Author: benalright

Flying from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

The sun has not risen yet as I wait at the Joint Base Andrews air terminal to board a flight to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

My mission today is to attend, observe, analyze, critique, and report on U.S. military commission hearings for alleged war criminals. The hearings this week are against five Guantanamo detainees who are alleged to have masterminded the 11 September 2001 attacks on the Pentagon.

I am part of the Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where I am a student.

Getting to Andrews
I arrived at Washington National Airport in Washington D.C. after midnight – around 12:30 a.m. – about 7 hours later than I was originally scheduled to arrive at Dulles Airport. I began my trip at Indianapolis airport and two of my flights were cancelled.


Arriving at the gate in Washington D.C. at 12:30am on 23 January 2017

I had planned to arrive yesterday afternoon but was forced to reschedule flights, which delayed arrival. My flight from Indianapolis to Detroit was cancelled but the folks at Delta were able to put me on another flight to Detroit later in the day. I made it to Detroit in time to catch my connecting flight to Washington D.C. but that connecting flight was also cancelled. All flights from Detroit to D.C. were overbooked so it was not possible to make it on time flying standby. I showed my invitational travel order to the folks at Delta and they put me on the next flight out. Do not book a flight to Washington that arrives the afternoon before a morning flight out of Joint Base Andrews. I barely made it and Washington National Airport is less than a thirty-minute drive from Joint Base Andrews. I went straight from the airport to Joint Base Andrews.


Floor mosaic and American flag at Washington National Airport

When I arrived at Andrews Visitor Control Center, a civilian escort picked me up and took me to Andrews air terminal, from where President Obama took his last flight on Air Force I 3 days ago — on Friday, 20 January 2017, after he left the Office of the Presidency.

At the terminal I met about a dozen other non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives who are also serving as Observers. I distributed copies of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manal: Excerpts, which was authored by Professor George Edwards and others at Indiana University McKinney School of Law. I have found the Excerpts to be a valuable tool to help me prepare for my mission, and I believe that other observers agree.
After distributing the manuals, the remaining manuals are left in the NGO Resource Center at GTMO.

Checking in at Andrews
Checking in at Joint Base Andrews is straight forward, similar to any commercial flights. Bags are labeled with green colored tags to identify the bags as belonging to NGO representatives. Next, I had to present my invitational travel order, APACS, and identification. Our identification functions as our boarding passes, although this is only because the printer is not working. Our military escort was kind enough to drive us all to the Starbucks on base, which opens at 5:30am.


NGO representatives enjoy Starbucks and wait to board the flight at Joint Base Andrews

Waiting to Board
Our flight to Guantanamo Bay was originally scheduled to depart at 8:00am, and we were required to be at Andrews at 4:30am for the flight

We just learned that our flight time has been delayed to 10:30am.

Now we sit and wait patiently to be allowed to board the plane and depart for Guantanamo Bay!

Written on 23 January 2017

Posted 24 January 2017

By Ben Hicks
J.D. Student
Military Commission Observation Project
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law


One Day Until Departure for Guantanamo Bay

Selected for Travel

I am a student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and have been involved with the Military Commission Observation Project for almost a year now through the McKinney Law Program in International Human Rights Law. Through our program, students, faculty, staff, graduates, and other school affiliates have the opportunity to travel to either Ft. Meade in Maryland or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to attend, observe, analyze, critique, and report on hearings for alleged war criminals.

I was selected to travel to Guantanamo Bay for the 25-27 January 2017 hearings of the five remaining detainees who are defendants in this case. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, along with the other four defendants, is alleged to be involved in the 11 September 2001 attacks on the Pentagon, World Trade Center, and United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.

During the McKinney Law Fall Recess, I traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to attend, observe, analyze, critique, and report on one of the hearings for the five remaining defendants in the case, via live stream from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Details about the hearing that I attended in Maryland can be found in my 2 November 2016 blog post. I wanted to attend hearings on the 25-27 January 2017 because the case involves the 11 September 2001 attacks, which makes this a high a high profile case that is the subject of intense scrutiny.

