Author: alinedoral

I’m heading back to Guantanamo Bay to Observe hearings

I am at Andrews Air Force Base now waiting to board a military flight to take me to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor U.S. Military Commissions in the case against al Nashiri, who is alleged to have masterminded the 2000 suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding dozens more.

For the second time, I was nominated to represent the MCOP – the Military Commission Observation Project of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

My first trip to Guantanamo Bay was in October of 2016 and my experience can be found in this www.GitmoObserver.com blog post, clicking here.  There was also a 4-page article by Larissa Roso published in the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora (see photo in this blog).

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The defendants

As mentioned, this time I will attend a pre-trial hearing in the case against al Nashiri, who faces the death penalty for his alleged participation in the suicide attack against the USS Cole .

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USS Cole being towed

From public sources I have gathered the following information about al Nashiri:

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. He was arrested in Dubai in 2002, was held for 4 years in CIA black sites and was taken to Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. He was first charged at Guantanamo in 2008. The charges were dropped in February 2009 and reinstated in 2011, and now, six years later, the proceeding remains at the pre-trial stage.

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On my first visit, I attended the pre-trial hearings in the case against Khalid Shaik Mohammad and 4 other allged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It will be interesting to compare the 9/11 hearings to what I expect to witness at the al Nashiri hearings.

Why go to Guantanamo again?

I am a Master of Laws (LL.M.) student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and my second trip to Guantanamo Bay is part of my in-field research about transparency under the Military Commissions. My research is being supervised by , Professor George Edwards, who is Founding Director of  Indiana’s Military  Commission Observation Project.

I remember, as a first-islander (this is how people in Guantanamo Bay call those who are on the island for the first time), I felt like not even blinking my eyes, afraid of missing any detail from which I could learn something.

This time, of course, it will not be different. My eyes will be wide open. My initial focus was to fulfill goals of our MCOP project – to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the Military Commissions. I did that on my first visit, and I will do that on this visit as well.

But this time  my attention will be focused specifically on transparency.

The whole process of my involvement, since I was nominated to be an observer, represents a rich source for research on Military Commission transparency for NGOs. The several steps to comply with the requirements presented by the Pentagon, the limited information NGOs can access, the location of the hearings, the restrictions and overwhelming rules while in the island, the fact that rules seem constantly to change for NGOs (with some rules being different now than they were when I went to Guantanamo in October), the limited areas at Guantanamo where NGOs can circulate, visit or take pictures – those are just a few examples of things that I am thinking about in the context of transparency. Of course, the cases before the Military Commissions are related to national security, and deserve special care. This research will try to understand what international and U.S. domestic law require regarding transparency of the U.S. Military Commissions for NGOs, recognizing that a balance must take into account national security as well as NGO exposure and access to information. Do the Military Commissions comply with international and U.S. law regarding transparency when it comes to NGO observers?

At Andrews Air Force Base

I am now at the Joint Base Andrews, and the sun is about to rise on this chilly Sunday. Our chartered flight – a Delta Airlines – is scheduled to depart at 8am. The NGOs were scheduled to arrive arrive at Andrews at 5 a.m., 3 hours in advance, to check-in for the flight.

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At this time there are 10 NGOs representatives from different organizations scheduled to travel with us. On my first trip, we had 12 NGOs observers. Each authorized organization can indicate and send only one representative at the time, even if there are places available. So, if we in fact only have 10, then there are 3 or 4 empty seats that could have been filled by NGO representatives. I know that there are many observers from Indiana and other organizations available to fill those seats, and I wonder why those spots are empty.

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NGOs waiting at the AMC’s Children Area, also called Family Lounge.

The flight time is about 3 hours 15 minutes, and we are expected to arrive at Guantanamo Bay around lunch time.

I am looking forward to gathering as much information as possible on this trip, and I hope to learn from as many participants as possible, including other NGOs observers, media, the defense team, the prosecution, escorts, etc.

Soon I will be sharing more information here on this blog. Also I will be tweeting @alinedoral.

Stay tuned.

