The United States is prosecuting Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mr. Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri for allegedly conspiring in, organizing, and planning the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. The attack killed 17 U.S. Navy sailors and injured dozens more.
The Program in International Human Rights Law (“PIHRL”, pronounced “Pearl) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) sends students, faculty, staff, and graduate affiliates to Guantanamo Bay to monitor U.S. military commission hearings, such as that in which Mr. al-Nashiri stands charged. The mission for the monitors is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on Guantanamo proceedings. Monitors serve as a window into these proceedings that are not easily accessible to the general public.
As a student at IU McKinney School of Law, I had seen notices about IU students and other affiliates traveling to Guantanamo and thought that I might like to go there as well. But, with my schedule, the timing never quite worked. When the request for applications came through earlier this summer, I jumped at the opportunity. I finally submitted an application.
Professor George Edwards, the Director of PIHRL, contacted me shortly after for a Zoom interview. After several rounds of interviews and a few adjustments to the statement of interest I originally submitted, I was nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) – which is part of the IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law – to travel to Guantanamo in August 2022 to monitor hearings in Mr. al-Nashiri’s case. I am now scheduled to travel to Guantanamo from 6 to 13August 2022 to monitor pre-trial hearings in his case. I plan to continue to post blog entries like this detailing my experiences between now and my scheduled departure, as well as during and after the mission.
In the following sections of this blog post, I offer a quick bio and a recap of the long process between my interviews with Professor Edwards and fulfilling my pre-trip requirements to date.
I am a second-year law student at IU McKinney School of Law in the part-time program. I started law school in 2020 and expect to graduate with my Juris Doctor degree in December 2023. I plan to pursue a career in criminal defense after graduation. I work as a law clerk and certified legal intern at the Indiana State Public Defender’s Office representing clients in post-conviction relief cases. I plan to serve as a certified legal intern with the Health and Human Rights Clinic at IU McKinney beginning in August 2022 representing clients in eviction proceedings.
After I graduated from Kenyon College in 2014, I worked in college admissions and pursued my passion of cycling. I worked for bike shops around the country as a master mechanic and promoted access to cycling for youth in the Indianapolis area.
I am glad I was able to gain experiences that helped me clarify my goals before enrolling at IU McKinney School of Law. I realized that the best path for me to help my community was to obtain a law degree. While law school has been a difficult, I consider it a privilege and the reset I needed to pursue my commitment to criminal justice. Law school has led me to a job at the Indiana State Public Defender’s office that I love, and I now also have the opportunity of a lifetime to monitor proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.
I submitted my application to be an NGO Observer through the Military Commission Observation Project’s online forum in June 2022. Soon, after, Professor George Edwards invited me to interview for the mission via Zoom. During the interview, Professor Edwards asked about my interest in the program. We discussed the various requirements of the program and potential dates for travel. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the dates we discussed in the first interview. After that first conversation, I assumed I would not hear back.
A couple of weeks later, I attended a second interview. Again, Professor Edwards and I discussed similar topics. On my second interview, I was asked to give a more detailed response to my fit with the program, and I was asked more detailed questions about my academic background. Shortly after our discussion, I resubmitted my application, supplementing my “statement of interest”, and adding a current resume. Within a few days, I was offered a spot to travel to Guantanamo Bay as a monitor. I am honored to be a part of this program and look forward to playing my role as an objective monitor of court proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.
Process After Nomination: When the Work Starts
After your nomination, you must begin preparing immediately for this opportunity. The requirements and steps that must be taken are shared via e-mail. The first set of emails come in slowly. But, do not relax. The requirements, at times, feel overwhelming.
Nominees must read “Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay Guide,” “Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual,” and previous observers’ blog posts on the Gitmo Observer. Nominees must comply with the requirements set by the Pentagon, the Program in International Human Rights Law / MCOP, Indiana University (e.g. the Office of International Affairs), and Indiana University McKinney School of Law. There are many forms that you must complete. And, the forms can be difficult to complete. Nominees are offered a template of past form submissions to guide them through the process. These forms are then reviewed by Professor Edwards prior to submission to the Pentagon. Between the forms from the Pentagon and the PIHRL there are hours of forms to fill out.
The first set of forms to complete are sent to you by the Pentagon. They are as follows:
- the Hold Harmless Agreement;
- the NGO Ground Rules for Observation of Military Commissioners;
- the Invitational Traveler Worksheet;
- the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Access Pass;
- the NGO Representative Procedures for Observation of Military Commissions;
- the NGO Observer Bio; and
- the Foreign National/Dual Citizen form, if required.
Although it is not a requirement for each form, I signed each by hand with blue ink, rather than with an e-signature. This ensures compliance and reduces the chance of having to revise your forms. If you are a dual citizen, there is an additional form that requires a substantial amount of information (i.e. previous 5 years of employment, addresses, social media presence, etc.). The Foreign National/Dual Citizen form is by far the most involved form.
After completing these forms, I sent them to Professor Edwards and the Project’s Acting Deputy Director Charles Dunlap for a final review. After this internal review process, you email them to the Pentagon for final clearance which comes as late as 3-4 days before you leave.
IU Office of International Affairs Forms
I had to notify the Indiana University Office of International Affairs (OIA) of the nomination for this mission. After the Office of International Affairs confirmed my nomination, I had to fulfill two sets of OIA requirements . The first set confirms eligibility to travel and study abroad while the second gathers various health and safety information. These forms are much easier than those required by the US Government, but they still require attention. Some forms must be dropped off at the Law School in person. During the summer, these hours are not always convenient for those working full time.
At this point, I have completed all the IU OIA forms that I can. I am still waiting for the finalization of flight information to submit my last form and drop off hard copies to the OIA to complete these requirements.
Support of Previous Guantanamo Monitors and Other Nominees
Fortunately, you are not alone in this process. The program provides contact information for current and past participants to help answer questions about the process. The forms are overwhelming at times. Communication with past and present monitors helps reduce the stress.
The Military Commission Observation Project also provides a checklist that guides participants through the process and gives them a clear set of tasks to complete. The checklist has over 50 items so start early.
The nomination process and subsequent duties should not be taken lightly. The process is time intensive, but do not be deterred. The NGO observer program is a once in a lifetime opportunity to give back to the American justice system, and to try to help ensure that all Guantanamo stakeholders are afforded all the rights to which they are entitled.
Juris Doctor (J.D.) Candidate (2023)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)
Indiana University McKinney School of Law