Month: January 2020

Traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Monitor the Hearings in the Case Against the Alleged 9/11 Co-Conspirators

From 20 to 31 January 2020, the U.S. government is holding pre-trial hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the military commission case against 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

I was nominated by the Indiana University  McKinney School of Law in to travel to Guantanamo to monitor these hearings. I graduated from the law school in 2018, and am participating in the school’s Military Commission Observation Project, that sends faculty, staff, students and graduates to Guantanamo to monitor hearings live, and to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor the hearings via CCTV.

At Guantanamo, my mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on the military commission proceedings in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

From Indiana to Maryland

Today I traveled from Indiana to a small town in Maryland near Joint Base Andrews (Andrews Air Force Base), which is where my plane to Guantanamo is scheduled to depart at 10:00 tomorrow morning (Saturday).

I stand in Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. holding a copy of the “Know Before you go to Guantanamo Bay” manuals and one of the NGO observer challenge coins on 17 January 2020.

This is my seventh observer mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and I have picked up a few tricks to help ensure a successful mission.

It is essential to arrive near Andrews the day before a scheduled flight out of Andrews because the flights to Guantanamo Bay usually depart early in the morning. It is a good idea to book direct flights early in the day in case there are flight delays or cancellations, because there are no flights from Indiana that would arrive in time on the morning of the Guantanamo flight.

I arrived in Washington DC at approximately 1:00 pm today on a direct flight from Indianapolis, and from there I took a Lyft to the Quality Inn at Joint Base Andrews in Clinton, Maryland. I chose this hotel because it is very close to the Visitor Control Center (VCC) at Joint Base Andrews, where I will meet my military escort to get on base in the morning. It is so close, in fact, that I can see the VCC from my room. In the morning I will check out of the hotel and walk across the street to meet my escort. From there we will drive through the Andrews main entrance and go to the base air terminal (the home of Air Force One) to catch our flight to Cuba.

Know Before You Go to Guantanamo / NGO Coin

I left Indiana this morning I stopped by the law school where I picked up fourteen copies of the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay manual, which is a continuously updated color publication authored by Professor George Edwards, who founded our law school’s Guantanamo projects. We provide copies of Know Before You Go to observers from other groups we meet at Joint Base Andrews, and the observers can use the Manual during the week at Guantanamo. PDF copies of the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay can be downloaded on http://www.GitmoObserver.com. 

Two NGO challenge coins designed by Professor George Edwards of the Indiana University  McKinney School of Law Program in International Human Rights Law, with input from other Guantanamo stakeholders.

Additionally, I picked twenty NGO observer challenge coins which can be purchased for $15.00. Professor Edwards designed the coin with guidance and input from various Guantanamo stakeholders.

Testimony at Guantanamo This Week

At the hearings this week we are expected to hear testimony from psychologists James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen who are purported to have developed the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) program, containing techniques such as waterboarding, that was implemented following the 9/11 attacks in CIA-operated black sites. 

The first day will likely be 22 January 2020 due to the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I plan to make another blog post from the terminal at Joint Base Andrews in the morning and plan to continue to post on the blog throughout the hearing week.

Benjamin Hicks

Juris Doctor (2018)

Military Commission Observation Project Trial Observer / Monitor

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

17 January 2020

I Attended My Second Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Periodic Review Board (PRB) Hearing at the Pentagon

At the Pentagon, With Professor George Edwards, Founder of the Guantanamo Military Commissions Observation Project, and IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law.

This morning, 17 September2019, I traveled to the Pentagon for the second time, this time to attend a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani (ISN 1461), who is a prisoner being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been for more than 15 years.

Periodic Review Boards (PRBs)

The Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) process was established on 7 March 2011 upon an Executive Order by President Obama who sought to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. The PRB is a discretionary administrative process with the stated purpose of seeking to determine whether each prisoner held at Guantanamo “continues to be a threat” to U.S. national security.  

Today, Mr. Rabbani had a PRB hearing, at which he had an opportunity to plead with the U.S government to release him from Guantanamo.

Background on Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani (ISN 1461)

Mr. Rabbani is an alleged travel and financial facilitator for alleged al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is alleged that Mr. Rabbani’s main job was to operate al Qaeda safe houses in Karachi, Pakistan, facilitate travel of Mujahidin and their families to and from Afghanistan, and acquire and drive vehicles.  He is also suspected of having links with Osama Bin Laden.

