Author: AvrilRua@GitmoObserver

Going to Guantanamo – Overnight at Andrews Air Force Base

Air Force H20

Outside Andrew Air Force Base from my hotel.

I flew from Indianapolis to Washington DC to a beautiful 30 degrees. My hotel for the night is just across the street from Andrews Air force Base, where I’m to report at 6:45 a.m. tomorrow for my flight to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor the case against al Nashiri, who is charged with being a mastermind of the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 US sailors in 2000.

On this trip, I will be joined by ten other Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observers, some of whom have already expressed interest in the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, that we at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law have been researching and writing.

Flying to DC

My trip was uneventful, save for the look on all who tried to lift my carry-on luggage containing the Manuals, which at this point are in two Volumes, totaling over 400 pages. More about the Manuals later.

On my flight from Indianapolis there was an ‘interesting’ conversation going on behind me. I was sitting in front of the loudest three on this very small plane. Their conversations spanned from blue-collar job variations by state, Hoover Dam documentaries, Benghazi and then, Guantanamo! I held my breath.

Their biggest and only complaint was that US taxpayer money was paying for top-notch medical care “for those 9-11 prisoners down there in Cuba” while people here cannot afford it.

The pilot came on the intercom, and voices behind me were lowered for the remainder of the flight. I am still a little shocked that three people on that small plane going from Indiana to the East Coast would talk about Guantanamo Bay, on the eve of my first trip to that U.S. detention center on a remote Caribbean Island.

Preparing for my mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

As an NGO observer, I am tasked with evaluating whether the all stakeholders are being afforded the rights and interests to which they are entitled through the Military Commission process. Yes, I will be examining rights of the defendants. Also I will examine rights of victims and their families, rights of the prosecution, rights of the press, and rights and interests of others who have a stake in the proceedings.

To help prepare for this mission, I have familiarized myself with the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, which at this point I find to be of ‘biblical’ importance. As I mentioned, it is now in two Volumes. Volume I is the main body of the Manual, and identifies the international and domestic U.S. law that governs the Military Commissions. It provides a good idea of what a fair proceeding should look like, so that NGO Observers will have a good point of reference. It also contains a number of extensive, comprehensive “checklists” that Observers can use to give an idea of what to look for when they are observing.

Volume II contains the Appendices, which include hard copies of many important legal documents, such as parts of the Military Commission Act, Rules of Procedure, and International Documents, including parts of the Geneva Conventions.

Both Volumes have been instrumental in helping me prepare for my role as an observer. I have done background readings on blogs from other participants who have attended the hearings, as well as from the Military Commission Website and other resources. The Gitmo Observer Blog also contains Briefing Books under Research and Resources, which have been very helpful in orienting myself with the details of the hearings.

March 2 – 6 Hearings

Vaughn Ary - https://www.linkedin.com/pub/vaughn-ary/3b/644/b7

Retired Major General Vaughn Ary

This week, the al Nashiri court dealt with Unlawful Influence (AE 332, Defense Motion to Dismiss for Unlawful Influence and Denial of Due Process for Failure to Provide an Independent Judiciary). See Alleged Unlawful Influence over Guantanamo Bay Judges.  It is argued that a high ranking military official, retired Marine Major General Vaughn Ary, engaged in “unlawful influence” over the judges of the Military Commission by ordering them to relocate to Guantanamo Bay to help speed up the proceedings.

The defense argued that no military official should be able to order a Military Commission judge to take such actions, since the judges are supposed to be free from outside influence.

The Learned Counsel for al Nashiri’s made a statement about who “can be trusted to act impartially” (Pentagon scraps judges’ Guantánamo move order; 9/11 case unfrozen, Miami Herald). The order of Major General Ary was reversed at the end of this past week, after Ary testified from the Pentagon.

Motions scheduled to be argued next week while I am present as per the second amended Docketing Order are:

  • AE 334 – Defense Motion for Appropriate Relief to Allow Mr. AI Nashiri to Groom Prior to Court Sessions and Meetings with his Defense Team.
  • AE 272D – Government Motion for Reconsideration and Clarification of AE 272C- Ruling- Defense Motion for Appropriate Relief: Inquiry into the Existence of a Conflict of Interest Burdening Counsel’s Representation of the Accused Based on Ongoing Executive Branch Investigations;
  • AE 331 A – Government Motion To Amend the Docketing Order (February 2015 Hearing) To Allow The Government To Determine The Manner In Which It Presents Its Evidence Relating To The Admissibility Of Government-Noticed Hearsay And Evidence Identified In AE 207;
  • AE 319I – Defense Motion to Continue the Evidentiary Hearings Related to AE 166 et seq and AE TI 9 Until Preliminary Matters are Resolved;
  • AE 319J – Defense Motion to Continue Further Hearings on the Government’s Motion to Admit Hearsay Until the Court of Military Commissions Review Renders a Final Judgment on Appeal;
  • AE 328 – Defense Motion for a Fair Hearing on the Admissibility of Evidence as Noticed in AE 166 and AE 166A; 3 (8) AE 319F, Defense Motion to Compel Discovery Related to AE166/166A/166B and Seeking Further Appropriate Relief;
  • AE 319G – Defense Motion to Compel Witnesses to Testify at the Hearing on AE166/166A/166B/319;
  • AE 256D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 256C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5);
  • AE 257D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 257C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5).