Aline Fagundes, Master of Laws (LL.M.) student

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law 

Turned Away from Guantanamo Bay Hearing Held at Pentagon

I was nominated to travel to the Pentagon to monitor a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board hearing for a detainee who was asking the U.S. to release him from Guantanamo.

The PRB – Periodic Review Board – is a discretionary administrative procedure held in Guantanamo Bay and transmitted via a secure link to the Pentagon. PRBs analyze whether the detainee will remain in Guantanamo, will be transferred to a third country to resettlement, or will be repatriated to its original country. PRBs do not address the legality of any individual’s detention, but attempt to assess whether the detainee is a threat to the national security of the United States.

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I was nominated to monitor this PRB by the Periodic Review Board Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law. This is similar to the way I was nominated to monitor military commission hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where I traveled last year and posted about on this blog here, and on twitter.

I understand that the Pentagon is interested in Guantanamo Bay military commission hearings and PRBs being transparent, so they permit observers / monitors to be present.

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The Pentagon

I flew from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C. on 8 February 2017, in anticipation of an early trip to the Pentagon the next day for the PRB. I stayed at a hotel near the Pentagon.

On the morning of 9 February  2017, at about 7:30, a hotel van dropped me off at the Pentagon, where I went to the Visitor Center. There I walked through a maze as I entered the Pentagon, and went through a security system that seemed more intricate than at an airport. After, I entered the Visitor Center waiting room, where I saw representatives from other non-governmental organizations and members of the press who were also waiting to be escorted to the PRB.

When the escorts came to take everyone to the PRB room, I learned that my name was not on the list. I was not among the cleared NGOs! It was noted that they apparently did not receive my form within the deadline. I immediately called the McKinney director of the program who also immediately forwarded to me e-mail copies of messages to the Pentagon requesting my clearance. We had about 10 minutes to try to solve the issue. Unfortunately, it was not resolved and I could not benefit from the Pentagon’s last-minute clearance procedure even though I could show my completed, signed, required PRB Ground Rules form. I was not allowed to attend the PRB that day.

So, I was left behind.

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It was very disappointing. The sole purpose of my flight to DC – for fewer than 24 hours – was to attend and monitor the PRB on behalf of our law school’s project. I flew from Indianapolis to DC one evening, was at the Pentagon early the next morning, and was due to fly back to Indianapolis in the afternoon of the same day.

Well, what is done, is done.

And, my trip was not wasted!

Two weeks before, when I knew I was going to be in the Pentagon, I requested a tour. The tours can be requested at this link at least 14 days in advance and not more than 90 days away from of the visit.

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My escort during the tour. To be admitted in this position, he had to memorize, word by word, 33 pages of the information presented during the visit.

The guided Pentagon visit is very basic but interesting. We passed through areas that did not look like what I imagined the Pentagon would look like at all. For instance, we started in a theater with a brief explanation of the rules. No photographs were allowed during the tour, of course. After that, we crossed an area similar a mall, with all sorts of storefronts like for candy, clothes, flowers, ceramics, shoe repair, leather accessories, candles, a bank, Starbucks and fast food such as McDonald’s, Subway, and Burger King. Everything to serve the population of 26,000 people. The visit also included the Pentagon Memorial Quilts. After the 9-11 attack in 2001, people from all over the country sent quilts to pay tribute to the victims.

Why quilts? Jeannie Ammerman led the September 11 Quilt Memorial Project, an idea given by Drunell Levinson, an eyewitness who felt a strong desire to do something helpful but was uncertain how to proceed. As a fabric artist and quilter, she was not qualified to help with rescue and recovery efforts, and blood donation centers were already crowded with volunteers. Thus, she came up with the idea of gathering quilts, as a symbol of a communal activity.

 

<> on June 28, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia.

This photo is from the internet.We are not allowed to take pictures or use any device during the Pentagon tour.

After my Pentagon tour and my lunch, the hotel shuttle too me back to the hotel to pick up my luggage and then to the airport for my return flight to Indianapolis. The shuttle driver shared with me his story of life. Living in the U.S. for ten years already, originally from Ethiopia, after two degrees (one from Nairobi), he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Business and Economics, with a United Nations Scholarship, as a political exile. Nice story to end a day of frustration.