Mr. Rabbani is a Pakistani citizen and was born in Saudi Arabia in October 1969 and raised there. According to a JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment document, Mr. Rabbani was arrested in September 2002 in Pakistan during a raid of guest houses that he operated along with others. He was held in Pakistani custody until he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2004.

Mr. Rabbani is now under a PRB subsequent full review, which is a hearing permitted to every detainee every three years if their Initial and File review hearings are declined.

Today’s Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Abdul Malik

Since this is my second time visiting the Pentagon, I was familiar with the process to expect. I arrived at the Pentagon today at 8:00 a.m. (Tuesday, 17 September 2019), showed my passport, cleared through rounds of high security, and went to the Pentagon waiting area waiting for the other observers.  While waiting, I had the opportunity to talk with the other observers. We were 3 Observers plus one member of the media. I was the Observer who represented the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and the other two Observers represented Judicial Watch and Human Rights First. A media representative from al Jazeera was present. Though governmental representatives may also view PRBs from this venue, none were present today.

Around 8:30 a.m., the four of us were escorted to a secure conference room in the Pentagon to observe the hearing broadcasted while it is happening live from Guantanamo Bay. The hearing was broadcasted through a TV screen in the middle of the room.  Before we entered that room, we had to leave our cell phones and cameras on a table outside the conference room. Once inside the room, we had to sign a form that indicated rules for a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), such as, no recording devices.

The hearing started around 9:05 a.m.

The TV screen was switched to the hearing where we can see a US military official sitting in front of a table. The PRB started with an off-screen voice, presumably of a U.S. military official, calling out the names of the six U.S. government departments participating in the PRB, and making other preliminary announcements. The six departments are Department of Defense; Department of State, Department of Justice; Department of Homeland Security; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Then, the U.S. military official read out an “Unclassified Statement”, which is now posted online[1], and gives an [alleged] general background about the detainee. It reads as follows:

Text Box: Photo of the Unclassified Statement

“Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani (PK-J 461), a.k.a. Abu Badr, was a financial and travel facilitator for al-Qaida leaders Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024) and USS Cole mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from 1997 until his arrest in September 2002 during a raid of guest house that Abu Badr was operating with his brother Abdul Rabbani (PK-1460) IN Karachi, Pakistan. His primary jobs were to run al-Qaida safe houses in Karachi, facilitate travel of mujahedeen and their families to and from Afghanistan, and acquire and drive vehicles. Abu Badr lived in Saudi Arabia until his early 20s but spent his active jihadist years in Pakistan.”

Later, the appointed personal representative for Mr. Rabbani read out a statement. This statement is posted online[2] for the public. She noted in her statement that she has scheduled over 40 meetings during the past months with Mr. Rabbani. However, Mr. Rabbani has not accepted to attend any of the meetings. The personal representative said that Mr. Rabbani does not feel that the current political situation will allow any detainee to depart GTMO.  The personal representative reiterated that she will continue scheduling meetings with Mr. Rabbani.

With that, the public session was concluded at 9:11 a.m. about 4 minutes after it began.

Reflections and preparation for Guantanamo Bay

This is my second time attending a hearing at the Pentagon related to Guantanamo detainees. This time, since the Personal Representative Statement was published online before the hearing stating that the detainee will not be attending, and considering last’ time discussion with the other NGO observers about how prisoners’ are losing hope on the process, I expected this hearing to be short.  

After attending my second PRB, I started to get a better understanding of the current proceedings.  It appears that detainees are increasingly refusing to attend the PRB hearings. This comes to no surprise considering the current political environment and that no detainee has been successfully released through the PRB process since the current Administration assumed power, and the five detainees who were cleared for transfer by the PRB process during Obama Administration remain at Guantanamo.  It appears that the process is losing its meaning and trust. With no changes or progress in the proceedings, it is expected that more detainees will stop cooperating.

Although PRB hearings so far were very short and expected, it still provides an insight into how PRB hearings are being held. It is a unique opportunity for those who are interested in learning more about the Guantanamo detainees, prisoners’ rights and prosecuting alleged war criminals. I look forward to continuing learning about the PRBs process and having the opportunity to attend more PRBs in the future.  I look forward to my upcoming visit to Guantanamo Bay to attend and observe the military commission hearings.

