Month: August 2022

My First Two Days at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Touching Down at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Me in front of a US Naval Station Guantanamo Bay welcome sign

I traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri who is accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen on 12 October 2000 that killed seventeen U.S. sailors and wounded dozens more. This New York Times article  discusses the al-Nashiri case, including its victims, the prosecution and defense, and the Judge.

I explained in my previous blog posts all about my current mission to Guantanamo Bay, as a student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law (after being nominated by the school’s Military Commission Observation Project, which is part of the school’s Program in International Human Rights Law).

My plane from Joint Base Andrews (near Washington, DC) touched down at Guantanamo Bay at 1:20 p.m., Saturday, 23 July 2022, after 3 hours of flying over the ocean and Caribbean.

In this blog post, I talk about my arrival at Guantanamo, and my pre-arrival and post-arrival impressions of Guantanamo (it is not like I expected!). This post ends with my retiring to sleep in a frigid tent, anticipating Sunday morning breakfast at a Guantanamo military mess hall.

Touch down.

After an uneventful flight – on a comfortable charter plane where I watched episodes of The Office on the in-flight entertainment station – we deplaned on the extremely windy tarmac and queued outside a nondescript hangar-like building. Many of the buildings at NSGB are rectangular, one to two stories tall, beige or gray in color, with few windows and without any distinguishing features except for small signs indicating the building’s purpose.

Once inside, we showed our passports and U.S. government form 5512 to the people checking us in at a counter. They did not appear to be military, although three men in military uniforms were standing just inside the next door leading to the air terminal waiting area. I recall being slightly intimidated by their presence, not because they were acting threatening or holding large guns or doing anything out of the ordinary, but because I am not used to seeing members of the military anywhere except on television. That feeling of unease quickly wore off – members of the military are obviously all over the base at Guantanamo Bay, in uniform and not, and they are just regular people like the rest of us, going about their days, doing their jobs.

From the counter where they were checking documents, we were directed straight through the terminal waiting room, then back outside into the wind to two more busses waiting to pick us up. Our escort told us that our checked luggage would be following the busses, which were taking us to the ferry across Guantanamo Bay. We asked if it was always that windy and were told that it is around that area near the air terminal.

The Guantanamo Naval Station is on land around the body of water that is Guantanamo Bay, and the traditional way from the airstrip to the main part of the base is via ferry ride directly across the Bay.

The ferry

Once we arrived at the ferry dock on the Leeward Side, we all shuffled onto the ferry, with Tom, Yumna, our escort and I heading to the top deck.

We were reminded not to take pictures of “the golf ball” or the windmills. I had no idea what they meant by “the golf ball,” but figured I would know it when I saw it, since no one was taking pains to explain what that meant. I still do not really know what it is, but you can see it from multiple vantage points on base – it’s a tower on a hill with a large white dome at the top, which I assume (but do not know) is some type of radar or surveillance equipment. Throughout the trip, they basically reminded us not to take pictures of any infrastructure with antennas, fences, or construction sites, which is a very large percentage of the viewable landscape of the Naval Station.

What pictures we did get, although pretty, fail to capture how beautiful the Bay is with its crystal blue water, fossil covered cliffs, and desert style shrub grasses, cacti, and trees. It was not at all what I imagined (tropical island). It was closer to the landscape of Arizona or Southern California. The ferry ride was our first introduction to the beauty of Guantanamo Bay.

Upon docking at the other side of the Bay after an approximately twenty-minute ride, we boarded other buses that took us to a small building where we could get the ID badges we would need to enter the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC), which is where the Military Commissions are held.

We waited outside that building while the group in front of us finished up, then Tom, Yumna and I headed inside. This small building was our first exposure to the extreme air conditioning used in many buildings and tents at Guantanamo Bay; they keep it cold inside.

We also met more military guards and we noticed that many, if not a majority (based on my observations and one of my fellow traveler’s concurrences), of the military personnel at Guantanamo Bay are young, in their late teens and early twenties.

After showing our passports, the guards made our badges and handed them to us on lanyards. They told us not to photograph the badges, which we must return before we leave back for Washington, DC.

Then at about 4:00 PM, we finally headed to the tents that were scheduled to be our homes for the next week.

Tents and Dinner

The tent that Tom and I stayed in

The tents where we were assigned to live for the week are structured canvas / plastic supported by steel rods forming a half moon shape, about 25 feet long by 15 feet wide (rough approximation). Tom and I share a tent that has four cubicle rooms separated by wooden dividers, with a hallway in the middle and two rooms on each side of the hallway. Each room has a doorway with a thick curtain for privacy.

Each tent has a dedicated air conditioning unit to keep it cold – purportedly to prevent bugs and critters (for example banana rats and iguanas) from entering.

The tents have windows that we are planning to keep closed to keep in the cold air. The canvas is made of a thick material that blocks out sunlight. A switch on the electrical box just inside the front door of the tent controls the lantern lights strung up throughout the tent; one switch controls all the lights. It’s too dark to see inside without the lights, so Tom and I have to coordinate our sleeping schedules, so we do not keep each other awake. Alternatively, you can turn out the lights and work by flashlight in the tent.

Camp Justice has approximately 10 tents like these. This week, Tom, Yumna and I are the only ones staying in tents.

Each of the 4 rooms in each tent has a twin size bed, a dresser, small table, and outlets at the end of an extension cord connected to the lights. The outlets still work even if the lights are out, so there is no issue charging phones and laptops overnight. The extension cord has three, 3- pronged outlets.

A plastic bag in each room contained sheets for the bed and a blanket and pillowcases. Our tent did not have pillows, so Tom went to another tent and secured pillows for each of us. Yumna was assigned to an identical tent next to ours.

Across the road from the tents are three shipping containers: one contains a laundry room that is nicer than any laundromat I have ever been in; the middle container has six separate doors on the outside, each leading to a stall bathroom with toilet, urinal, and sink with mirror; the third also contains six separate doors leading to individual stalls each containing a shower, sink with mirror, and small bench.

The living conditions are much more comfortable than I had anticipated.

The showers and bathrooms are clean enough for my personal taste (although other observers have different opinions), and the beds are perfectly suitable for a good night’s sleep after long days exploring the island and witnessing sometimes emotional, and always legally complex, court hearings.

Dinner and Exploring the Island

On our first day, our escort picked us up at the tents at 5:00 PM to take us to dinner.

She explained some of the dining options: the bowling alley has two restaurants, Spinz and Bombers; The Windjammer Club has two restaurants, O’Kelly’s Irish Pub and The Windjammer; a restaurant called The Bayview; a McDonald’s; a Subway; and The Galley.

We went to the bowling alley, and could choose between Spinz and Bombers, as they are set up food court style and have different kitchens and two different menus (unlike O’Kelly’s and The Windjammer, which are dining room style restaurants that have the same food menu / kitchen).

At Spinz, I got a vegetarian wrap and a bottle of water. The tap water on base is not potable. Together my meal cost approximately $5.00.

At that point in the evening, around 5:30 PM, my mind was fried, and I was exhausted. A sense of unreality pervaded my mind, like I was finding myself in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I knew before going to Guantanamo Bay that there was a bowling alley and restaurants like McDonalds, but I did not expect it to be a 100% “Americanized” existence. I do not know why I did not expect that; it is a US Military Base.

But I had expected Cuban influence, and there is not a readily apparent Cuban influence on Base at Guantanamo Bay. We did hear about the Cuban Community Center that is near the Northeast Gate, and although we requested to visit several times throughout the week, we were not able to due to scheduling conflicts.

I had expected the existence of the prisoners and prison to be the center of focus and attention of everyone on base, but they are not even close to the center of attention.