What’s next?

Another PRB is scheduled for a different detainee on 28 February 2017. When asked, I declined a nomination to attend since I have a conflict and cannot attend. I hope to be nominated for a future PRB, as I would very much like to gain the experience of this different type of Guantanamo Bay proceeding. PRBs involve detainees who are not charged with crimes, and who are asking to be released. The PRB non-criminal proceedings are different from U.S. Military Commission proceedings, which are criminal proceedings, and the question is whether the detainee is guilty of a crime. In PRBs, there is no question about criminality, just about whether the person in question is a national security threat.

Aside from PRBs, I am now scheduled to return to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor regular U.S. Military Commission hearings in the criminal case against al Nashiri from 4 to 11 March 2017, and am scheduled to travel to Ft. Meade, Maryland on Monday, 13 March 2017 for hearings in that same case – simultaneously broadcast from the same courtroom I will have monitored from live the preceding week. Mr. al Nashiri is the alleged mastermind of the 2000 suicide bomb attack on the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen that killed and wounded dozens of U.S. sailors.

 

Aline Fagundes (LL.M. Candidate, ’17)

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

My Week in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

 

For a week in October 2016, I had the most extraordinary experience of my academic life, certainly one of the most extraordinary experiences of my whole life. I traveled to the Guantanamo Naval Station, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor the U.S. Military Commission case against five alleged masterminds of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I was nominated to represent the Military Commission Observation Project of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. Our Indiana program, sponsored by the McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law, is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that is permitted to send law students, faculty, staff and graduates to Guantanamo to monitor hearings.

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Flying to the island

Our flight from Andrews Joint Base, near Washington DC, to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was originally scheduled to depart on Saturday, October 8. For reasons that are not very clear to me (click here for more details), a large plane flew for Guantanamo Bay but left at least two groups of people behind – member of the media and 13 NGO representatives, including me. The NGOs flight was postponed until Monday, October 10. That meant that we had to spend two nights in hotels near Andrews, at our own expense.

The original Saturday flight was supposed to be operated as a charter by a regular commercial airline (like United, or American Airlines). Usually, the regular flights carry virtually all Guantanamo Bay participants, including the defense counsel, the prosecution, the judge and the judge’s staff, the media, victims and victims’ family members, interpreters and translators, IT personnel, and other personnel. Everybody travels together on the same plane, arrives at Guantanamo Bay at the same time, and have an equal amount of time on the ground at Guantanamo Bay to prepare for the hearings.

The Pentagon hired a  Jetstream 31, 15 seat private jet to transport the NGOs on Monday morning. The trip from Andrews to Guantanamo on Saturday’s commercial flight took around 3 hours. Our trip on Monday on the Jetstream took over 9 hours, including one layover in Georgetown, SC and one in Opa-Locka, FL. The last leg on the Jetstream, which had no toilet on board, lasted 3 hours. Tough.

We arrived at Guantanamo (“on island”, as they call it) around 8 pm on Monday, and had to hurry to catch the ferry from the landing strip to the main part of the Guantanamo base, otherwise we would need to wait another full hour – until 9 pm – for the next ferry.

We finally made it to Camp Justice, our “tent city” where we would live for the next week. We NGOs left all our stuff in the tents we were housed and went directly to the security area where they made our security badges. After that, it was so late that the only place open for food on island was the Guantanamo Bay MacDonald’s. The tiredness and hunger prevented any complaints. After we ate, the military escorts took us to our tents.  I knew we would be housed in tents, but I confess I underestimated what this entailed. The tent and other facilities were extremely simple.

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The tents were simple and, to keep iguanas and banana rats away,  extremely cold.

 

The first full day

Those who wanted to have breakfast at the Galley, which is the cafeteria where soldiers on base eat, should be ready standing outside the tents at 6:15 am. Worth it. Excellent breakfast for $ 3.45.

