for the week, and then take us to pick up badges we would need to gain access to the courtroom. She briefed us on the areas where photography is and is not allowed and explained the protocol for the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC), which is where the courtroom is where the hearings occur.

Our manuals and important briefing information from the escort.

Boarding the Plane

The NGOS did not have to wait much longer to go through security, which felt much more relaxed than going through TSA at a commercial airport. We then waited a short time longer before getting on a bus which took us onto the tarmac, up to the movable stairs that led to the plane. We got off the bus, walked a short distance across the tarmac, and climbed the stairs to board the plane. This was all a new experience for me. I have never been on a tarmac or used stairs to board a plane. It is very different from at the jet bridges used on commercial flights.

As I prepare to depart Andrews, I am feeling many emotions. I am nervous, excited, happy, and a little scared. But I am very much looking forward to the hearings.

Madison Bowsher

J.D. candidate 2020

Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law  |

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