Guantanamo looks like a typical small town or suburb in Indiana, with the exception that there are people in uniform here, with nondescript featureless buildings, and military vehicles all around. Experiencing suburban American life in a place that housed a former CIA black site where people were repeatedly tortured over a series of weeks to months in the early 2000’s, and where people are still held without charges. Of the 36 men at Guantanamo, 20 are being held without charges, but have been “recommended for transfer with security arrangements to another country.” The juxtaposition of being in the American suburbs, thinking before I left that I would be in a heavily Cuban influenced community focused on the detention center, creates a strong feeling of cognitive dissonance. That feeling would grow over my next few days.

Me at the Marina

After dinner, our escort gave us a tour around some of her favorite spots around the Base. We went to the Marina and Girl Scout Beach and got some beautiful pictures of the water and geography. We traveled to a road, surprisingly not far from residential areas of base, and pulled off to the side at a point where we could look down on Camp X-Ray, the first detention facility set up at Guantanamo Bay to house prisoners following the 9/11 attacks. We were told that we could not take pictures of Camp X-Ray, although some pictures exist on the internet. The link to the pictures also has a brief history of Camp X-Ray.

Girl Scout Beach

It was important to me personally to see Camp X-Ray. I had read about it. I had heard about it. Seeing it exist in person is a different experience. Any veil that was left over my eyes, coloring my perception of what the prisoners’ experiences were like here, neutralizing it, sanitizing it, was lifted. I have stood a stone’s throw from a site where men were tortured. I cynically wondered about the existence of black sites at Guantanamo Bay that may be kept hidden in the hills. Subsequently, through references in Court testimony and research online, I learned about the existence of a site called Camp Echo II at Guantanamo Bay, where Mr. Nashiri was held and tortured. This all happened during my lifetime, endorsed by the government that my tax dollars support; supported by the military/intelligence industrial complex that shows “Be All That You Can Be” advertisements on my television and on our city buses, that sets up recruiting tables in high school cafeterias; justified by politicians and military officers that still sit in positions of power. The use of evidence derived from “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” is still being litigated in Court, including being litigated in military commissions at Guantanamo.

Another view of Girl Scout Beach

I would later speak to a police officer and member of the military at Guantanamo Bay (but not Military Police). This individual was 20 years old. He was born after the events of September 11, 2001. He told us that when he learned of his assignment to Guantanamo Bay, he wondered why that location sounded familiar. He is part of a generation of people who grew up without hearing Guantanamo Bay mentioned frequently on the network news.

The Rest of the Night

We got back to our tents at around 8:00 PM, with a plan to be picked up by our escort the next morning, Sunday the 23rd, at 8:00 for breakfast.

I talked with Tom about his experiences as a Family Court judge in Ohio, his PhD in Judicial Studies, his dissertation, and his expectations for the upcoming week of court hearings. We then retired to our separate rooms, and I went to sleep at approximately 10:00 PM.

Sunday 24 July 2022

The next morning, I showered at approximately 6:30 AM. I let the water in the shower run until the rust was cleared from the pipes and the water ran clear. Shower shoes or flipflops are highly suggested in the showers, but they are generally clean facilities.

Our escort picked us up at 8:00 AM and took us to The Galley, where you can purchase an “all you can eat” breakfast for $3.85. There are a variety of options at The Galley for both vegetarians and meat eaters alike; I opted for garlic rice, hash browns, fresh cantaloupe and pineapple, waffles, and coffee. There is also a variety of cereals and pastries.

By the way, at the Gally you must pay in cash. They do not take cards. There is an ATM at the NEX (Navy Exchange), which is an all-purpose grocery and small department store.

Me at the Lighthouse Museum

We spent the rest of the day touring the island with our escort.

We went to a monument commemorating Christopher Columbus’ second landing in the Americas, the Lighthouse Museum, and “Windmill Hill,” which overlooks a large portion of the Base. Windmill Hill, colloquially so-called due to the four windmills perched across the crest, has the only view of the current detention facility that we would be able to see on this trip. It is miles away from the rest of the base, secluded, and mostly surrounded by hills and water. Looking in the other direction from the crest of the hill is a view of the rest of Base. We were told that we could not take pictures from the top of Windmill Hill.

Me imitating a cactus at Guantanamo Bay – the Base was full of cacti and desert flora

The Lighthouse Museum is a small four room structure sitting at the base of a lighthouse built in the early 1900’s as the only means of navigating the Bay at night before modern technology made the lighthouse obsolete. Now the lighthouse stands as a monument to a bygone era of seafaring and serves as a popular photography spot on Guantanamo Bay. Unfortunately, we were told that people are no longer (or at least not currently) allowed up in the lighthouse “due to safety concerns”.

The museum itself is stuffed full of pictures, maps, typed information, and artifacts outlining the history of the US presence in Cuba and specifically at Guantanamo. We probably spent more than an hour wandering the little museum.

We spent from 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM back at the tents resting and writing.

At 3:15 PM, Yumna and I drove with the escort to the library in town. The library looks like a typical branch library found in the United States, with rows of books, a children’s corner, a “free books” cart (from which anyone can take books without paying), and chairs and tables for reading.

We sat at the Library tables until 6:15 PM writing and talking about our experiences so far.

At 6:30 PM, we picked up Tom from the tents and went to dinner at the Windjammer Café, where I got a “non-meat” burger and sweet potato fries. I don’t know what the “non-meat” was, but it tasted good.

We retired to the tents for the night at approximately 8:30 PM, with an agreement to meet at 7:00 AM the next morning, Monday, to get breakfast at The Galley and be at the Expeditionary Legal Complex by 8:30 AM to get checked in for our first day of Court Hearings.

Timothy Morgan

J.D. Candidate 2025

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

My Nomination To Travel To Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for Pre-Trial Hearings for Five 9/11 Alleged Co-Conspirators


Collier O’Connor is a recent graduate of Indiana University McKinney School of Law

As a recent graduate of Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, I was nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against 5 alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 11 September 2022. My nomination was through the IU law school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) (and Program in International Human Rights Law), founded by Professor Edwards, with multiple missions, as follows:

“ 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] Affiliates to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish on U.S. Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other designated U.S. Military Commission viewing sites.” []

Five 9/11 Alleged Co-Conspirators

My travel to Guantanamo is set for the week of 17-24 September 2022 to monitor the 9/11 case. The five men being charged for their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks, which killed approximately 3,000 people and wounded thousands more , are:

They are charged with multiple crimes, including attacking civilians, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, murder in violation of the law of war, and hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft.

The defense argues that some of the crimes charged are not “war crimes” and are not properly chargeable at Guantanamo. The defense also argues that evidence from the F.B.I. interrogations is tainted by torture, and should be excluded. The five men involved in these hearings have been held at Guantanamo since 2006.

The New York Times provides a helpful guide on the 9/11 case.

My Third Nomination for Guantanamo Travel

On 1 August 2022, I received an email from Professor George Edwards, Director of the Program in International Human Rights Law and its Military Commission Observation Project, informing me know that another IU McKinney Affiliate had cancelled their Guantanamo Bay travel for September 2022, and asking me if I were available and interested in travelling to Guantanamo in September.

I was excited to receive the email, and promptly replied stating that I was interested and available! By 3 August 2022, I completed and submitted the six government forms that the Pentagon requires of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) observers / monitors like myself.

On 7 August 2022, Professor Edwards sent me an e-mail stating that the Pentagon had confirmed my travel to Guantanamo from 17-24 September 2022.

This is the third time I have been nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay as part of the MCOP.