The hearings were scheduled to start at 9 am.  So, after breakfast, our Pentagon escorts met the NGOs at 8:00. Even though the walk to the courtroom takes only about 5 minutes, we had to go early so we could go through several security checks, much more extensive than security at any U.S. airport.

After we entered the courtroom, I went to my assigned seat in the Courtroom Viewing Gallery, which is in the back of the courtroom. Between the gallery and the actual courtroom there is a double-pained bullet proof glass. The NGOs, media, victims and victim’s family members watch it from the gallery, where the sound from the courtroom is transmitted with 40 seconds delay, in case any classified information is mentioned. My seat was directly behind the five alleged masterminds of the 9-11 attack. Unbelievable. We were seated only a few feet behind 5 men who allegedly perpetrated one of the greatest crimes in history – the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The hearings

The hearing lasts from Tuesday to Friday, though some of the hearings contained classified information and those portions were closed to NGOs, media, and victims and their families. Memories of this week in courtroom include arguments about torture, debates about a joint defense agreement (the 5 defense teams agreeing on some points), documents seized by jailers, depositions by closed-circuit transmission, one accused acting in his own defense, the defendants’ prayer ritual in the courtroom, extraordinary arguments on novel topics, and even a few jokes between the judge and the counsels. The hearings are still in the pre-trial phase, though the World Trade Center attack happened over 15 years ago (11 September 2001), and these 5 defendants were arraigned 5 years ago (2011).

To be able to write faster I made all my annotations in Portuguese, my first language. I brought around thirty pages of written records, which I am willing to organize and publish. Thanks to the Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual I was able to follow more appropriately all the procedures.

At the end of the hearings on the first day of the week, the family members of victim’s, who were seated on the right side of the gallery, walked to the left side and stopped right behind the defendants, just in front of my seat. A family member held the picture of her youngest sister against the glass, pointing in the direction of the defendants, who would walk towards us as they were escorted out of the courtroom. This was a very sad and tense moment.

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Conclusion

I left the Guantanamo Bay feeling conflicted. That beautiful place facing the Caribbean blue sea carries sadness and shame. Much needs to be done to reach justice, fair trial, and transparency. My mission is not done. I realized it has just begun. I consider myself a fortunate person to be afforded an opportunity to be the eyes and the ears of the outside world in Guantanamo Bay. Keep tuned! I will publish more!

Ready to fly to Guantanamo Bay – Cuba

I am now at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington, known as JBA – Joint Base Andrews (joint base due to the merger of the Andrews Air Force Base and the Naval Air Facility Washington). The JBA is the home of Air Force One, the aircraft that carries the President of the United States.

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I just met the other NGO’s Observers who, like myself, are scheduled to fly to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings in the case against Khalid Shaik Mohammad and four other alleged masterminds of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (please, see my previous posts clicking here).

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I distributed to each NGO Observer a copy of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trail Manual

 

The hearings are now scheduled to start tomorrow (Tuesday, October 11) and to last until Friday, October 14. We are scheduled to flight back to the U.S. on Saturday, October 15.

We are ready to depart. Keep tuned to follow my first post from Cuba.

 

Aline Fagundes (LL.M. Candidate, ’17)

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

 

All of my comments above are mine and mine alone, written in my personal capacity, and not in the capacity as a Judge, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Indiana McKinney’s MCOP, the PIHRL, or any other individual or group.

Our 2-day delayed flight to Guantanamo Bay’s War Crime Court

A few weeks ago I was confirmed as an NGO Observer to monitor the hearings in the 9/11 case at Guantanamo Bay (click here to see my previous posts). It was finally the day to fly from Indianapolis, where I currently live, to Washington DC, where I would catch a military flight at Andrews Air Force Base to take me to Guantanamo Bay. The flight from Andrews to Guantanamo Bay was scheduled for Saturday, October 8, morning, and I was supposed to be at Andrews at 5:30 am.

I was at Atlanta Airport, half way to DC, when I opened my emails and received this message, sent Friday, October 7, at 4:42 pm:

“There has been a change in the flight schedule and you will all now be flying down on island on Monday at 1000. Unfortunately, the number of passengers for tomorrow’s flight exceeded the number of seats available on the aircraft (primarily due to additional personnel that needed to fly down to assess the infrastructure post-storm).”

