I was Nominated to Travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Figure 1 An artist’s interpretation of Mr. Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri at his arraignment in 2011.


I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from 30 July to 6 August 2022 to monitor pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case of US v. Al Nashiri. Mr. Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri is the alleged mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing off the coast of Yemen on 12 October 2000. That attack killed 17 U.S. Navy sailors and injured dozens more.

I became aware of the opportunity to travel to Guantanamo Bay in the 2022 spring. I was a first-year law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law. Professor George Edwards, the Director of the Program in International Human Rights Law (“PIHRL”, pronounced “Pearl”) at IU McKinney, sent a series of emails to students explaining that the Pentagon had granted the PIHRL “Non-Governmental Organization Observer Status” (“NGO Observer Status”), and that status permitted the PIHRL to send students, faculty, staff, and graduates to Guantanamo. Professor Edwards had created the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), as part of the PIHRL. Each Guantanamo email I saw in my inbox sparked my interest, and finally I decided to apply. After waiting, an interview, and more waiting, I was told that the MCOP had nominated me to the Pentagon for this Guantanamo mission.

About Me 

I am a second-year law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and I expect to graduate with my Juris Doctorate in May 2024.

Before law school, I studied journalism, political science, and international studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. I received my degree in 2018 and began working as a marketing specialist in the hospitality industry.

I am also a founding member and director of The Molley Lanham Foundation Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. I founded the organization in honor of my late sister, who was murdered in 2019. Our goal is to provide a healing space to survivors of homicide.

My passion for the law stems from wanting to honor my sister. From my tragedy, I learned the best way to be an advocate for change and a fighter for justice is to get out there and do something about it. I am dedicated to providing meaningful legal work that will positively influence the community I serve.  

Application Process

I submitted my application to be an NGO Observer through the Military Commission Observation Project’s online forum in June 2022. Shortly after, I received an email from Professor George Edwards inviting me to interview for the mission via Zoom. I eagerly accepted his invitation. We discussed a few topics in our short meeting including: my first year of law school and some of the habits I created in this new learning environment and the importance of this mission and how the goal was to monitor as an independent and objective observer. 

A couple of weeks later, I was humbled to see my nomination in my email inbox. I took a moment to stop and reflect on the journey I was about to embark on – I would be traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an NGO Observer with the duty to fulfill an important mission.

Figure 2 Camp Justice is the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. The Military Commissions are held here.

My Mission 

As an NGO monitor, my mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on the al-Nashiri hearings. I must do this through the lens of an independent and objective observer.

Preparing for my Scheduled Travel to Guantanamo:  Details, Documents, and More Documents 

I began preparing for this mission shortly after learning of my nomination. Nominees must read “Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay Guide” and the “Guantanamo Fair Travel Manual.” I started my research there and became familiar with this mission’s many details. I also read other NGO Observers’ blog posts shared on the Gitmo Observer. The Gitmo Observer is Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law website. Observers share their experiences with the program and their time while at Guantanamo.

Additionally, Nominees must fill out many forms when preparing to travel to Guantanamo Bay. As a law student, I must comply with the requirements instructed 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.

First, I had to notify the Office of International Affairs that I had been nominated for this mission. After the Office of International Affairs has confirmed my nomination, I must complete two sets of requirements. The first set confirms my eligibility to travel and study abroad while the second gathers various health and safety information.

Second, the Pentagon requires six forms to confirm my travel. The forms explain the rules and procedures that are expected to be followed while on base and collect various demographic and personal data from the nominee. The forms are as follows:

  1. the Hold Harmless Agreement;
  2. the NGO Ground Rules for Observation of Military Commissioners;
  3. the Invitational Traveler Worksheet;
  4. the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Access Pass;
  5. the NGO Representative Procedures for Observation of Military Commissions;  and
  6. the NGO Observer Bio.

This step was more complicated than it might seem. The forms require an abundant amount of detail and must be filled out accurately in order to be accepted by the Pentagon. The other nominees and I discussed our questions and concerns to help each other fulfill this step.

Then, I sent the forms to Professor Edwards and the Project’s Acting Deputy Director Charles Dunlap for a final review. I have completed these forms and have submitted all six to the Pentagon.

Third, the Program in International Human Rights Law has its own requirements for NGO Observers to complete. I received the Military Commission Observation Project Checklist to guide my progress in meeting all requirements and will continue to update the checklist as I complete the tasks.

Figure 3 Lauren Lanham, J.D. Candidate and NGO Observer


My scheduled departure date is fast approaching. I take great pride in fulfilling this mission and look forward to sharing this experience with others.

Lauren Lanham 

J.D. Candidate (2024) 

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) 

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) 

Indiana University McKinney School of Law 

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