First, I was nominated to travel in January 2022. Blog posts related to that nomination are here. Days before my scheduled departure from the U.S., I was informed that the hearings for my week of monitoring were cancelled. So, I did not travel to Guantanamo that week. 

Second, I was re-nominated for travel, and travelled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in March 2022. Blog posts related to that nomination are here.

However, while I was at Guantanamo that week, no hearings were held, and I and other NGO representatives spent no time in the courtroom, except to receive a tour.

It was later reported that the hearings were cancelled because of, according to LawDragon, “Cheryl Bormann’s request to withdraw over a potential conflict created by an internal investigation into her “performance and conduct” as learned counsel for Walid bin Attash, one of the five defendants charged with planning or facilitating the 9/11 attacks.”

Walid bin Attash, a defendant in this case, in an undated photo taken at Guantanamo by the International Red Cross. Cheryl Bormann was the learned counsel for Walid bin Attash for a decade, and was allowed to resign from the case in March 2022, shortly after I returned from my first mission to Guantanamo. (Source: Miami Herald)

My Background

I graduated from Indiana University McKinney School of Law in May 2022 and sat for the Indiana bar exam in July 2022. I am waiting to receive the results.

I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and lived my entire life in Indiana until I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in January 2014, and moved to Moscow, Russian Federation, 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. Shortly after my daughter was born, in the summer of 2017, my wife and I moved to a small city in China where I worked as an English teacher for a Canadian international school.

In 2019, I returned 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 in the , I enrolled in his other course, Counterterrorism Law. These courses touched on many of the complex legal issues connected with Guantanamo Bay, such as whether the right to habeas corpus review applies to those held at Guantanamo, and sparked my interest in applying to be an observer with the Guantanamo Project founded by Professor George Edwards NGO (non-governmental organization), the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).

More on my first trip to Guantanamo

As mentioned, I traveled to Guantanamo in March of 2022.

A photo of me at Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, taken on my prior trip in March 2022.

This time, preparing has been easier, as I am familiar with the process.

However, to prepare for my mission to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on the hearings in Guantanamo Bay, I am reviewing the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Guide, and reading up again on those being held at Guantanamo Bay and the history of Guantanamo Bay via the Guantanamo Bay Docket at the New York Times.

Know Before You Go – Book Cover. “This “Know Before You Go to Gitmo Guide” is primarily intended to provide helpful information for non-governmental organization (NGO) observers / monitors and others traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for U.S. Military Commission proceedings, but we hope it will be useful for anyone traveling to Guantanamo for purposes other than the commissions.” (p. 7, Know Before You Go)

Pre-Departure Reflections

Compared to the first two times I was nominated to travel to Guantanamo, I feel more confident in my mission. I also feel more comfortable with my familiarity with the pre-trial hearings I am scheduled to observe.

I plan to publish more blog posts as my planned travel approaches, and while I am in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I plan write about my experience, what is happening regarding the trial,

Collier O’Connor 

J.D. 2022

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Guantanamo Bay: Final Preparation and Travel from Indianapolis to Washington D.C./Joint Base Andrews Area

An image of the Quality Inn near Joint Base Andrews

Timothy Morgan’s Blog Post

Lauren Lanham’s Blog Post

Collier O’Connor’s Blog Post


            As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I am a second year law school student at Indiana University McKinney School of law travelling to Guantanamo Bay to monitor pretrial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against Mr. Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri for his alleged conspiring in, organizing, and planning of the USS Cole bombing off the coast of Yemen in 2000 which killed 17 U.S. Navy sailors and injured dozens more.

            I was nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) – which is part of our Law School’s Program in International Human Rights Law  [link to the PIHRL] for this mission, which requires me to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on Guantanamo proceedings. A more detailed explanation of the application process can also be found here.

            This blog post is the second in a series of posts I plan to make with regards to my travel to Guantanamo Bay and duties as a monitor in the case against Ms. al Nashiri. In this post, I discuss my final steps in completing paperwork for the program and my experience getting to the Joint Base Andrews, which is the U.S. military base from which the plane to Guantanamo departs.

Pentagon Documents and Final Form Submissions

            As I mentioned, monitors like myself must complete multiple forms – required by the Pentagon and IU Office of International Affairs. After the initial round of paperwork, detailed in my previous blog post (i.e. pre-departure clearance, student abroad forms, etc.), are completed, the Pentagon sends each monitor three different e-mails, numbered 1 of 3, 2 of 3, and 3 of 3. The email title will also include the hearings you are scheduled to attend as well as the dates of travel for your mission.

            The Pentagon will send monitors and other NGO travelers attending the same hearings the same set of emails. Each email details different aspects of the trip ranging from general information about Guantanamo Bay to flight information. After receiving these three emails, I had all the necessary documents and information to travel to Guantanamo Bay.

            The first email includes a tentative schedule for travel as well as some general information about Guantanamo Bay. I received this form on 7 July 2022. It also gives a list of forms that will be required for travel listed below:

  1. Aircraft and Personnel Clearance (called APACS) (2 Copies in Color)
  2. Health Screen Form (2 Blank Copies)
  3. Joint Base Andrews Parking Form, if needed
  4. Invitation Travel Order (ITO) (3 Copies)
  5. Approved SECNAV 5512 NSGB Naval Base Access Form
  6. Bio?

The second email will include the ITO and 5512 form from the pentagon that has been officially stamped and cleared. I received this form on 28 July 2022. These are the versions of the form that must be presented for travel.

            The third email includes the final versions of your APACS form, a copy of the health screening form, final trip details including flight information, and your parking permit (if you want to drive your own car to Andrews). I received this e-mail on 8 August 2022.

            Since flight information from the Pentagon arrives only a few days before departure, the Office of International Affairs asks that monitors resubmit their final travel itinerary to include all flight information through the iAbroad portal (IU McKinney School of Law’s study abroad application webpage) as well as their final plans for travel to the Washington DC/Joint Base Andrews area.

            The days before traveling to Guantanamo Bay can be hectic, especially if you are working full-time or otherwise busy during the day, so do not forget this final submission. I was caught up in preparing for getting to the Washington D.C. area, that I did not remember to do this until reviewing past monitors’ blog posts (on

            IU Affiliated monitors must send a copy of the MCOP Guantanamo Checklist [What is this checklist?] that helps participates keep track of the different travel and program requirements. Monitors send the Guantanamo Checklist to Professor Edwards and Acting Director Professor Dunlap. The Guantanamo Checklist contains some items that cannot be completed until the monitor arrives at Guantanamo, and some items that cannot be completed until the monitor returns from Guantanamo. So, complete the Guantanamo Checklist as best as you can when due, and plan to resubmit it later, after you complete its tasks. For example, it is necessary to complete the Guantanamo Checklist as best as you can and submit it within 72 hours of departure from Joint Base Andrews to both Professor Edwards and Acting Deputy Director Professor Charles Dunlap.

Preparing for Travel to Guantanamo Bay

            In preparation for travel, I sought advice from IU Affiliates who had previously traveled to Guantanamo Bay . Most of the individuals I spoke to have blog posts on this Gitmo Observer website, where they share their own unique experience with this process. Requirements for travel to Guantanamo Bay are constantly changing, but many of the core procedures appear to stay the same or are similar. These previous IU Affiliated monitors addressed my questions about travel from Joint Base Andrews, located outside of Washington DC, to Guantanamo Bay. They helped me with basic logistical questions to what I needed to pack for my trip. They helped in many other respects.

            After speaking to previous and current travelers, I made my arrangements to drive from Indianapolis to Washington DC and stay at the Quality Inn immediately outside of the entrance to Joint Base Andrews. I had originally planned to stay with family in suburban Baltimore, but that would have required me to wake up at 3:30 or 4 AM on the flight departure day from Andrews, after driving for 10 hours from Indiana the previous day . I decided that being very close to Joint Base Andrews overnight was the right choice. I had originally planned to fly from Indianapolis to DC but decided that driving would be cheaper and easier. Thankfully, I purchased a fully refundable airplane ticket that went back on my credit card for the full amount.