I was already on my way, so I had to book two extra nights at the DC hotel, and spend the whole weekend in DC.

On Saturday, October 8, Carol Rosenberg (link), a Miami Herald correspondent and one of the passengers of our original Saturday morning flight – that was taking judges, defense councils, prosecution, interpreters, victims and family members, media and others to Guantanamo – tweeted she had to leave the airplane and was not able to go to Guantanamo Bay that day. Apparently information was circulated that the issue was the overweight of the aircraft and the Pentagon needed to solve it to be able to fly around the Hurricane Mathew.

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Until that moment, it appears that those on this plane thought only the NGO Observers would be left behind in DC for 2 days. As it turns out, media may have been bumped out the plane, but media’s luggage stayed on board. How would that help effectively resolve overweight issues?

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Carol Rosenberg then reported that she noticed the IT support techies were likewise bumped from the flight.

 

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(see more here)

So, I am thinking what kind of additional personnel instead of NGO Observers and media needed to fly down to assess the infrastructure post-storm, if IT techies were not essential.

The transparency we are pursuing seems to be blurred.

 

Aline Fagundes (LL.M. Candidate, ’17)

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

 

All of my comments above are mine and mine alone, written in my personal capacity, and not in the capacity as a Judge, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Indiana McKinney’s MCOP, the PIHRL, or any other individual or group.

The NGO’s Flight to Guantanamo Bay is Postponed for 2 days

“There has been a change in the flight schedule, and you will all now be flying down on island on Monday at 10:00.”

I received this message from the Pentagon when I was at the Atlanta Airport yesterday (Friday), on the way from Indianapolis to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington DC.

I am an observer from Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law, confirmed to attend and monitor hearings at Guantanamo Bay from 11 to 14 October, 2016 (please read my previous posts here). The hearings are in the case against Khalid Shaik Mohammad and 4 other defendants who allegedly masterminded the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The flight to Guantanamo was originally scheduled to depart from DC on Saturday, October 8, and I was supposed to be at the Joint Base Andrews Terminal at 5:30 am.

We were informed, “the number of passengers for tomorrow’s flight exceeded the number of seats available on the aircraft (primarily due to additional personnel that needed to fly down to assess the infrastructure post-storm).”

 

My role as NGO Observer in the 9/11 case

I would have to spend 3 nights in DC before flying to Cuba, and the other 11 NGOs and I would miss almost 3 days of observation. This delay undermines part of my job as a monitor, since the whole purpose of this mission in not solely to watch the hearings. For instance, we will be missing a gathering on Sunday we were invited to by one of the defense teams, miss opportunities to meet with other defense counsel and media, miss possibly meeting the prosecution, and miss other valuable interactions. As observers, our responsibilities include to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the Military Commissions. The observer’s job begins at the moment of the confirmation to attend the hearings, and includes paying attention to communications with the Pentagon, defense counsel, and other NGOs, and otherwise observing and interacting with other stakeholders.

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Rather than being at Guantanamo and meeting with defense counsels, other NGO’s, media and observing the situation on the ground, I am stuck in a hotel, near Washington DC.

 

I just learned on Twitter that there may have been issues about the media and their equipment on the plane this morning (Saturday). I will monitor and report about it later. See @GitmoWatch, @carolrosenberg and @GitmoObserver.

 

Aline Fagundes (LL.M. Candidate, ’17)

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

 

All of my comments above are mine and mine alone, written in my personal capacity, and not in the capacity as a Judge, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Indiana McKinney’s MCOP, the PIHRL, or any other individual or group.

Preparing to Travel to Guantanamo Bay

 

Since the Pentagon has authorized me to be an MCOP Observer (click here), I have been involved with preparing my travel to Guantanamo Bay. In this case, preparing means concrete steps and psychological preparation.

