Month: November 2021

Preparing to Travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Attend, Monitor, Be Seen, Analyze, Critique, and Report on U.S. Military Commissions


Collier O’Connor is a 3L at Indiana University School of Law

I am a student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. I have been nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings during the week of 8-15 January, 2022 through the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP). I applied to the MCOP program to travel to Guantanamo Bay because of my international background and because of related coursework I have taken as a law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law (described below). As part of the application and nomination process, I was interviewed by the MCOP program director, Professor Edwards.

The MCOP is a project of IU School of Law, founded by Professor Edwards, and it has multiple missions, including

“ i. To further teaching, research, and service related to U.S. Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other tribunals with similar jurisdiction, and

ii. To facilitate [Indiana University] IU Affiliates to attend, observe, analyze, critique, and publish on U.S. Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other designated U.S. Military Commission viewing sites.” []

As I begin to prepare for undertaking this important role, I am incredibly excited to be afforded such a unique opportunity. I also feel a great sense of responsibility to ensure that I, as one of only a handful of people allowed to travel to Guantanamo Bay to attend pre-trial hearings, can act as the eyes and ears of the public so that the Guantanamo proceedings can be open, transparent, and fair.

Five 9/11 Alleged Co-Conspirators

During the week of 8-15 January, 2022, I am scheduled to monitor pre-trial hearings for the five 9/11 alleged co-conspirators being held at Guantanamo Bay. The five men being charged for their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, where approximately 3,000 people were killed and thousands more were wounded, are Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarek Bin ‘Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Ramzi Bin al Shibh, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi. According to the Office of Military Commissions website, “They are charged with committing the following offenses: conspiracy; attacking civilians; intentionally causing serious bodily injury; murder in violation of the law of war; hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft; and terrorism.”

The most recent pre-trial hearings, which took place in September 2021, involved questions of whether or not the presiding military judge, Matthew N. McCall, Colonel, USAF, should preside over the case. The final day of the September 2021 pre-trial hearings was reportedly cut short “because of illness related to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The week I am scheduled to attend hearings is of particular significance, as 11 January, 2022 marks the 20 year anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantanamo. The five men whose pre-trial hearings I am scheduled to attend have each been held at Guantanamo since 2006.

According to the Guantanamo Docket, published by the New York Times,

“Since 2002, roughly 780 detainees have been held at the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Now, 39 remain. Of those, 12 have been charged with war crimes in the military commissions system — 10 are awaiting trial and two have been convicted. In addition, seven detainees are held in indefinite law-of-war detention and are neither facing tribunal charges nor being recommended for release. And 20 are held in law-of-war detention but have been recommended for transfer with security arrangements to another country.” (link)

My Background

I am in my third year at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and am scheduled to graduate in May 2022 with a J.D. (Juris Doctor). I am from Indianapolis, Indiana and lived my entire life in the state of Indiana until I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in January 2014. Upon graduation, I moved to Moscow, Russian Federation, to teach English. I lived in Moscow from 2014-2017, met my soon-to-be wife in 2015, got married in 2016, and in that same year witnessed the birth of my daughter. In the summer of 2017, my wife and I decided to move to a small city in China where I worked as an English teacher for a Canadian international school.

In 2019, I decided to return to Indianapolis to attend law school. Having lived abroad for five years, I was naturally attracted to international law, and took several classes touching on various aspects of international law. In the summer of 2021, I enrolled in Professor Anthony Green’s National Security Law class, and then in the fall of 2021, I enrolled in his other course, Counterterrorism Law. These courses touched on many of the complex legal issues connected with Guantanamo Bay, such as whether the right to habeas corpus review applies to those held at Guantanamo, and sparked my interest in applying to be an observer with Professor George Edwards’ NGO (non-governmental organization), the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).

I am preparing for my mission to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on the hearings in Guantanamo Bay by speaking with prior observers, reading the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Guide, and reading up on the detainees and the history of Guantanamo Bay via the Guantanamo Bay Docket at the New York Times.

Guantanamo NGO Challenge Coin [front and back]. These coins are available for sale through the blog website. If you are interested in purchasing a coin, please send a note through the blog website.

Pre-Departure Reflections

My personal experience having lived abroad, along with my studies of Law of War and other international topics at IU McKinney will assist me in promoting the core mission of the Military Commission Observation Program (MCOP). I will attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on U.S. military commissions with the hope of furthering the transparency of the hearings taking place in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Collier O’Connor 

J.D. Candidate, 2022

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Reflections as I Prepare to Attend to the 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearings at Guantanamo Bay


I feel a cocktail of emotions as I prepare for my journey to Guantanamo Bay. On the one hand, I am ecstatic to visit a place that, at least in my mind, has long been shrouded in mystery. Yet, on the other hand, I am faced with the gravity of our mission to monitor legal proceedings of great contention and consequence.   

Jeff Johnson is an MCOP affiliate and a third-year law student

My trip is scheduled to begin on November 6 with a 10:00 AM departure from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. After a three-hour flight, I plan to arrive at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. My mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials about the pre-trial hearings of five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks. Most prominent among these men is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks.  

My Background  

I am currently a third-year student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and will graduate in December 2021. I was born in Munich, Germany, and spent the first few years of my life as an “army brat.” After living in Germany, Colorado, and Kentucky, my family settled in Indiana, where I spent most of my formative years. At the age of seventeen, I enlisted as an infantryman in the Army. I served in the National Guard for six years and received an honorable discharge in 2014. After finishing my undergraduate studies in 2015, I moved to Shenzhen, China. I lived there for four years, working first as an English teacher for adult learners and then as a project manager for a trading company. During my free time, I studied Mandarin and traveled across China and Southeast Asia. I returned to the United States in 2019 to attend law school. 

Cover of the Universal Periodic Review shadow report submitted by PIHRL in 2020 

In the summer of 2020, I took an international law class with Professor George Edwards. The topics discussed during this course included international humanitarian law, extraordinary rendition, and torture. That fall, I took an international criminal law class with Professor Edwards, where we explored many of these same topics on a deeper level. As part of this course, we had the opportunity to research and write about the fair trial of Guantanamo detainees. This work resulted in the submission of a United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) shadow report that tackled potential human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay. During that time, I also worked as a research assistant with the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL).  

I first learned about the Military Commission Observation Program (MCOP) as a student of Professor Edwards. The MCOP provides Indiana University McKinney School of Law students, alumni, and faculty the chance to travel to Guantanamo Bay as NGO observers. I had initially applied to participate in the program in 2020; however, the Covid-19 pandemic spoiled the opportunity for that year. This fall, I applied again and was accepted to participate. 

I am preparing for the mission by completing a checklist provided by the MCOP. This checklist includes receiving permission from Indiana University to travel, obtaining the necessary clearance from the Pentagon, and ensuring that I have all required documents in order. Moreover, I am reading as much as possible about the 9/11 attacks, the backgrounds of the defendants, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, and the history of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. My future posts could delve deeper into any one of these topics. But, until then, I am focused on the upcoming mission.   

Pre-Departure Reflections  

My international experience, military background, and interest in international law and human rights all converge into one nexus through this mission. While serving as an observer, I will keep in mind the goals of our mission: to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials about the 9/11 hearings from an objective and neutral perspective.   

Jeff Johnson  

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) 

Indiana University McKinney School of Law