            I also read the two requirement manuals, The Fair Trial Manual and Know Before You Go,  looked up articles news coverage, and research case related documents on al Nashiri’s case at the Military Commissions website — Mc.Mil.

The Fair Trial and Know Before You Go Manual

Printing and Prepping Documents/PCR Test

            I had to print several important travel documents sent in the three Pentagon emails before leaving Indianapolis. Along with the above documents, I had to bring all the typical information required for international flight (i.e. passport, COVID Vaccine Card). For travel, it was also required to present a negative PCR test taken within 72-hours before travel. This timeline is stressful for any travel, and it was no different this time.

            My final travel itinerary was [was received?] around 1 PM on Tuesday, 2 August, only four days before my departure from Andrews. I scheduled my PCR Test within the 72-hour time frame as soon as I received my final travel [itinerary]. The flight from Andrews to Guantanamo was scheduled for 9:20 AM on Saturday, 6 August so I scheduled a PCR test at the CVS near my apartment at 10 AM Wednesday, 3 August (around 71 hours prior to departure? Not sure of the math here.]. I have had experience testing at this location and was confident that I would receive my test results within 72 hours.

            I had a negative PCR test in hand by 1:30 PM the next day, Thursday, 4 August 2022. My best advice on this requirement is to be in touch with the pharmacy or location beforehand to clarify test result timelines. If you have experience getting tested at a specific pharmacy, go there. These tests can be expensive, but you should be able to get them for free or under $25.00 if you plan.

Packing for Guantanamo Bay

            Packing for this a Guantanamo Bay monitoring trip requires a bit more attention to detail than your average trip. Aside from the forms listed above, you also need to pack for hot, humid weather with the potential for trips to the beach as well as clothing to wear in court. You are allowed to bring as much luggage as you can carry, but remember you need to carry it.

            I decided to bring one larger bag to check, a small carry on, and a backpack. This is what I travel with regularly and I was comfortable walking for at least a mile with this amount. Everyone is different so what you bring is up to you as long as you have nice clothing for court. The two essential items I was told to bring were bug spray, apparently the mosquitos can be bad, and a beach towel. Monitors will have access to a towel for showering, but you might not want to use it after a shower if you took it to the beach. Thanks Madison Sanneman! Here is a link to her post.

            Since this is a work trip, you will need to bring a laptop or tablet you feel comfortable using to type posts. You will also need a pen and pad of paper to take notes in court. They will not allow you to bring in any “smart” electronic devices, really anything with WIFI access. You should also bring any adaptors and chargers for your phone, watch, etc. I would recommend bringing chargers for anything you will need throughout the week as well as an adaptor for ethernet adaptor. There is free WIFI, but it is not always reliable. You can plug into the WIFI using ethernet, but newer laptops and tablets usually do not have this port. Guantanamo Bay uses standard American plugs, so no need to bring adaptors for this.

Driving from Indianapolis to Joint Base Andrews

            The drive from Indianapolis to Joint Base Andrews should take about nine and a half hours. I left Indianapolis around 8:30 AM on 5 August 2022 and did not  arrive at my hotel, the Quality Inn located immediately outside Joint Base Andrews, until nearly 9 PM – over 12 hours later. I drove through two major thunderstorms, one in Ohio and one in Maryland, that significantly slowed me down. I received a few important calls that I did not feel comfortable answering in the weather, so I also pulled over for those as well.

            It was not an easy drive, but it was still preferable to flying. It gave me additional flexibility with travel times, and it was easier getting around DC with a car to get dinner. The Quality Inn is the most convenient location, but it isn’t in the most walkable area. For those that do not mind longer drives, I would recommend that you drive to Andrews from Indiana.

            During my drive, I received a call from a representative of the Convening Authority, the official who oversees the miliary commission process, confirming which forms would be required for travel the following day. Fortunately, I had printed off and completed all the forms the day before as I mentioned above.  They also shared with me the name and number of my NGO escort, a designated individual who guides NGOs through secure military sites, that I would be meeting the following morning at 6:15 at the Joint Base Andrews visitor center to guide me through security and get me to the air terminal on base.


            The weeks leading up to my travel to Guantanamo Bay were hectic. Scheduling a PCR, double and triple checking forms, answering emails, packing, and working made for some very long days. All the planning will pay off tomorrow when I am in the air and one step closer to arriving in Guantanamo Bay.

Image of Steven Nisi, J.D. Candidate

Steven Nisi

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 

Checking in at Joint Base Andrews for my Flight to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba


Me at Glass Beach, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

As I mentioned in my first two blog posts I am headed on a mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings in the case against Mr. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of being the mastermind behind the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen on 12 October 2000 that killed seventeen U.S. sailors and wounded dozens more. I am a student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and the previous posts describe the law school’s Guantanamo project, founded by Professor George Edwards, that nominated me for travel.

My last blog post described my travel from Indiana to the Washington, DC area yesterday, and arriving at the hotel last night across the street from Joint Base Andrews, where the flight departs for Guantanamo.

This blog picks up at Joint Base Andrews and describes the flight to Guantanamo. My next post discusses my arrival at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and my first night there.

Joint Base Andrews

Looking toward the sunrise from the front of the Visitor’s Center at Joint Base Andrews

After arriving in the Washington, DC area yesterday afternoon (Friday, 22 July 2022), I slept at the Quality Inn across the street from the Joint Base Andrews Visitor Control Center and got up at 5:30 AM on the morning of 23rd July 2022 to walk over to the Visitor’s Center.

At 6:00 AM on the morning of 23rd July, I checked out of the Quality Inn and took the 7-minute walk to the Visitor’s Center.

Ms. Yumna Rizvi was already waiting outside the Visitor’s Center. We introduced ourselves and I learned that she works for The Center for Victims of Torture, and that she would be traveling to Guantanamo as an “observer” or “monitor” – in the same role as my mission. This is her first time to Guantanamo Bay (and mine as well). She had just gotten off the phone with our assigned Office of Military Commission (OMC) escort and told me that our escort was on her way to the Visitor’s Center to pick us up.

I had learned that throughout our mission to Guantanamo, at Guantanamo, and on the return flight from Guantanamo, we would be in the company of assigned “OMC escorts”. I will talk more about escorts in future blogs.

When our escort arrived, we learned that a third observer was driving himself on to base and would meet us at the Andrews airfield, and a fourth scheduled observer had cancelled their trip and would not be joining us.

Yumna and I boarded the escort’s van, and drove through our first checkpoint – the Main Gate to enter Andrews. We showed ID, and we carried on to the air terminal.

We met Tom, the third observer, in the parking lot at the air terminal and we all walked into a smallish nondescript building that turned out to be the air terminal. Most buildings that I saw on base at Andrews and at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay were rectangular, covered in beige or grey toned siding of (possibly) corrugated steel, and did not have features that would help distinguish one building from the next except for the presence of small signs labeling certain buildings.

Immediately upon entering and turning a corner we were stopped by a simple security checkpoint with a conveyor belt and x-ray machine for our luggage, and a walk-through metal detector. Immediately after the security checkpoint we walked up to a long counter in the same room, similar to the airline counters located in civilian airports, where military officials checked our passports, proof of negative Covid PCR test, Invitational Travel Orders (ITO), the Aircraft and Personnel Automated Clearance System (APACS) and the SECNAV form 5512-1. We were all checked in by approximately 7:15 AM and were shown to a small room off of the main room. The smaller room – which appeared to be like a private airport lounge — had couches and chairs, a television and DVD collection.