Preparing for Departure

Departing for Guantanamo Bay requires a lot of preparation and staying on top of emails and paperwork for many institutions including the Pentagon, McKinney Law, and the Overseas Study Office, in addition to the logistical requirements for making the trip. The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual has a “Know Before You Go” section that contains important information for those preparing for a mission to Guantanamo Bay. The manual is a compilation of resources and information to aid NGO representatives before, during, and after their missions to Guantanamo Bay or Ft. Meade. Also, when I arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, I will have excerpts from the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual to distribute to the other NGO observers. This is part of the role for the McKinney Law Program in International Human Rights Law. The excerpts are from the full volumes I and II and the manual contains a plethora of information right down to the layout of the courtroom and who sits where. The manual also discusses the rights of stakeholders in the proceedings, and has charts to help evaluate stakeholders’ rights. It also gives the source of law for each right being evaluated. The manual is a result of collaboration from previous observers and is continually updated as observers travel to hearings.

Eagerly Waiting

ksm - in court

Khalid Shaik Mohammad, in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom. (Sketch by Janet Hamlin)

Despite intensive preparation, I know from previous experience that pre-trial hearings are sometimes delayed or cancelled, however I am hopeful that the pre-trial hearings will occur as scheduled. There are several other NGO observers scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay during the dates that I will be there. I look forward to working with these observers and receiving feedback and critique of the Fair Trial Manual.


By Ben Hicks

J.D. Student

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Fall Break Trip to Meade for KSM hearings

A Long Awaited Trip to Fort Meade

Over fall break I had the opportunity to travel to Fort Meade, Maryland to view the pretrial hearings of alleged terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM). KSM is alleged to be involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as well as other terrorist activities. Mohammed is currently being held in Guantánamo Bay, and while the hearings take place in Cuba, approved NGO observers can view the hearings via secure link from Fort Meade military base. I’ve been involved with the Military Commission Observation Project for almost a year now and this is the first time I’ve had an opportunity to view a hearing. This spring I was scheduled to attend the hearing of Abdul Hadi al Iraqi, who is alleged to be involved in attacks and terrorist plots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, however that hearing was postponed just before departure.

As an NGO observer it’s important to stay up to date on the hearing schedule because it changes frequently and sometimes with little notice. The KSM hearings were originally scheduled for Monday through Friday of Fall Break however we received word from Professor Edwards that the hearings most likely would not be held on Monday and the earliest start would be Tuesday. I arrived on Tuesday morning after an all-night drive from Indiana. After checking in at the Fort Meade visitor Center, I proceeded to the building on the military base where the hearings were streamed. I didn’t realize how large Fort Meade is. It has its own shopping mall with food court and hundreds of families live on the base, which is home to divisions of several government agencies.

Court is in Session

The court room was not at all what I expected. I was imagining a traditional looking court room and was playing off some stereotypes from the 1992 thriller “A Few Good Men”, however the court room was a simple room and full of books on rolling carts. Also I expected to see one camera angle for the duration of the hearings, however the court has several cameras for several camera angles and the feed switches camera angles depending on who is speaking in the courtroom. A few times during the hearing we had to pause because of problems with the translator’s equipment, which is apparently a reoccurring problem. This matter is further confounded by the fact that KSM speaks English and was educated in the United States. The main issue being discussed while I was at the hearing had to do with contents of KSM’s legal bin. Detainees have their own legal bin, which is a physical bin, and when they do any work in preparation for trial they are instructed to place this work in their legal bin so that it is not reviewed by unauthorized parties. Further any paper with writing or any material done in anticipation of trial is supposed to be stamped with a detainee specific stamp and number.

Topics for Consideration

Problematically KSM is not supplied with pre-stamped paper. His attorneys allege that material from his legal bin was reviewed during cell searches. The facts seem to support this claim and we heard testimony from several people with relevant knowledge of the incidents. It really seemed to come down to the fact that while the material was in the legal bin, it wasn’t stamped with the proper stamp and number. Those who gave testimony and who had relevant knowledge of the matter claim that when the cell was searched and the materials in question were discovered, a translator was summoned and that the translator recognized that the writing, which was in Arabic, was done in anticipation of legal proceedings. While, practically, a translator might be qualified to make this determination, procedurally, this is inappropriate because the translator shouldn’t be functioning in a legal capacity. Further, if the writing was done in anticipation of legal proceedings then the contents of that material should be limited to only KSM and his attorneys. These incidents threaten KSM’s attorney-client privilege, because unauthorized parties are reviewing legal material. However, one can also see why it might be problematic to provide KSM with pre-stamped paper to be used for legal purposes without knowing what he’s going to write on it and that it actually will be used for legal purposes.

