Traveling from Indiana to Washington D.C. en route to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (4 March 2022)

Getting ready to check my bag at Indianapolis International Airport, for my flight from Indianapolis to Washington D.C. on 4 March 2022.

Today is Friday, 4 March 2022, and I am traveling from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Washington, D.C. so that I can fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba tomorrow as an observer of the pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commissions that are scheduled to occur the week of 5-12 March 2022.  The hearings are in the criminal case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and I am attending as a monitor from the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

To the Indianapolis Airport

Walking towards security at Indianapolis International Airport on 4 March 2022.

My brother drove me to the Indianapolis airport, where I arrived at approximately 9:45 AM. I immediately went to check in for my flight and check my bag. After checking my bag, at approximately 10:05 AM, I went to the terminal B security line where I went through the usual security protocols. I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast, so I stopped at Tinker Coffee Company and ordered an egg and sausage sandwich, and a hot cup of coffee. I boarded my flight, and departed on time, at 11:21 AM. One hour and thirty-eight minutes later, I touched down in Washington D.C. 

Reading Carol Rosenberg’s Guantanamo Book

As I was in the air, I continued reading Carol Rosenberg’s book, Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon’s Alcatraz of the Caribbean. Carol Rosenberg has been reporting on the Guantanamo Bay cases since the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo Bay in January 2002. Reading her book has been a great primer on trying to orient myself around the long history of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, contains a great array of photographs of Guantanamo Bay, and discusses major issues such as information about the Camp Justice Court, hunger strikes by the prisoners, and even estimates of the costs of maintaining the facilities and keeping the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

My cousin, who lives in Washington D.C. and works as a public defender in Baltimore, Maryland, picked me up from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and drove me to his house, where I stayed tonight. I hadn’t seen my cousin in about six years, and we were able to catch up with each other while in the car.

When I arrived at my cousin’s house, at approximately 2:00pm, I got connected to wifi, and saw that I had received another email from the Pentagon. This email contained updated travel orders, Aircraft & Personnel Clearance (APACS), a reminder of important documents to bring to Joint Base Andrews (passport, vaccination card, blank health form required for Covid-19 protocols, APACS), and a reminder of the flight schedule from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay. While I was expecting to receive this set of documents from the Pentagon before my flight, I had been worried that the email which contained the documents would be sent too late and that I wouldn’t have easy access to a printer. Thankfully, this was not the case.

I needed to print the updated travel orders that were contained in this email, so my cousin and I looked online to find a print shop that would be able to print documents in color (the APACS document I received from the Pentagon was required to be in color). Once we found a print shop that was reasonably close, we scheduled a time to go and have my documents printed.

My cousin had to finish working before walking to the print shop, so I took this time to take out my copy of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts that I was given by the MCOP before departing Indianapolis, and reviewed some of the international law, domestic law, and information about what the right to a fair trail entails in the context of Guantanamo Bay. 

The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual

The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual assists NGO observers prepare for Military Commission hearings. It provides background information on the stakeholders (the stakeholders include “defendants and defense counsel, the prosecution, victims and victims’ families, judges and judicial staff, fact and expert witnesses, the press, governments with detained citizens, governments whose citizens were injured by the alleged crimes, Guantanamo Bay detention facility staff (Joint Task Force – Guantanamo), and the general international and U.S. publics. Stakeholders also include Guantanamo Bay prisoners who have not been charged with any offenses, and are thus not considered “defendants”. involved in the hearings”), what a right to a fair trial means, a brief history of the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commissions, among other useful information. I would recommend anybody interested in what is happening at Guantanamo Bay, even those who will be unable to travel to Guantanamo. (You might also find Know Before You Go To Guantanamo interesting and helpful.)

The print shop

The print shop was approximately 1.5 miles from my cousin’s house in Washington, D.C, and there is a convenient walking path that we were able to take to get there. We left at approximately 4:30 PM. The walking path goes along one of the train lines, and there are painted murals, dog parks, and brand-new apartment buildings along the path.

Train tracks and new apartment buildings in Washington D.C. along the walking path I took to print the final travel documents I was sent from the Pentagon before travelling to Guantanamo Bay.

Phone call from Guantanamo Bay escort

About half-way to the printing shop, at 5:09 PM, I received a phone call from an unknown phone number. I answered the phone and it was a woman, the escort designated to assist the NGO observers once we arrive outside Joint Base Andrews tomorrow morning. The escort told me that it had been confirmed that there will be a total of six NGO observers flying out of Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay tomorrow morning. She also told me that all the NGO observers were going to Guantanamo Bay for the first time. Finally, she told me that the pre-trial hearings that had originally been scheduled to begin on Monday, 7 March had been pushed back, and were currently scheduled to begin on Wednesday, 9 March.

I don’t ordinarily answer the phone when I receive a call from an unknown number, but because my flight to Guantanamo Bay was tomorrow, I suspected that the phone call may have been related to that travel.

Continuing to the print shop

Mural on the side of a building along the walking path I took to print the final travel documents I was sent from the Pentagon before travelling to Guantanamo Bay.

I continued walking to the print shop, got my documents printed, and walked back with my cousin to his house around 6:00pm. My cousin and his wife cooked dinner, we talked about his work as a public defender,

I shared with him some information about my mission at Guantanamo, and we discussed just how long the pre-trial proceedings were taking, and how it feels almost unreal that the five alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks were first charged in 2008, and the trial is still in the pre-trial phase. Then, I went to bed, ready to wake up at 5:00 AM, so as to arrive at Joint Base Andrews at 5:50 AM to start the process of getting boarded on the flight to Guantanamo Bay.

Final Thoughts

As I sit in the second floor bedroom of my cousin’s house writing up everything I did today, I can’t help but think about the what is going on in Guantanamo Bay, why the pre-trial hearings have been rescheduled from Monday, to Wednesday, and things I will be able to blog about on Monday and Tuesday, the days that will now not include observing any pre-trial hearings. I will be taking extensive notes in my journal throughout my time in Guantanamo Bay, and will be turning those journal notes into additional blog posts to be posted here as well.

Collier O’Connor 

J.D. Candidate, 2022

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

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