Yumna and I talked about our mutual interest in human rights, and Tom (who has been to Guantanamo Bay as an observer several times) told us about what to expect regarding food and housing (which I’ll write more about below).

NGOs / Monitors / Observers

Now is a good time to mention that the three of us “monitors” or “observers” are referred to by Guantanamo officials as “non-governmental organizations” or “NGOs”.

Sign at the Entrance to Andrews

Each of the three of us represents a different, specific NGO. In my case, the NGO is the Program in International Human Rights Law (“PIHRL” pronounced “Pearl”) of Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and the PIHRL nominated me for this mission. The PIHRL created the “Military Commission Observation Project”, as the entity that would send observers to Guantanamo Bay (or a remote observation site at Fort Meade, Maryland) and compile the record of the observer experiences on the blog on the Gitmo Observer website. The MCOP also updates the Fair Trial and Know Before You Go manuals. You can learn more about MCOP on the Gitmo Observer website.

Though the term “NGO” refers to the group, Guantanamo officials frequently refer to the individual NGO representatives as NGOs. So, Guantanamo officials might say that the three of us individuals are NGOs, even though the term “NGO” refers to the specific non-governmental organization, and the individuals are representatives of the different NGOs.

Passing Time in the Terminal

As we (the NGOs) waited for our plane, we learned that Victims and Family Members (VFMs) would be traveling down to Guantanamo with us, along with Military Judge Lanny Acosta, the Prosecution team, the Defense team, media members (from the New York Times, Serial Podcast, and LawDragon), and linguists – interpreters and translators, intelligence officials, security officials, court reporters, and others. The three NGOs were requested to move from the small lounge to the larger main waiting area to give, we were told by air terminal personnel, the VFMs some privacy and comfort in that room.

VFMs are individuals that the Office of Military Commissions have identified as victims of the crimes that are charged, or family members of victims of the crimes that are charged. I was told that the group of VFMs traveling on this trip include both groups: individuals who were on the U.S.S. Cole when it was bombed and were injured (Victims); and family of people who were on the U.S.S. Cole when it was bombed and were injured or killed (Family Members).

In the main waiting room

While waiting by the windows in the main waiting room, the NGO escort handed each of the 3 NGOs a small briefing packet that provide a brief rundown of what is and is not allowed, mostly regarding photographs, upon approach to, landing in, and exploring around Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. It also reiterated ground rules that had been sent to observers in previous emails from the Pentagon, regarding watching out for the safety of iguanas (don’t run them over), prohibitions on drinking and driving, avoiding catching rides with strangers, requirements to wear seatbelts, and obeying traffic laws and speed limits.

Vice President Kamala Harris

We also learned that Vice President Kamala Harris was at the Andrews terminal about to board Air Force 2. We could see the plane outside the terminal window on the tarmac, but one of the escorts and military personnel at the air terminal instructed us not to take photographs.

At about 9:00 AM, a motorcade of police vehicles and black SUVs pulled up around Air Force 2, and I caught a brief glimpse of the Vice President walking up the stairs of Air Force 2, turning and waving toward the terminal, and boarding the plane. Tom, as well as other travelers standing around the windows in the terminal, told us that, in the past, travelers were allowed to stand outside and take pictures of Air Force 2 and wave to the Vice President and the President boarding Air Force One. But not on this day. This is one example of how policies may change from one trip to the next.

Meeting the Chief Defense Counsel

Tom and Yumna and I passed the time by people watching, with Tom identifying members of the Prosecution and Defense that he recognized from previous trips, as well as Dr. Sondra Crosby, whom Tom suggested may be testifying this coming week as a witness for the defense.

As we were sitting on the floor in the terminal next to the window looking out on the tarmac, a man in a black shirt with a Naval Station Guantanamo Bay patch came over, introduced himself as “JJ,” correctly identified us as “NGOs,” and asked us how and why we ended up there that day on our way to Guantanamo.

We each took turns telling him about our different programs and roles, and our personal interests in watching the proceedings of the Commission. Then we asked him about himself; it turns our that he is Brigadier General Jackie Thompson, Jr., who took over as Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions (OMC) in January 2022.

We were taken aback that a person of such high rank and essential role in the proceedings at OMC Guantanamo Bay would introduce himself so casually, take an interest in our roles as NGOs, and literally sit on the floor and chat with us about the Commission and his role. But that is exactly what he did.

Brigadier General Jackie Thompson, Jr.

Brigadier General Thompson spoke to us for fifteen to twenty minutes, answering our questions about his role (which he stated is more administrative than anything, helping the defense teams get access to the materials and resources they’ve requested), and his personal feelings about participating in the Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay, a place that he described in a way that brought the words “notorious” and “infamous,” to my mind, although I do not recall if he used those exact words. He shared with us that (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here) he was on the verge of taking a new role in a different capacity, after serving as Chief of the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service. He had previously expressed interest in the role as Chief Defense Counsel, Guantanamo Bay Military Commission and submitted his name for consideration but thought that after so much time had passed (I don’t remember how much time had passed), they had decided on taking a different route. He put in for a change in position to a new role, and his commanding officer said, “Hold on a minute, they want you out at Guantanamo Bay.” He was nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate and has been in the role since the beginning of the year.

Brigadier General Thompson came off as sincere and sympathetic to the experience of the prisoners that had been transferred through black sites and held at Guantanamo Bay. He stated that the United States moved the prisoners to Guantanamo Bay and resorted to “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” because we were scared, and, as I understood him, we have been dealing with the international fallout in our reputation stemming from those decisions ever since.

Brigadier General Thompson mentioned several books that he read in preparation for his assignment to Guantanamo Bay. Here are two that I recall him mentioning:

  1. The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, by Jess Bravin
  2. Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo Bay, by Mansoor Adayfi, a former prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.

Brigadier General Thompson was approachable and kind to the three of us, and genuinely listened when we talked about our interests in human rights at Guantanamo Bay.

Before I went on this mission, I had developed the impression that prisoners held at Guantanamo could not receive a fair trial, because, for example, the U.S. government had extracted information from prisoners at black sites using torture such as waterboarding, and then the government was using that information in the criminal cases against the prisoners. I did not think it was fair, or legal, to use information derived from torture in criminal cases against defendants.

However, I came away from that brief conversation with Brig. Gen. Thompson impressed by him as a person, and with an inkling of a notion that maybe Guantanamo prisoners are involved in a more balanced process than I had anticipated. I was determined to keep an open mind moving forward.

The Flight to Guantanamo

At approximately 10:00 AM, military personnel called the room to attention and began directing everyone to line up at the door of the terminal that leads to the tarmac (where Air Force 2 had just left) with their boarding passes in hand.

We were instructed not to photograph the boarding pass, which was a blue and red laminated card about the length of a standard bookmark, with information on our flight and destination handwritten in marker on fillable spaces on the front.

NGOs and the media were told to be first in line, in front of all the passengers.

We filed out, handing the boarding pass over on the way to the door, and boarded a bus.

Two busses total took everyone from the Judge, Brigadier General Thompson, Prosecution Team, Defense Team, NGOs, Media, VFMs, and interpreters, security, intelligence, etc. on a short trip down the air strip to a waiting Omni Airlines charter plane.

NGOs and Media were instructed to file on to the plane first, as we were assigned the last five rows.

It was a large plane – a widebody with two aisles, in a 2 – 3 – 2 configuration.

The plane had enough room for each passenger to have a row (two seats on the window sides of the plane, three seats in the middle row) to themselves.

