In August 2019, I was selected to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor hearings as a human rights observer.
How I Found Out About the Project
I am a third year Juris Doctor student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and I will be traveling through our law school’s Military Commission Observation Project, which was founded by Professor George Edwards. I am pursuing a certificate in international and comparative law, and in the 2019 Spring I took a class in International Human Rights Law taught by Professor Edwards. In class, we discussed Guantanamo Bay through the lens of international human rights law. We also discussed opportunities that IU McKinney students have to travel to Guantanamo to witness first hand military commission proceedings. I became interested in traveling to Guantanamo to use the principles we learned in class while serving as a human rights monitor.
I applied to serve as an Observer / Monitor and was quickly selected to serve at a hearing just one month later. I was excited for the opportunity to serve, but also anxious about getting all of the necessary administrative tasks.
A Last Minute Schedule Change
First, the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions informed me that I had been cleared to monitor pre-trial hearings in the case against Mr. Hadi al-Iraqi (or, as he calls himself, Mr. Nashwan al Tamir), an alleged high ranking member of Al Qaeda Iraq who allegedly liaised with the Taliban and perpetrated war crimes. However, two days before we were scheduled to leave for Cuba in October 2019, those hearings were postponed.
Professor Edwards had warned me about the possibility of cancelled or delayed hearings, and I was prepared. However, I still felt sad that I would not be able to participate as a monitor at Guantanamo.
The military’s plans can change frequently when it comes to the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay. I understand that Mr. al Iraqi’s / al Tamir’s hearings are at times cancelled or postponed in part because he has recently undergone several surgeries for a degenerative disc disorder.
A week after the cancelled trip, still in October 2019, I was invited to travel to Guantanamo to monitor pre-sentencing hearings for Mr. Majid Khan November 18-22 and I accepted.
I Am Now Monitoring Mr Majid Khan’s Hearings
In 2012, Mr. Khan pleaded guilty to various crimes, and agreed to provide information related to other Guantanamo prisoners, in exchange for a possible lighter sentence. His original guilty plea was for the crimes of conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. After a D.C. circuit court ruled in a separate case that the charge of material support for terrorism could not be appropriately tried at a military commission, the Military Commission Convening Authority later agreed to allow Khan to withdraw his guilty plea to that charge. His guilty plea on the other charges remain in place, and the upcoming hearings relate to sentencing on those charges.
My role as a Observer / Monitor
As an Observer / Monitor with the Military Commission Observation Project, my role is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report my observations.
I will endeavor to be as independent and objective as possible. I have been studying the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manualthat Professor Edwards and previous IU McKinney observers have put authored. I am hopeful that these Manuals, coupled with my communications with other former Observers / Monitors, and my own independent study will guide me as I participate with the goal of trying to understand whether international human rights law protections are being upheld.
I am also studying the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Mannual, which is a guide crowdsourced from the many observers who have gone before me and an excellent primer on what one can expect on many topics varying from what to bring and where/when to eat to what the sleeping quarters are like and how to access resources while at Guantanamo.
I have communicated with several previous participants who were very helpful and were able to give me the most up to date information possible about what things are like at Guantanamo Bay.
I will write again as I leave Andrews Joint Airforce Base in Washington DC and head to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in a couple of weeks to fulfill my role as observer.
J.D. candidate 2020
Military Commission Observation Project
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law