Maitha Salem Altamimi

Master of Laws (LL.M.) Candidate, 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 14th, 2019

Note: Progress of the case

As of October 17th  29th, 2019, The Periodic Review Board released “Unclassified Summary of Final Determination” determining that “continued law of war detention of the detainee (Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani) remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The Full Unclassified Summary of Final Determination is available at; https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/


[1] Full statement is posted at https://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN1461/SubsequentHearing1/20190604_U_ISN_1461_UNCLASSIFIED_SUMMARY.pdf Access to other related documents is at https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/

[2] Access to the full statement is at https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/

I Attended a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) Hearing at the Pentagon

  This morning, Tuesday 30 July 2019, I traveled to the Pentagon where I attended a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Abdul Malik, who is a prisoner being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been for more than 12 years.

Part I of this blog post describes who I am and how I came to attend this PRB. Part II describes the PRB, which is an administrative parole-like process that was created by President Obama in 2011 as he was seeking to close Guantanamo’s detention facilities. Part III discusses the background of Mr. Malik. Part IV discusses Mr. Malik’s PRB.

  1. My background

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 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.

At Indiana McKinney, I learned that Professor Edwards founded two projects related to Guantanamo Bay. The first is the Military Commission Observation Project, that sends McKinney Affiliates (faculty, staff, students, graduates) to Guantanamo Bay base to monitor U.S. military commission hearings live, and to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where they can view military commission hearings by CCTV. The second is the Periodic Review Board (PRB) Observation Project that sends McKinney Law Affiliates to the Pentagon to monitor PRBs (which I explain below). I applied for both projects and received clearance to attend today’s PRB hearing at the Pentagon. I am still waiting for approval to travel to Guantanamo, Cuba to attend the Military Commissions hearings.    

As a lawyer who has been working to become a human rights advocate, I have long been interested in various topics related to human rights. Among those topics is prisoners’ rights; the right to a fair trial, the right not to 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.  I have been thinking about how we can balance between ensuring justice and human rights while considering politics and national security.

I hope my Guantanamo experiences will offer me a better practical understanding of these pressing issues.

  1. Periodic Review Boards (PRBs)

The Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) process was established on 7 March 2011 upon an Executive Order by President Obama who sought to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. The PRB is a discretionary administrative process with the stated purpose of seeking to determine whether each prisoner held at Guantanamo “continues to be a threat” to U.S. national security.  The PRB does not address the legality of the detention of any prisoner, or the guilt or innocence of any prisoner, and only addresses the issue of threat to U.S. national security.    The question of whether a detainee is guilty is determined by a separate Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

If a PRB determines that a prisoner is “no longer a threat”, the prisoner can be cleared to be released from Guantanamo, either to be repatriated to his country or transferred to resettle in a third country. The members of the PRB include one representative of each of the following: Department of Defense; Department of State, Department of Justice; Department of Homeland Security; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Every detainee in a PRB proceeding is provided with a personal representative who is a uniformed U.S. military officer whose role is to assist and advocates on behalf of the prisoner during the PRB process.

More information about PRB’s hearing and decisions is available at www.prs.mil and https://gitmoobserver.com/prbs/  

  1. Background on Mr. Abdul Malik.

Mr. Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (known as Abdul Malik), who is from Kenya, was born on 11 November 1973. He has been held at Guantanamo since 2007, after being suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda of East Africa (AQEA) and participating in the 2002 attacks against the Paradise Hotel and an Israeli aircraft in Mombasa, Kenya. He was arrested in 2007 by Kenyan authorities and transferred to US custody a few weeks later.

Mr. Abdul Malik has been afforded multiple levels of PRBs, including an initial review and file reviews. The current PRB is considered to be a “subsequent full review”, which is a hearing permitted to prisoners every three years if their initial and file review hearings are not successful. Each of his PRBs offered him the opportunity to ask the United States government to release him from Guantanamo.

  1. Today’s Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Abdul Malik
At the Pentagon, with Professor George Edwards, Founder of the Guantanamo Military Commissions Observation Project, and IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law.

I arrived at the Pentagon today at 7:30 a.m. (Tuesday, 30 July 2019), cleared through a round of security, and went to the waiting area waiting for the rest of the observers.  Sometime after, Professor George Edwards and other representatives from different Organizations arrived. While waiting, I had the opportunity to talk with the other Observers. We were 5 Observers in total. I and Professor Edwards represented Indiana University McKinney Law School and the other three representatives were from Judicial Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Human Rights First.