Each seat had a TV screen in the back of the seat in front, where during the flight one could choose to watch from a selection of movies or TV shows. I halfheartedly watched a couple episodes of “The Office” and spent the remaining time reading a book I brought along, watching the map feature on the TV screen showing where we were in our flight path, and trying to sleep.

About an hour into the flight, the flight attendants served beverages and a meal. I asked for a vegetarian meal, which turned out to be tortellini, broccoli, a bread roll, and a cookie. I was starving by that time, having only had an apple and a cereal bar for breakfast at 5:45 AM that morning, so I ate all the food I was served on the plane.

The flight was staffed by a civilian crew that went through the same safety protocol routine that you would receive on any airline flying in the United States. The total flight time was 3 hours, and we landed at Guantanamo Bay right on schedule at approximately 1:20 PM.

My next blog will cover my first day and a half at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.

Timothy Morgan

J.D. Candidate 2025

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Final Preparations for Departure to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba


Me in Spring 2022

I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a nominee of the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which is part of Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law. (Read more about the MCOP here).

I am a student at IU McKinney Law, and I am eligible to be nominated for Guantanamo travel, as are all IU McKinney students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) – because the Pentagon granted special “Observer” status to this IU McKinney Program.

Here you can read more about me, IU McKinney Professor George Edwards who founded this Guantanamo project, how I came to be involved in the Guantanamo project, the selection / nomination process, all the paper I had to fill out to participate, and the hearings I am scheduled to monitor at Guantanamo the week of 23 – 30 July 2022 (against Mr. al Nashiri, who allegedly plotted the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen).

Meeting with the Director and Acting Deputy Director

On 28 June 2022, Professor Edwards and MCOP Acting Deputy Director Professor Charles Dunlap held a zoom meeting with me and several other people scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay in the month of August. During that meeting, the Directors stressed the importance of complying with requirements of the “Guantanamo Agreement Checklist” that was provided to me and the other travelers by Professor Edwards. The Checklist requires filling out paperwork on time, communicating with the Directors in a timely manner, responding to emails, informing the Indiana University Office of International Affairs of our travel plans, getting health insurance for foreign travel, immediately informing the Directors of any correspondence coming from the Pentagon, and many other requirements.

My first blog post

MCOP travelers to Guantanamo post about their experiences on a blog on this website:  Gitmo Observer – We post about the selection and nomination process, preparing for travel to Guantanamo Bay, experiences during the hearings, and impressions after returning to the United States.

Professor Edwards asked me to share my initial draft blog post with his edits and comments with the August travelers via email so that they could have an idea of what an informative first post could look like. After the meeting, I sent the blog post with the edits to the other travelers.

On 30th June 2022, I received an invite from WordPress to post to the blog on The next day, 1st July, I posted to the blog for the first time.

Booking my flight from Indiana to DC

The first round of paperwork I received from the Pentagon informed that travelers to Guantanamo Bay will leave from Joint Base Andrews near Washington, DC.

I began tracking flights from Indianapolis International Airport to Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC the first week of July in preparation for leaving the last week of 23-30 July 2022. On 5th July, I sent a prospective flight itinerary to the Project Director, Professor Edwards, which is required according to the Guantanamo Agreement Checklist. That same day, Professor Edwards approved the prospective itinerary, and I purchased the flight, round trip. I planned my flights to arrive in Washington, DC early on 22nd July, the day before my scheduled departure from Joint Base Andrews on 23rd July, and to return to Indianapolis from DC on 31st July, the day after returning to DC from Guantanamo Bay. I inquired to Professors Edwards and Dunlap regarding a potential scholarship to help cover the costs of flights and travel to and from Washington, DC, as that expense had in the past been the responsibility of the individual observers. I was informed that the parameters of the scholarship are still in development, and that I would be informed of the scholarship’s availability when that information is available.

Forms for the Indiana University Office of International Affairs

Having confirmed my flight itinerary to Washington, DC and back to Indianapolis, I uploaded a PDF screen shot of the itinerary including times, airline (American Airlines in my case), and flight numbers to the iAbroad system. iAbroad is the system that the Indiana University Office of International Affairs uses to send and compile necessary paperwork and forms required for students to travel internationally. By that time, I had already completed an initial set of forms that I had submitted through iAbroad, which were sent to me in the days immediately following the day I informed the Office of International Affairs that I would be participating in the MCOP at Guantanamo Bay.

After the first set of forms is complete, iAbroad sends a second set of forms. The flight itinerary was the last requirement in the second set of documents iAbroad requires. However, I waited to submit that last section of the documents because I did not yet have confirmation of the flights from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay and back. I did not want to submit the section with incomplete information, but when I checked iAbroad the following week (11 July), my forms were all submitted and the itinerary section was no longer available to edit. This concerned me, as I hadn’t included information about the flights to and from Guantanamo Bay.

On 14th July, I drove to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) campus, which is where IU McKinney is located, for two reasons; to pick up a physical copy of the GeoBlue Insurance Card that I was informed the first week of July would be waiting for me at the Study Abroad Office, and to talk to someone at the Study Abroad Office or the Office of International Affairs about my problems uploading Guantanamo flight information to iAbroad. I received my copy of the GeoBlue Insurance (it isn’t necessary to have the physical card but given the option I felt safer having it with me) and met with Ms. Stephanie Leslie from the Office of International Affairs. She confirmed that my Washington, DC flight information had been properly uploaded and asked me to email her the information that I currently had about the Guantanamo Bay flights. I emailed her the flight estimates that were included in the first email from the Pentagon back in May and told her that I would keep her updated with future information as it comes my way. Ms. Leslie said that would be fine. She asked if I was ready and prepared with everything else, and I told her that I was except for the requirement to have a PCR covid test within 72 hours of arrival at Joint Base Andrews. She suggested I ask the University if they were still conducting covid tests. More on trying to get a PCR Covid test below.

Correspondence with Previous Travelers

On Wednesday 23rd July I went to the IU McKinney School of Law to meet with Ms. Madison Sanneman, who works for the Law School and recently traveled to Guantanamo (read her blog posts here). I have had an email correspondence going with Madison since early June; she has been an amazingly helpful resource in my preparations for Guantanamo. I met with her that Wednesday to go over some last-minute questions I had about the facilities at Guantanamo, proper clothes to bring, anything I may be overlooking, what to pack, what the court proceedings were like, what the food was like, and her overall impressions of the trip. Again, Madison provided me with wonderful information that sincerely helped relieve some of the stress and anxiety I was feeling about the trip.

During June and July 2022, I also had an ongoing text correspondence with Mr. Collier O’Connor (read his blog posts here). I had initially reached out to Collier to thank him for his detailed posts on the Gitmo Observer blog, and followed up with several questions as the weeks went on. He always replied to me in a timely fashion and with helpful information.

It is a requirement of the Guantanamo Agreement Checklist to contact previous travelers. Aside from that requirement, I would highly suggest that it is essential to correspond with and meet in person if possible previous travelers in order to have a smooth and complete preparation for travel to Guantanamo Bay.

Getting a Covid PCR Test

The Pentagon requires a negative PCR covid test to be presented at Joint Base Andrews before boarding the plane to Guantanamo Bay. The test must have been administered within 72 hours of boarding the plane. On Wednesday the 20th July, I received the final instructions from the Pentagon including flight details stating that we would be departing Joint Base Andrews bound for Guantanamo Bay at approximately 10:20 AM Saturday 23rd July and as the Covid test results needed to be printed and brought with, I would need the results well before that time.