Tomorrow (Sunday), we are scheduled to leave for Guantanamo from Andrews. I plan to post again once I cross the street and enter the base.

I look forward to meeting the other NGO observers.

Aside from the hearings, all that is ringing in my head is ‘banana rats’ – these animals that are supposedly running around pretty freely on Guantanamo Bay. They say that they have to keep the temperature in our GTMO tents very low to keep these rats out at night.

Also, I hear there is a Jamaican shack with the best food on the GTMO base!

Seriously, I am very keen on furthering the goals of the Indiana University Military Commission Observation Project, which include to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the Military Commissions. This is a very important project that I believe serves all stakeholders in the Military Commission process.

Avril Rua Pitt, Across the Street From the Andrews Air Force Base Entrance, 28 February 2015

Preparations to Attend Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri Hearings at Guantanamo Bay, 1 – 7 March 2015

al Nashiri

Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri

I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor the Al Nashiri Hearings at U.S. Military Commissions from 2 – 7 March 2015.  This is the case against a man, al Nashiri, who is charged in these proceedings with having being a masterminded of the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, docked off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding dozens more.

At Guantanamo Bay, I will be representing Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law, which has received NGO Observer status by the Pentagon. This human rights program created the Military Commission Observation Project, and the Project nominated me for this mission.

Background

I have a Bachelor of Law from Moi University based in Eldoret Kenya (’09). I also hold a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in International Human Rights Law (’11) from IU McKinney, which is how I primarily got involved with the Program in International Human Rights Law.  In 2010, I was an intern in this human rights program, working in Vienna Austria in. As an International Human Rights Law student in Prof. Edwards’s classes, I gained valuable gainful insight into international criminal law, and the Guantanamo Bay case of David Hicks, on which IU McKinney students worked and on which Professor Edwards served as an expert witness.

I am currently studying International Research Ethics, but have not lost my interest in international law.

Experiences

I have had an interest in international law for many years now, but certain events heightened my desire to understand international criminal law and international humanitarian law.

On August 7, 1998, the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya was bombed, killing over two hundred person, wounding countless people, and causing significant property damage. There was a similar terrorist attack in neighboring Tanzania. The blast rocked our notions of the relative peace and security we had experienced as a nation. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility, and terrorism was at doorstep of my East African home.

Al Nashiri was a suspected mastermind of those East African bombings, and one of the suicide bombers, the driver of the truck carrying explosives who attacked the Embassy, was his cousin, Azzam (pg. 152, 9-11 Commission Report). It was purely coincidental that I was approved for the Al Nashiri hearings. Although as a nation we lost family and friends, I naturally was inclined to seeing all those involved pay for their crime. At the same time, reading about the torture that alleged masterminds and perpetrators were subjected to left me conflicted as a human being, and a continued believer in the universality and inalienability of human rights.

With this background and my academic experience in international law, I am eager to attend the hearings and apply what I have learned to assess whether the accused are accorded fair trials, and whether the rights and interests of all other stakeholders are being fully afforded to them.

Reason for Applying to be an Observer

I admired the work of the IU McKinney PIHRL before I even joined McKinney School of Law. In 2009, I was fortunate to meet Prof. Edwards in Eldoret, Kenya, and had a chance to work with interns from PIHRL who did their internships in the legal office where I worked in Kenya just after I completed my law degree. As an affiliate of Professor Edwards’ program, I was very proud when it earned United Nations ECOSOC Special Consultative Status, and very proud when the Pentagon granted the PIHRL NGO Observer Status to the Military Commissions.

Courtroom sketch of al Nashiri by artist Janet Hamlin.

Courtroom sketch of al Nashiri by artist Janet Hamlin.

Al Nashiri

As mentioned, al Nashiri is charged with masterminding an attack on USS Cole in October 2000 and on. He faces charges in perfidy, murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, terrorism, conspiracy, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, and hazarding a vessel.

Personal Thoughts on the Hearings

I look forward to attending the hearings. I am however conflicted. The purpose of allowing observers is to ensure free and fair trials are conducted before the Military Court at Guantanamo, yet the process is riddled with torture and gross human rights abuses. I have received countless of emails from human rights based organizations, to sign petition for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. I cannot say that I have made any active advocacy efforts towards this end. I find it unsettling after claims and evidence of illegal detention and a flagrant violation of rights, there is an interest in the right to a fair trial. At the same time, terrorist continue to launch attacks against innocent human beings. I have witnessed this in Kenya, and continue to witness it with the constant threats from the militant group Al- Shabaab. I desire justice for the victims of terrorism, and respect for human rights for those accused.

Travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

My journey to Guantanamo begins March 1, and will return to the country on March 7. I will be posting my observations on this blog as I continue to prepare, and updating on the hearings on a daily basis. I look forward to meeting other NGO Observers who will be there, attending the hearings and applying the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual to give an objective and personal view of the proceedings.

Avril RuaAvril Rua, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 21 February 2015