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

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