Although Indiana University had been administering covid-19 tests to students for free during the pandemic, it turns out that Indiana University was (and is) no longer administering Covid tests to students. I do not know when they stopped, or why. However, I had to look outside school to find a testing facility. I scheduled to take a test at CVS Pharmacy in Indianapolis (the Beech Grove location) which said on its website that PCR test results are typically returned within 1-2 days of testing.

I was very worried about taking a Covid test and then having the Guantanamo flight leave later than I was anticipating, so I made the decision to get tested closer to my date of departure to be sure that my test would be within 72 hours of boarding the plane. That was a mistake. I got my Covid test at CVS Pharmacy on Thursday 21st July at 11:50 AM, approximately 46 hours before I was scheduled to board the plane bound for Guantanamo Bay at Joint Base Andrews, Saturday 23rd July at 10:00 AM.

However, the test at CVS was self-administered and they do not send the tests straight to the lab – I was instructed to place the test in a drop box on the side of the CVS building to be picked up at a later point in time. The pharmacy tech at the window told me that test results are typically returned within 2-4 days. That made me very anxious, as that time frame would mean there was a strong possibility that I would not get my covid test results back until I was already scheduled to be on a plane to Guantanamo.

I scrambled to try and get another PCR covid test that would get me results at a quicker time. I tried Methodist Hospital, but they, and all IU medical facilities, would not administer a Covid PCR test for travel without an order from a doctor. I called my doctor’s office, but they would not end up getting back to me until Friday July 22nd (with the very unhelpful information that the doctor would not provide an order for a PCR test for travel purposes). I found a private lab facility, GenePace, that would administer a PCR test and guarantee the results by 6:00 PM the next day (which would be Friday the 22nd, giving me enough time to get the results printed to take to Joint Base Andrews on Saturday the 23rd). The test cost $119.00 and I had to drive to Carmel to get it. It was not a pleasant experience. Now that Federal funds for Covid testing seemed to have dried up, it is apparently difficult to get a PCR test with quick results for travel without paying for them or waiting on a pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens.

In hindsight, I should have asked previous travelers when the best time to get tested was, or I should have voiced my concerns to Professor Edwards or Professor Dunlap about a possible delay in the flight schedule from Joint Base Andrews and what that would mean for the 72 hour testing window. Future travelers should ask questions of the Directors or previous travelers if they have concerns.

For the record, my $119 GenePace test was emailed to me with a timestamp at 5:05 PM on Friday 22nd July, and my free CVS test (they may charge $25 to my insurance company, but I am not sure yet) in an e-mail time-stamped 9:19 PM on Friday 22nd July.

The Manuals

Packing and Building my Binder

After running around trying to get Covid tested for a large part of my Thursday, I started to pack my bags. I received a phone call the afternoon of Thursday the 21st July from a Pentagon official. She said it was her job that day to contact travelers bound for Guantanamo on our flight 2 days later to make sure they have everything in order. She also provided me with contact information for the person that would pick me up from the Visitor Center at Joint Base Andrews when I arrived at 6:00 a.m. Saturday. I confirmed that I had all of the documents that I needed except for the pending Covid test result. I thanked her for the information.

I added my printed documents to the binder I put together for the checklist and Fair Trial Manualand Know before you Go manual. I made sure my passport and covid vaccine card were tucked away safely in my backpack. I packed and unpacked and repacked my clothes several times. I booked a hotel room at the Quality Inn across the street from Joint Base Andrews. At about 11:00 PM I set my alarm for 3:30 AM and went to sleep.

A Day in Washington, DC

A screenshot of the SmarTrip App I used to easily ride the Metro in DC

My wife gave me a ride to Indianapolis International Airport early in the morning on Friday 22nd July; I arrived at approximately 4:05 AM for my American Airlines flight scheduled to leave at 6:22 a.m. I passed through security, and reached my gate by approximately 4:35 AM, even with TSA pulling me to the side, making me go through the body scanner, and patting me down. I boarded the plane for DC at 5:55 AM, and we took off on schedule at 6:22 AM, arriving in DC at 8:00 AM. We had to wait for an open gate until about 8:15 AM.

I downloaded the DC Metro SmarTrip card to my Apple Wallet and loaded it with $10.00. My iPhone actually prompted me to do this when I stepped off the plane and turned off airplane mode on my phone. I did not know if downloading that app was a useful or appropriate thing to do, so I simply googled if I could use SmarTrip on Apple Wallet to use the Metro, and the answer was definitively “yes.” With the app downloaded, you can just load money directly from a checking account and tap your phone on the pad to open the fare gates to get to the train platforms.

Google Maps told me which lines to take. I posted on this blog a map of the lines.

The D.C. Metro is very simple to use, and there are plenty of people around and security guards and signage to point you in the right direction if you get confused. I took the Metro to L’Enfant Plaza, which is near the center of DC where all of the Metro lines intersect, then walked 7 minutes to a location I had booked to hold my luggage for a small fee for the day. I booked it through, and it cost a little over $7.00 to have my bag securely held while I explored DC for the day.

A map of the DC Metro. I took the Green Line to the last stop, Branch Ave., before calling a Lyft to take me the rest of the way to the hotel.

After dropping off my bag at approximately 9:45 AM, I walked around the outside of the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court, and through the US Botanical Gardens and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden and explored inside the National Museum of Natural History. The Gardens and the Museum are free to enter and are located near the National Mall.

I also wandered around adjoining neighborhoods talking to my wife on the phone and searching out food. I ate at a delicious hole in the wall called Burrito Brothers at around 12:00 PM. I spent the remainder of my afternoon walking around the National Mall, visiting the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Reflecting Pool.

Around 3:30 PM I took the Metro from the Smithsonian station to L’Enfant Plaza, then walked back to the location where my luggage was being held and picked up my bag. I then walked back to L’Enfant Plaza and took the train to the farthest south station, the Branch Ave. Station. From there I ordered a Lyft to take me the rest of the way to my hotel, which is directly across the street from the Joint Base Andrews Visitor Center. It was about a 10 -minute Lyft ride and cost $22.79, including tip. I checked into the hotel at approximately 4:00 PM.

A Short Stay at the Hotel

I received my PCR covid test back in an e-mail from GenePace time-stamped 5:05 PM. My Covid test results came back negative. I asked the hotel front desk clerk to please print three copies of the results for me, and she did. After that I walked to a Hispanic Grocery store called La Colonia and bought some food for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. I got plenty to eat for just over $9.00.

I chose to stay at the Quality Inn across the street from the base because I did not want to have to deal with the stress of relying on a taxi/Uber/Lyft early in the morning and risk being late to meet the escort. The room cost $118. The website says breakfast is complimentary, but the dining room has been closed since Covid. The room was nice and clean with a desk and free Wi-Fi. The reviews on Google for the Quality Inn are not great, but I have no complaints. The front desk staff was very courteous and helpful.

Getting to Joint Base Andrews in the morning

Tomorrow, I will plan to walk over to Joint Base Andrews to arrive at the visitors center by 6:30 AM to be picked up by my escort. Google maps shows that it will only be a 7 minute walk from the front desk of the Quality Inn where I’m staying to the front door of the Visitors Center.

My next blog post will cover checking in at Joint Base Andrews, the flight to Guantanamo, and my first day at Guantanamo Bay.

Timothy Morgan

J.D. Candidate 2025

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

My Preparation and Travel to Washington D.C. and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Figure 1: Working on my blog post in Washington D.C. and reviewing the courtroom rules in the “Know Before You Go to Gitmo” manual in project binder.

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. al Nashiri is charged with crimes associated with the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, killing and wounding dozens of U.S. sailors. 

My mission at Guantanamo is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on these hearings.

