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:
- Aircraft and Personnel Clearance (called APACS) (2 Copies in Color)
- Health Screen Form (2 Blank Copies)
- Joint Base Andrews Parking Form, if needed
- Invitation Travel Order (ITO) (3 Copies)
- Approved SECNAV 5512 NSGB Naval Base Access Form
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 http://www.GitmoObserver.com)
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.
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.
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