Author: claireblack83

Arrived at Andrews Air Force Base Ready to Begin Monitoring Assignment in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

My name is Claire Black and I am a law student traveling to participate in the  Military Commission Observation Project in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As I am preparing to board the flight to Guantanamo Bay, I will describe my pre-departure preparation and what I expect as we board the plane to Cuba for the week. Monitors are required to arrive in Washington DC the day before a scheduled flight to Cuba because we are to report to Andrews very early in the morning on the day of the flight.

Last Minute Preparation

Since I was required to arrive by Sunday, my husband and I decided to drive in Friday night and spend a couple of days here so I could be prepared and not tired from a day of travel when I got to Andrews for my week of duties as a monitor. It was chilly in DC, but still warm enough to walk around comfortably, so we walked to several special Washington DC landmarks over the weekend including the National Portrait Gallery, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Archives, and the Washington and Lincoln Monuments.

National Museum of African American History and Culture
with Washington Monument in Background

I arrived at Andrews to meet our NGO escort, Jennifer, and the other NGO monitors at 6:30am. Our flight leaves Andrews at 11am. There are eight of us attending this week’s hearings as human rights monitors. I collected the other NGO representative’s emails and sent them PDF versions of the Know Before You Go Guantanamo and Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manuals. We then checked in for the flight.

The process and check-in counter were similar to checking in to a commercial flight, except that they asked me for the travel papers that the pentagon prepared and sent to us and they asked me to estimate our weight inclusive of my carry-on bags. We boarded the plane, a commercial B-767 chartered for the flight, and headed to the back three rows, which are reserved for NGOs. The plane had seven seats across, and the flight was not very full, so we all spread out for the 3.5 hour flight. When we arrived, we took a 15-minute ferry boat ride across the bay to Camp Justice, where our quarters are.

Our NGO Monitor Group Attending Hearings This Week
Made Up of Participants from Around the Country
We are standing in front of the ferry boat that brought us across the Bay

The rest of day one was spent getting our required IDs for entry into the legal complex and being briefed on rules and procedures. Particularly important were the rules about what we can and cannot photograph on the base. No photographs may be taken of the area where we attend court.

Schedule for the Week

This week, there are motions hearing scheduled in the case of U.S. v. Majid Shoukat Khan set for Tuesday, November 19 to Thursday, November 21, 2019.  Though we are prepared that schedule changes can occur any time, including after we arrive at Guantanamo Bay. Already, we were informed this evening, that there is a closed session of court in the morning that we are not invited to. We are to arrive for court tomorrow at 1pm.

We are scheduled to return to Washington DC on Friday, November 22. I will write this week about what I observe and experience both inside and outside of the courtroom.

Our home for the week, tents in “Camp Justice”
Sunset Day One

Claire Black

J.D. candidate 2020

Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Preparation for my mission to Guantanamo Bay to monitor pre-sentencing hearings in the U.S. military commission case against Mr. Majid Khan

In August 2019, I was selected to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor hearings as a human rights observer.

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

How I Found Out About the Project

I am a third year Juris Doctor student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and I will be traveling through our law school’s Military Commission Observation Project, which was founded by Professor George Edwards. I am pursuing a certificate in international and comparative law, and in the 2019 Spring I took a class in International Human Rights Law taught by Professor Edwards. In class, we discussed Guantanamo Bay through the lens of international human rights law. We also discussed opportunities that IU McKinney students have to travel to Guantanamo to witness first hand military commission proceedings. I became interested in traveling to Guantanamo to use the principles we learned in class while serving as a human rights monitor. 

I applied to serve as an Observer / Monitor and was quickly selected to serve at a hearing just one month later. I was excited for the opportunity to serve, but also anxious about getting all of the necessary administrative tasks.

A Last Minute Schedule Change

First, the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions informed me that I had been cleared to monitor pre-trial hearings in the case against Mr. Hadi al-Iraqi (or, as he calls himself, Mr. Nashwan al Tamir), an alleged high ranking member of Al Qaeda Iraq who allegedly liaised with the Taliban and perpetrated war crimes. However, two days before we were scheduled to leave for Cuba in October 2019, those hearings were postponed. 

Professor Edwards had warned me about the possibility of cancelled or delayed hearings, and I was prepared. However, I still felt sad that I would not be able to participate as a monitor at Guantanamo.

The military’s plans can change frequently when it comes to the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay. I understand that Mr. al Iraqi’s / al Tamir’s hearings are at times cancelled or postponed in part because he has recently undergone several surgeries for a degenerative disc disorder. 

A week after the cancelled trip, still in October 2019, I was invited to travel to Guantanamo to monitor pre-sentencing hearings for Mr. Majid Khan November 18-22 and I accepted. 

I Am Now Monitoring Mr Majid Khan’s Hearings

In 2012, Mr. Khan pleaded guilty to various crimes, and agreed to provide information related to other Guantanamo prisoners, in exchange for a possible lighter sentence. His original guilty plea was for the crimes of conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. After a D.C. circuit court ruled in a separate case that the charge of material support for terrorism could not be appropriately tried at a military commission, the Military Commission Convening Authority later agreed to allow Khan to withdraw his guilty plea to that charge. His guilty plea on the other charges remain in place, and the upcoming hearings relate to sentencing on those charges.

My role as a Observer / Monitor

As an Observer / Monitor with the Military Commission Observation Project, my role is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report my observations.

I will endeavor to be as independent and objective as possible. I have been studying the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manualthat Professor Edwards and previous IU McKinney observers have put authored. I am hopeful that these Manuals, coupled with my communications with other former Observers / Monitors, and my own independent study will guide me as I participate with the goal of trying to understand whether international human rights law protections are being upheld. 

I am also studying the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Mannual, which is a guide crowdsourced from the many observers who have gone before me and an excellent primer on what one can expect on many topics varying from what to bring and where/when to eat to what the sleeping quarters are like and how to access resources while at Guantanamo. 

I have communicated with several previous participants who were very helpful and were able to give me the most up to date information possible about what things are like at Guantanamo Bay. 

​I will write again as I leave Andrews Joint Airforce Base in Washington DC and head to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in a couple of weeks to fulfill my role as observer. 

Prepared with my Passport and Manual

Claire Black 

J.D. candidate 2020

Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law