Around 8:30, military officials in uniform came to escort us through more security channels, and take us to a secure Pentagon conference room to observe the hearing broadcasted while it is happening live at Guantanamo. We were to watch the hearing broadcasted through a TV screen in the middle of the room.  Before we entered that room, we had to leave our cell phones and cameras on a table outside. Once inside the room, we had to sign a form that indicated rules for a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), such as, no recording devices.

The hearing was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m., but started late, around 9:05 a.m. The TV screen was switched to the hearing channel. We could see the hearing room, which I understand is in a courtroom at Guantanamo Bay.

The PRB started with an off-camera voice, presumably of a U.S. military official, making introductory remarks, including calling out the names of the US departments participating in the PRB. Then, the U.S. military official read out an “Unclassified Statement”. The statement is posted online[1], and it makes allegations regarding the general background of the prisoner. It is read as follows:

“Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (KE-10025) was inspired by a radical imam to leave Kenya in 1996 to receive extremist training in Somalia, where he developed a close relationship with members of al-Qa’ida in East Africa (AQEA), including senior operational planners such as Harun Fazul.  Bajabu became an AQEA facilitator and was closely involved in the preparation and execution of the attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002 against the Paradise Hotel and Israeli aircraft.  In February 2007, Kenyan authorities arrested Mr. Bajabu for his involvement in the Mombasa attacks and transferred him to US custody a few weeks later.”

Later, Mr. Abdul Malik’s appointed personal representative read out a statement. At the time of the hearing, this statement was not posted online for the public. He noted in his statement that he has scheduled 15 meeting during the past 7 months with Mr. Abdul Malik, and Mr. Abdul Malik accepted to attend five out of the 15 meetings requests. The last meeting was scheduled on July 29, 2019, one day before this board hearing which according to the personal representative, Mr. Abdul Malik again refused to attend. Mr. Abdul Malik did not attend the public portion of the scheduled PRB today. The personal representative stated that he will continue scheduling meetings with Mr. Abdul Malik. 

With that, the public session was concluded about 4 minutes and 44 seconds after it began.

Reflections

This was my first time attending a Guantanamo hearing and my first time attending a hearing at the Pentagon.  I did not know what to expect, but definitely, I expected the hearing to last longer. According to the other Observers who have been attending these hearings for a long time, it is usual for a PRB hearing to be this quick (fewer than 5 minutes). I also expected Mr. Abdul Malik to be present at the hearing. However, it appears that Guantanamo prisoners may be choosing not to attend their PRBs because they see little chance of being released after a PRB, given the current political environment, the fact that no prisoners have been released through the PRB process since the current U.S. Administration assumed power, and that even some prisoners who were cleared by the PRB process during Obama Administration are still in Guantanamo and not yet released.  Current prisoners are losing hope in this process. I suspect that more prisoners will stop attending PRB hearings.

Visiting the Pentagon.

On a different note, this was my first time visiting the Pentagon. It a very big and beautiful building. I didn’t see much of the place, but hopefully next time I visit, I can take a building tour.  Although the hearing was very short, it was worth attending. It offers insight into the PRB and how the hearings are being held. It a unique opportunity for those who are interested in learning more about the Guantanamo prisoners. I look forward to learning more about the PRBs process, and to have the opportunity to attend more PRB hearings at the pentagon.  Ideally, the prisoners will attend the next PRB hearing I attend.

I’m still waiting for my security clearance to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to observe the military commission proceedings live. This opportunity would definitely provide me with a better understanding of the Guantanamo Military Commission proceedings.

Maitha Salem Altamimi

Master of Laws (LL.M.) Candidate, 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

July 31st, 2019

Note: Progress of the case

As of August 29th, 2019, The Periodic Review Board released “Unclassified Summary of Final Determination” determining that “continued law of war detention of the detainee [Mr. Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu] remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The Full Unclassified Summary of Final Determination is available at: https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/


[1] Access to the Unclassified Statement is at https://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN10025/SubsequentReview1/20190326_U_ISN_10025_UNCLASSIFIED_SUMMARY.pdf

Access to other related documents is at https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/