I was recently informed that I have been cleared to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to observe / monitor pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and 4 other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon. I am a Master of Laws (LL.M.) student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and I will be traveling to Guantanamo through the Indiana law school’s Guantanamo Military Commissions Observation Project, founded by Professor George Edwards, who also founded Indiana’s Program in International Human Rights Law, which houses the Guantanamo project.
I am from the United Arab Emirates and received a U.S. government Fulbright scholarship to study for my LL.M. degree at Indiana McKinney School of Law, where I am in the International Human Rights Law Track. I have taken international human rights law classroom classes, and I am currently working as an immigration intern at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Silver Spring, Maryland, through McKinney’s Program in International Human Rights Law.
I received my first law degree from UAE University in 2015, and a post-graduate diploma in UAE Diplomacy and International Relations from Emirates Diplomatic Academy in 2017. After earning those degrees, I worked for 2 years in the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment as a legal researcher and 5 months as an analyst in a Minster of State office.
During my work and studies, I developed an interest and passion towards topics related to International Human Rights Law.
How I became interested in the Guantanamo Project
During my LLM year at Indiana McKinney, I learned about two different Projects related to Guantanamo Bay: (a) the project related to Military Commissions (criminal trials held at Guantanamo, assessing a prisoner’s possible guilt); and (b) the project related to Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) (administrative hearings assessing prisoners’ perceived threat to national security and possible release from Guantanamo). Professor Edwards founded both projects, that both permit Indiana faculty, staff, students and graduates to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique and report on hearings either in person at Guantanamo Bay, or via CCTV at locations at the Pentagon, Ft. Meade (Maryland), or elsewhere in the U.S.
I applied for the Guantanamo project and recently was notified by Professor Edwards that I received my first round of clearance to travel to Guantanamo, Cuba to attend the Military Commissions hearings.
My preparation for my mission to Guantanamo
After my initial round of clearance to travel to Guantanamo, while I was waiting for a secondary round of clearance for travel, I started preparing for my possible mission. I have been reading/watching different reports and articles and feeds on the topic from different resources:
- The New York Times Guantanamo Docket.
- Blog posts of other Indiana observers who had traveled to Guantanamo (posted on the Gitmo Observer website).
- The “Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual”  and “Know Before You Go To Guantanamo”.
- The Twitter feeds of both New York Times journalist Carol Rosenberg and Gitmo Watch (both very helpful).
- Various documentaries, movies, and interviews of former detainees and Guantanamo guards.
Pre- Mission Reflections
As a lawyer who’s working to become a human rights advocate, I am interested in various topics related to human rights. Among those topics are prisoners’ rights; the right to a fair trial, the right not be tortured, etc. Nowadays, it appears that many of these rights have been neglected or overlooked especially when these rights intersect with terrorism, politics and national security. In my opinion, it is worth exploring how we can strike a balance between ensuring justice and human rights while considering politics and national security. Where do we draw the line?
At this moment, my only real Guantanamo exposure has been from observing Guantanamo Periodic Review Board hearings at the Pentagon, and reading and watching the reports, news, documentaries, and movies mentioned above. I believe that by traveling to Guantanamo, I will learn more about the Guantanamo Military Commissions proceedings, and this will offer me a more practical understanding of the current situation there, as I think about how we can assess whether prisoners and other stakeholders’ rights are being fully afforded to them while assuring that justice is being served.
I am looking forward to my mission to Guantanamo Bay, and to sharing my observations on my experience there.
Maitha Salem Altamimi
Master of Laws (LL.M.), International Human Rights Law Track (2019)
Military Commission Observation Project Trial Observer / Monitor
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law
October 27th, 2019