The court went on to consider other motions and the subject of classified material became a forefront issue. Specifically, there were a lot of pages of classified material that the defendant’s attorney would like to have further access to. During the hearings in Fort Meade the live stream sometimes shows a document rather than a camera angle. During the hearing I attended, several documents were presented with sections of the documents blocked out, not visible, because the materials were considered classified. One of the problems that the court struggled with is what to do with this situation. The judge at one point, in an aside, plundered aloud whether he should be the one to review the documents which he himself claimed not to have access to. It was also briefly considered that it might be appropriate for KSM’s attorneys to have access to some of the classified material, while withholding it from the detainee himself. Of course this also presents challenges because KSM’s attorneys might be acting on information that KSM is not privy to himself.

A Word to Future Observers

As is often the case in legal proceedings, the Military Commission Observation Project pretrial hearings are often plagued with cancellation, delays, and other incidents that can affect the hearing schedules. In fact, when I went to Fort Meade over fall break there was concern that Hurricane Matthew could delay the hearing, but nonessential evacuated personnel were returned to Guantánamo Bay before that hearing was set to take place and the hearings preceded on Tuesday, one day later than previously scheduled. And the Abdul Hadi al Iraqi pretrial hearings in January were postponed as a result of a motion for continuance.

I drove out to Fort Meade and next time I’ll consider flying, but if I do fly I’ll be sure to purchase travel insurance in case something unexpected happens with the hearing that I’m scheduled to attend. Getting onto base at Fort Meade is easier than I expected. I submitted the proper paperwork to Professor Edwards prior to departure and didn’t have any problems when I got to the Fort Meade Visitor Center. However, after you’ve been cleared by the Visitor Center, make sure you attempt to enter the base through gate that is convenient to get to the viewing building and see the hearing. I learned the hard way that if you put the building location in your GPS, your turn by turn navigation might lead you into Fort Meade installation by a gate other than the one that is the most convenient for you. In the end I was fine however I entered Fort Mead military installation through an NSA drop off entrance. While I was allowed entrance to Fort Meade through the NSA entrance I was subject to additional security screening. This happened on the second day when I attempted to return for the hearings. On the first day I followed Prof. Edwards instructions, went in through the most convenient gate, and didn’t have any problems.

Hearings Cancelled this Week

January 26 & 27 Guantanamo Hearings Cancelled

I am a first year law student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, and I was set to travel to Ft. Meade Maryland this week to observe hearings via lifestream from Guantanamo Bay. The hearings scheduled for this week were for Hadi al Iraqi, who is alleged to, among other charges, have been involved in a series of attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan around 2003 and 2004. The hearing postponement appears to have resulted from a motion for continuance filed by the defense. The defense filed two motions for continuance in January. Although neither the motions for continuance nor the responses to those motions have been made public, I suspect they are related to the hearings being cancelled this week. I feel a little disappointed that this week’s hearings were cancelled, although I must admit I was concerned that bad weather could cause problems with travel from Indianapolis to Ft. Meade.

I review the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trail Manuals in preparation for my observer mission.

I review the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trail Manuals in preparation for my observer mission.

A Rare Opportunity

Not many people have the opportunity to view the hearings of an alleged war criminal. Although the hearing for this week was cancelled, I hope that I will be able to attend one of the other hearings in the future. I understand that delays and postponements are inevitable, but hopefully these will not affect my future travel plans.

Eichmann Trial

A few years ago I read a book by Hannah Arendt entitled Eichmann in Jerusalem, in which Arendt describes the challenges associated with reporting on the trial of Adolf Eichmann who was tried for having a major role in the atrocities of the Holocaust. One of the specific challenges Arendt noted is a problem associated with holding a trial for someone who is generally believed to be guilty from the start. She questioned whether such a trial trial can have legitimacy, or if it is more of a show. As I go into this process, this issue does not concern me. I believe it is important to have a trial, especially in these instances. One concern is that most people likely believe that those held in Guantanamo Bay are guilty, based solely on the fact that they are being held there. Holding a trial is an essential part of ensuring that all stakeholders are treated fairly. My role as an observer is an essential part of this process. I take this role very seriously and will always strive to remain objective when reporting on the procedural process.

Final Thoughts

I remain optimistic about my observer mission, despite the first hearing I was set to view being cancelled. As I continue the semester I hope I can find time to attend another hearing, and ultimately hope to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to see a hearing in person.