This morning, I woke up at 6:00 o’clock, double-checked my packing list, and left for the Indianapolis, Indiana airport, heading to Washington, DC, where tomorrow morning I am scheduled to board a plane to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The law school where I am enrolled – Indiana University McKinney School of Law – is sending me to Guantánamo to monitor hearings in a U.S. military commission case against a man named Hadi al Iraqi // Nashwan al Tamir, who is charged with being a high-ranking member of al Qaeda Iraq and liaison with the Taliban, and is accused of being responsible for deadly attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 and 2004.
I arrived at the airport around 8:00 AM to discover that my flight had been delayed a couple of hours. To burn some time, I perused the airport kiosks and grabbed some refreshments at Sun King Restaurant and Brewery. And, I began writing this blog, which is for the Gitmo Observer, the website of my school’s Military Commission Observation Project, which sends students, faculty, staff, and graduates on these missions.
While sitting at the bar eating my avocado toast, I met a really interesting woman from Indiana who was very fascinated by my journey. We talked for around forty-five minutes, and I was surprised at how little she knew about Guantánamo Bay.
Since I learned some weeks ago that my school nominated me to go to Guantánamo, and the Pentagon cleared me for travel, I have mentioned this trip to many people. In general, it has surprised me that people often respond with, “oh, what happened at Guantánamo Bay again?” or “is Guantánamo still open?“ or, “I thought that President Obama closed that place.”
Have many people forgotten about Guantánamo Bay?
I know that the Guantánamo prison was opened about 3 months after the 9/11 attacks, and that was over 20 years ago. Much has transpired since then to occupy the minds of people, including, recently, the global pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and so much more. But, what about the 38 men being held in Guantánamo now , some of them for almost 20 years, most without charges? Some men have been charged, and in fact 2 have been found guilty of charges. But, many of the 38 men at Guantánamo have been cleared for transfer from Guantánamo, but transfer arrangements have not been made. In a future blog post, I can provide more details about the 38 prisoners still at Guantánamo. I will note for now that I mentioned to my new Indianapolis airport friend that the word alleged makes a tremendous difference when speaking about people who have been charged with a crime, and that many people at Guantánamo had not been charged.
Staying in Regular Contact With the Program Director While Traveling
After my morning snack and chat, I checked my emails one last time before boarding the plane. On this particular day of travel, it was very important to consistently check my emails from my law school’s Guantánamo Program Director, Professor George Edwards, who along with our school, has been involved with Guantanamo since 2003, and who founded the project that is sending me to Guantánamo.
Professor Edwards has insisted that I (and other law school travelers) stay in regular contact with him and the Program. Part of the reason is that I am traveling outside the continental U.S. on an Indiana University program, and IU wants to know the whereabouts of its students on such trips. Part is because he wants to help ensure that all is running as smoothly as possible on my journey. He is on the other end of the phone and fax in case there are issues. For example, last week, the Indiana University traveler was told at the last minute that her week of Guantánamo hearings was canceled, and that cut her Indiana to DC trip short, triggering a range of actions that needed to be taken. I have been trying to stay in touch with Professor Edwards, while also trying to be present in this travel experience, which is a challenge, for many reasons.
Retrieving Important Items . . .
I touched down at Washington National Airport and took a Lyft to my hotel, the TownePlace Marriott near Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base), which is where the plane is scheduled to depart from tomorrow. I took a well-needed rest.
Then, I walked to the Comfort Inn Joint Base Andrews down the road where three packages were waiting for my retrieval. Why were there three packages at the Comfort Inn waiting for me? Last week, Professor Edwards arranged for 3 packages to be delivered to the Comfort Inn to be picked up by last week’s scheduled Guantánamo monitor from Indiana, Ms. Anna Samland (whose posts are here). Her trip was canceled, so the packages remained.
The packages contained an iPhone, a SIM card, and plastic stands for NGO coins.
I understand that though Indiana University has been sending monitors to Guantánamo for years, the IU program has never had a phone dedicated to it that its monitors can use while they are on their Guantánamo missions. Professor Edwards purchased such a phone for us to us, and I am carrying it to Guantánamo for the first time. It is an iPhone X.
The SIM card is from T-Mobile, which I am told is the only U.S. service provider that operates at Guantánamo. I am supposed to insert the SIM card into the iPhone, and it should work – not only here, but at Guantánamo.
“NGO” stands for “non-governmental organization”. The IU Program in International Human Rights Law is the “NGO” that the Pentagon designated to have “observer” (or “monitor”) status, permitting us to send people to Guantánamo. Professor Edwards designed a “Guantánamo NGO Challenge Coin”, that anyone interested can acquire. This coins spells out the NGO Observer mission – to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on Guantánamo proceedings. That is my mission, and that is why, for example, I am writing these blog posts!
I am delighted that I will be the first person to use the new Gitmo Observer / IU Guantánamo iPhone!
Getting Dinner and Phone Call with NGO Organizer
I walked back to my hotel, which was just a ten-minute walk from the Comfort Inn where the packages were located.
I realized I was very hungry, so I decided to splurge and venture out into DC to have dinner at a nice restaurant. I hired a Lyft to take me to a lovely farm-to-table restaurant just off of Pennsylvania Avenue. On the drive downtown (which took about 30 minutes and cost $50), I received a phone call from an NGO organizer from the Pentagon who told me whom I was to meet at the Joint Base Andrews Visitor Center the next morning. She was very clear in her instructions. We chatted for a bit on the phone after realizing we both had ties to Pennsylvania. I appreciated the time she took to brief me on my upcoming journey and ensure I would be prepared for travel from Joint Base Andrews to Guantánamo in the morning.
I was enlivened by the night, so I decided to walk to the Lincoln Memorial after dinner. Lincoln is one of my favorite leaders in US history, and I have studied his life journey in a number of contexts. I especially enjoyed this part of the evening; time slowed from my solitude. I walked through the Constitution Gardens towards the Memorial, and the clouds mixed with the lights to create a purple and black haze of light mixed with darkness. The Memorial area is breathtakingly beautiful, especially at night.
I took a few pictures and thought about my upcoming journey. I rested in front of the water that sits between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. As I sat there, I thought about two abstract concepts: image and perfectionism. Many believe that The United States seeks to preserve this image of perfectionism and exemplary status among other sovereign nations. However, I wonder if the concept of perfectionism is perhaps nonexistent whenever social interaction and intangible human consciousness play a role, as is the case in any government or political system. Maybe this is why we create art and memorials – to remind ourselves that “perfect” is only attainable in the tangible and physical? And even within our personal observation of perfection, there is always a duality. The Monument’s reflection is rippled on the water.
I returned to my hotel by Lyft. I finished up this draft blog post and sent Professor Edwards a link so he could have a look at it before it goes live.
My next post is expected to be from Andrews in the morning.
J.D. Candidate (2022)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)
Indiana University McKinney School of Law