Hurricane Matthew

To add more emotion to all ongoings, the hurricane Matthew crossed that area. Around 700 people and 65 pets were evacuated from the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. The hurricane is heading the east coast of the United States, so we are following the weather forecast to see if the flight from Andrews Air Force Base will be able to depart on Saturday to Guantanamo Bay.

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Hurricane Matthew path on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.

 

A lot to do before

While the travel is confirmed, I have to keep working on my project. Besides studying the Manual, many, many forms needed to be filled.

The first set of forms is from the Pentagon. It consists of Ground Rules, Invitational Traveler Worksheet, Release, Indemnification and Hold Harmless Agreement, and ID Card/Base Pass Registration. After we fill this set, it has to be submitted to IU Lawyers, who need to approve it before we send back to the Pentagon. Sure, it all also pass through IU McKinney PIHRL, by the personal and close assistance of Professor George Edwards, who has a large experience in this process and always have a sharp look to avoid any minimal mistakes. There is one form from PIHRL, which is basically an agreement including obligations for each participant. This form serves as a basic but good guidance to MCOP Observers, once we have to share all we see, writing this blog, updating the Manual, posting information and working as the eyes and the ears of the outside world.

The third set of forms comes from the Office of International Affairs Study Abroad of IUPUI, and it is split into two phases. The first step, mostly related to data (passport, address, ID etc.), has around half dozen forms all online, and once it is approved it opens the second online phase with thirteen forms. The purpose of those forms are safety, including travel registration, health insurance, medical information, housing information, emergency contacts, and rules about what you can or cannot do abroad.

 

To be a good observer

But as I mentioned before, the preparation involves study the Manual. I can say it is the most important and helpful thing to do. The Manual helps the Observer to improve its role. A long time ago, I heard from a professor that “if you do not know what you are looking for, when you find it you may not realize.” Well, this is entirely true, and the Manual will not let you miss anything.

manualThe main purpose of the MCOP is to pursue a fair trial. A right to a fair trial has many perspectives, and I would say the most important task is to be able to be aware of the rights of all stakeholders.

The hearing I am about to attend is related to the September 11 Attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The whole world was shocked after that episode. For sure many people might be thinking of why an NGO is worried in ensuring any rights to someone who committed such a horrible crime? Many reasons. For instance, the NGO Gitmo Observer is not interested solely in the defendant’s rights, but also the rights of the victims and their families, the prosecution, the witnesses, the media, men and women who guard the detainees, and the domestic U.S. and international communities. Also, the rights of the defendants, ultimately, belong to everybody, because everybody can be suited and need to be sure a fair trial will be perceived, especially to be able to prove its innocence, or if not innocent, to be punished proportionally to what have been done.

 

Psychological Preparation

Finally, there is the psychological preparation. My eyes cannot blink. This is a unique opportunity. The biggest challenge is to avoid any bias, preconception, prejudice, prejudgment. I will have to keep my mind open to absorb as much as I can, and then start to settle it to be able to analyze what I saw. Being myself a judge it is unavoidable to compare what I do to what the U.S. Military Commission does, and maybe it can be useful, for me or others.

And this is all about to start. In two days, if the Hurricane Matthew allows me, I will be flying to Washington DC and, then, to Guantanamo Bay.

Next post will be the first in transit or the first after cancellation.

Wish me luck!

 

Aline Fagundes (LL.M. Candidate, ’17)

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

 

All of my comments above are mine and mine alone, written in my personal capacity, and not in the capacity as a Judge, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Indiana McKinney’s MCOP, the PIHRL, or any other individual or group.

From Brazil to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – Monitoring Military Commissions through the Eyes of a Judge

“Aline, we nominated you for the 9/11 week to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings.”

This was the first sentence I had read on the morning of August 25, around 6 am, when, still in bed, I opened my mailbox on my phone. I could barely hold my excitement! The first step was given!

Well, let me start from the beginning…

My name is Aline Fagundes, I was born in Oakland, California, but I was raised in Brazil, where I received my first degree in law in 1993, from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, in Porto Alegre. From 1993 to 2005 I worked as a trial attorney, and on September 23, 2005 I became a judge in the Labor Court.