I was nominated for this mission by a project of Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where I am a second-year student. Professor George Edwards of our school founded the school’s Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL, pronounced “Pearl”), to which the Pentagon granted Non-Governmental Organization Observer Status (“NGO Observer”), permitting IU McKinney faculty, staff, students and graduates to travel to Guantanamo. The PIHRL created the school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which nominated me.

You can read more about my nomination to this program here.

Final Preparation for my Mission in Guantanamo Bay

As I mentioned, before,  I was required to fulfill many requirements to confirm my travel to Guantanamo.

The MCOP sent me a “Guantanamo Checklist” as a guide to the process of preparing for my mission. Among other things, I needed to make travel arrangements to and from Washington D.C. because the plane to Guantanamo leaves from and returns to Joint Base Andrews, just outside Washington, gather and organize all the forms required by the Pentagon, and schedule a PCR test.

Scheduling a PCR Test and Getting Test Results

All observers traveling to Guantanamo must take a PCR covid test within 72 hours of departure, and the results must be negative. I researched where to get the PCR done, how long it would take to get results, and whether the test was the correct test. Rapid tests are not acceptable. I scheduled my test through CVS Pharmacy for Wednesday, 27 July 2022 at 1:30 p.m. eastern time. My test would comply within the 72-hour timeframe and was administered about 69 hours before my scheduled departure of Saturday at 10:0 a.m. I made the test booking online on Wednesday, 20 July 2022 about a week prior to my test date. I called and spoke to a CVS representative after booking my test and she assured me my results would come within 24-48 hours after taking it – so the results would be back by 1:30 on 29 July. On 28 July 2022, at around 6:00 p.m., my negative results were emailed to me, about 30 hours after taking the test, and 39 hours before the scheduled departure time on Saturday. With the negative PCR test result in hand, I was ready to travel to Guantanamo on 30 July 2022. 

Organizing All the Forms and Paperwork Required by the Pentagon

Before I left Northwest Indiana on at 10:00 a.m. on 29 July 2022, I tripled checked that I had all the necessary paperwork packed.

The Pentagon requires that several copies of documents and forms of identification be available as a hardcopy before you arrive at Joint Base Andrews, which is a military base located in Maryland, and it is the location where I am scheduled to board the plane to Guantanamo.  I had created a Guantanamo binder to hold my important documents. In that binder was my passport, state I.D., covid vaccination card, copies of my negative PCR covid test result, three copies of my invitational travel order (ITO), two copies of my SECNAV 5512, two copies of the U.S. government health declaration form, and three copies of my approved country and theater clearance, also known as APACS. I previously filled out the SECNAV 5512 form and returned it to the Pentagon, and now I have the Pentagon-approved copy in my binder.

After confirming I had all the documents and the correct number of copies for each, I organized my identification and paperwork in folders inside my binder so I could easily access everything when I arrived at Joint Base Andrews on Saturday morning.

Traveling to Washington D.C.

Figure 2: The plane I was scheduled to take from Chicago to Washington D.C.

Because I was living and working in Northwest Indiana this summer, I decided to fly out of Chicago, Illinois to Washington. One of the requirements on the MCOP checklist is to share my proposed travel itinerary with Professor Edwards and the Acting Deputy Director, Professor Dunlap, before booking my flight. After they reviewed my flight information and felt comfortable with the days and times, I was able to purchase my flights about two weeks prior before my departure date.

I flew from Chicago Midway on 29 July 2022 to Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. I experienced some minor flight delays, and I arrived in D.C. in the early evening, about 4:15 p.m., an hour later than my original scheduled arrival. It is crucial to be aware of any flight delays to ensure you make it to Washington in plenty of time to make it to Joint Base Andrews by your scheduled arrival time.

Figure 3: Lauren Lanham on her flight from Chicago to Washington.

Luckily, my close friend, Sara, lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and I was able to stay with her the night before my departure to Guantanamo Bay. She and her new puppy, Indy, picked me up from the D.C. airport and showed me to their new apartment. Because she lives in Virginia and I live in Indianapolis, it has been a few months since I last saw Sara. We had lots to discuss, and I took the time to explain my Guantanamo mission to her and how important it was. We had Chipotle for dinner and enjoyed a walk around the National Mall. It was a beautiful night in the nation’s capital. We returned to her apartment, where I checked my email and ensured everything was in place for tomorrow. She lives twenty minutes from Joint Base Andrews. We plan on leaving promptly at 5:30 a.m. to ensure I arrive at the base by 6:00 a.m.

Figure 4: The Washington Monument at dusk – on my night in D.C. before my early morning Guantanamo flight the next day.

Heading to Joint Base Andrews

I arrived at the Visitors Center of Joint Base Andrews right at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, 30 July 2022 and was greeted by my escort. Escorts serve as guides to the NGOs while they are at Joint Base Andrews, on the plane, and at Guantanamo. The escort and I waited for the other NGOs to arrive before we departed from the Visitor Center at 6:15 a.m. The first email I received from the Pentagon listed that five NGOs would be traveling to Guantanamo at the same time as me. These individuals would be representing other organizations and projects. Only four ended up arriving. There were three women: one representing Georgetown Law, another with Judicial Watch, and one with University of Miami School of Law. There was also man sent by Pacific Council. The escort then drove all of us into the base and dropped us at the airport terminal at 6:30 a.m.

The terminal was very similar to the airports I have been to. There is a security line, bags are put through an x-ray scanner, and all personnel must walk through a metal detector. I went through security and was escorted to the ticket agent, where they checked my ITO, APACS, negative covid test, and passport. The agent approved my travel and handed me my boarding pass. At this point, it was only 7:00 a.m., and my flight was not scheduled to leave until 10:00 a.m.

I was initial informed that rapid covid tests would be administered to all travelers at the terminal, however, no one to my knowledge received a test.

Our escort took us into a small room in the terminal. It had a few couches where the other NGOs, our escort and I sat for the next two and a half hours. We spent that time to get to know one another and discuss our various missions. I gave each NGO their own copy of the “Know Before You Go to Gitmo” and the “Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Excerpts.” These manuals were created by the Military Commission Observation Project and are provided to NGO observers to help them prepare for their travel to Guantanamo and serve as a guide in fulfilling their mission. It was my duty as a representative of the MCOP to ensure that each NGO observer had a copy for their benefit.

During our time at the terminal, I met Ronald Flesvig, the Director of Public Affairs for the Office of Military Commissions. He introduced himself to all the NGOs and welcomed any questions we had before our departure. He talked candidly about his experience at Guantanamo. The conversation was informative and enlightening. He shared with us what to expect when inside the courtroom, how the defendant would be dressed, and some of the logistics of operating a Military Commission.

At 9:30 a.m., right before we boarded the plane, the escort informed me that the hearings concerning al Nashiri scheduled for Monday 1 August 2022 and Tuesday 2 August 2022 had been cancelled due to what he described as a small covid outbreak. The other NGOs and I are hopeful that the proceedings scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday will still continue. We were also informed no member of the media would be flying down to the island on our flight, meaning the public will have a limited information on what happens in court this week.

Finally, at 9:35 a.m. it was time to board the plane. I was escorted to a shuttle bus where I was driven across the tarmac to a set of tall steps that lead you to the door of plane. NGOs are asked to sit in the back, so that is where I was headed. I chose a window seat and had the entire row to myself. The pilot stated that only 35 people were on my flight.

The plane departed from Joint Base Andrews shortly after 10:00 a.m. The flight to Guantanamo Bay was three and a half hours. I spent the flight reviewing my copies of the “Know Before You Go to Gitmo” and “Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Excerpts” manuals, organizing my notes, and even managed to sneak in a quick nap. At 1:00 p.m. the pilot announced we were beginning out descent. I packed up my materials and prepared for landing.

My next blog post will discuss my experience arriving at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

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