Month: June 2019

Going to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Monitor Military Commission Hearings in the Case against 5 Alleged Masterminds of the 9/11 Attacks

While I was a student at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, earning my Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) with a Graduate Certificate in Human and Civil Rights (2017), I learned about our school’s program related to the U.S. Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Students, faculty, staff and graduates are permitted to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor military commission hearings, against alleged war criminals, while sitting in the viewing gallery live in the courtroom. We could also travel to Ft. Meade, Maryland, to monitor the hearings via CCTV.

Nicole B

I am now scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay, for hearings in the case against five alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.


The Pentagon granted a number of Non Governmental Organizations permission to send “NGO Observers” to monitor the hearings, trials and other U.S. Military Commission proceedings held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Professor George Edwards, of the Indiana McKinney law school, founded its Program in International Human Rights Law, to which the Pentagon granted NGO Observer status.

Professor Edwards then created the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) to implement NGO Observer responsibilities. As a selected NGO observer, my mission is to: (1) attend; (2) observe / monitor; (3) be seen; (4) analyze; (5) critique; and (6) report on the proceedings. 

My first Guantanamo observation was in the spring of 2018, when I traveled to Ft. Meade to monitor hearings in the Guantanamo case against Hadi al Iraqi / Nashwan al Tamir case, who is an alleged high level al Qaeda Iraq member who liaised with the Taliban. 

I have been cleared by the Pentagon for travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor the military commission hearings in the case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks.

NGO Observers help ensure not only transparency, but also that the rule of law is respected and maintained. NGO Observers play a critical role as the eyes and ears of the outside world into Guantanamo Bay.

It is important to consider the rights and interests of all stakeholders, not just the rights and interests of the accused/detainees, which may immediately come to mind. But what about the rights and interest of the prosecution? The victims and their families? The press? I believe our visibility and willingness to be seen during these proceedings holds everyone to a higher standard because our physical presence represents an extension of the public.

I am scheduled to arrive in Guantanamo Bay on Saturday, 15 June 2019 and leave on Saturday, 22 June 2019. I am anxious to see if my schedule will play out as anticipated. Participation as an NGO Observer requires significant patience and flexibility as you prepare to monitor proceedings due to the schedule changes, and sometimes cancelations.

Reflections before GITMO

As I get closer to the dates for traveling to Guantanamo Bay, I am feeling a range of emotions. I am excited, anxious, and a bit nervous. As my mission is approaching, I have had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach daily as it becomes a reality that I will soon be within eye view of men charged with masterminding the 9/11 attacks. I feel this eerie feeling lingering in the atmosphere. Even if one does not recognize any of the names of the alleged masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks, you are familiar with the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001. It’s been a bit surreal to know I’ll have the opportunity to observe these historical proceedings in person.

I was in the 5th grade at Sunnyside Elementary the tragic day of the 9/11 attacks. Even reflecting on that day from the perspective of a young child, the day still feels so surreal to me. Over the last few days, on my way home from work, I have taken time to stop by my elementary school to revisit the history of what that painful day felt like for me as a child. It’s been really important for me to soak up those emotions and memories again before traveling to Guantanamo. That day will always be etched in the hearts and minds of so many Americans and discussed for generations to come.


Photo of Sunnyside Elementary in Indianapolis, Indiana on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

I know as NGO observers we are being provided an extraordinary opportunity and I do not take that lightly. Although most people are aware domestically and internationally about the 9/11 attacks, few people have an understanding about the hearings, trials and other U.S. Military Commission proceedings held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As observers we are provided an extraordinary opportunity and I consider it our duty to share as much as possible about our experiences at GITMO.

It is an honor to have been nominated to serve as an NGO Observer, and I look forward to fulfilling my NGO responsibilities.


Nicole M. Burts, J.D., Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Observer, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law