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In 2015 I applied for IU McKinney Master of Laws Program in Human Rights, certainly one of the best steps of my academic and professional life. Through the program I was introduced to a great variety of opportunities, all of them incredibly well supported by the Law School. For instance, I attended an externship at the Indiana Supreme Court, where I improved in networking, state matters and law, also made friends for life. The most recent activity I engaged is the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).

MCOP was established by IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), once it was granted “NGO Observer Status” by The Pentagon’s Guantanamo Bay Convening Authority. Through MCOP, IU McKinney Affiliates can be selected to attend, observe, analyze and critique and report on hearings of the Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with war crimes. IU Affiliates can either travel to Guantanamo to observe in person, or monitor the proceedings from Ft. Meade, Maryland military base via secure video-link.

The selection process includes being nominated by the MCOP Advisory Council and having your name submitted to the Pentagon, who in last instance may grant or not the authorization to be an observer. In my case, I was nominated on August 24, 2016, and on September 9, just two days before the 15th anniversary of the September 11 Attack on the World Trade Center, I received this message from the Pentagon:

“You have been CONFIRMED to observe the 11-14 Oct military commission in-person at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We are currently scheduled to depart Andrews Air Force Base at 1000 on Saturday, Oct 8, 2016, and will return on Saturday, Oct 15, 2016, around 1330.”

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Khalid Shaik Mohammed, the lead defendant in the 9/11 case against 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The date was extremely significant. The hearings I am scheduled to attend are in the case against defendant Khalid Shaik Mohammad, and four other alleged masterminds of the September 11 Attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It has been 15 years since that attack, and the defendants in that case are still in the middle of pre-trial hearings.

Logistics of the mission to Guantanamo Bay

Since I have received that message about the Pentagon accepting me to travel to Guantanamo Bay, I could not stop thinking about Guantanamo Bay all the time. I am expected to travel from Indianapolis to Andrews Air Force Base (where is based Air Force One, the United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States). At Andrews, I am expected to fly on a military transportation to Cuba, where I would stay in a military tent. Guantanamo Bay is a U.S. Naval Station (in 1903, Cuba signed a treaty that leased Guantanamo Bay to the United States for use as a Naval Station).

I plan to blog step by step my experience on behalf of the Indiana McKinney Military Commission Observation Project. It is part of my responsibility to be the eyes and ears from Guantanamo Bay to the outside world, as most people will never have the opportunity to travel there for these hearings. I hope to help promote transparency, to tell the outside world what I hear, see – what I experience as part of this Guantanamo Bay mission. I recognize that this mission has already begun, with my preparation. I plan to continue to blog before I go, while I am there, and after I return.

The academic meaning is even more exciting. If you search Guantanamo on the web, an enormous number of links will direct you to stories related to torture and human rights violations. Unfortunately, an expressive number of it are true, or were true. The fact that the United States are taking action in order to provide transparency represents a lot, and to be granted the opportunity of working on this goal is a tremendous responsibility. After my journey to Guantanamo Bay, I will have a better idea about how transparent the process really is.

Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual

As part of my mission, I will be contributing to the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, that Professor George Edwards is creating with students to help observers / monitors and others interested in the rights of and interests of Guantanamo Bay stakeholders. We are reminded that not only do the defendants have rights, but also other individuals and groups have rights and interests, including the prosecution, victims and their families, witnesses, men and women who guard the detainees, the media, and the domestic U.S. and international communities. I hope to share information about and with the full range of stakeholders.

Through the Manual and the observing / monitoring that I and others do at Guantanamo Bay, we are helping to ensure that “whatever happens in Guantanamo does not stay in Guantanamo”. Information is important, and I will do my best to help ensure that knowledge about Guantanamo Bay is share with others on the outside.

I am proudly part of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual project, and proudly part of the Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Laws’ Program in International Human Rights Law.

 

Aline Fagundes (LL.M. Candidate, ’17)

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

 

All of my comments above are mine and mine alone, written in my personal capacity, and not in the capacity as a Judge, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Indiana McKinney’s MCOP, the PIHRL, or any other individual or group.