My name is Collier O’Connor, and 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 5-12 March, 2022 through the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP). I was originally scheduled to attend and monitor hearings during the week of 8-15 January, 2022, but the hearings were cancelled and rescheduled several days before my planned departure.
The mission of the MCOP includes: “ 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.” [https://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/human-rights/_docs/military-commission-project.pdf]
I was originally scheduled to attend and monitor pre-trial hearings during the week of 8-15 January
, 2022, but the hearings were cancelled and rescheduled several days before my planned departure. The January pre-trial hearings were cancelled after a defense motion to cancel the January 2022 hearings, filed on 03 January, 2022, was granted (link to motion) in part by Matthew N. McCall Colonel, USAF, the presiding military judge. According to the motion, the cancellation was due to the increased risks of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
As I begin preparing for the upcoming pre-trial hearings, I am aware that the unpredictability of Covid-19 could cause further delays and/or cancellations. I discuss my thoughts and feelings of the cancellation in a previous blog post (link here).
It feels surreal that I have been afforded this unique opportunity to be acting as a gateway into the goings on at Guantanamo Bay. I feel a mixture of emotions (nervousness, excitement, wonder, disbelief, to name a few), as I get ready to go to Guantanamo Bay. I will be reporting more about my feelings, thoughts, and what I see on the ground in future blog posts. I will do my best to both lay down my experience in as objective a way as possible, and also try to analyze what I see using the guidance of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, my experience as a law student, and my experience as a human trying to make sense of the world.
Pre-Trial Hearings of Five 9/11 Alleged Conspirators
During the week of 5-12 March, I will be observing pre-trial hearings for the five 9/11 alleged conspirators being detained at Guantanamo Bay. The five men being charged for their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks 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. It was reported that the final day of the September 2021 pre-trial hearings was cut short “because of illness related to the coronavirus pandemic.”
I am in my third year at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and am scheduled to graduate in May 2022. I am from Indianapolis, IN, 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, Russia, to teach English. I lived in Moscow from 2014-2017, met my soon-to-be wife in 2015, got married in 2016, and witnessed the birth of my daughter in 2016 too. Shortly after my daughter was born, 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 law 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 issues involved in the Guantanamo Bay hearings, and sparked my interest in applying to be an observer with Professor George Edwards’ NGO.
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 Cuba through a book that was given to me by my sister in anticipation of my travels.
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.
I also cannot help but to reflect upon the cancelled hearings that I was scheduled to attend in January 2022. It is my hope that the surge of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 that led to the cancellation of the January hearings does not repeat itself, and the pre-trial hearings can continue, so that the trial can finally commence.
J.D. Candidate, 2022
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Indiana University McKinney School of Law