Author: jeffmichaeljohnson

Reflections as I Prepare to Attend to the 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearings at Guantanamo Bay


I feel a cocktail of emotions as I prepare for my journey to Guantanamo Bay. On the one hand, I am ecstatic to visit a place that, at least in my mind, has long been shrouded in mystery. Yet, on the other hand, I am faced with the gravity of our mission to monitor legal proceedings of great contention and consequence.   

Jeff Johnson is an MCOP affiliate and a third-year law student

My trip is scheduled to begin on November 6 with a 10:00 AM departure from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. After a three-hour flight, I plan to arrive at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. My mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials about the pre-trial hearings of five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks. Most prominent among these men is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks.  

My Background  

I am currently a third-year student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and will graduate in December 2021. I was born in Munich, Germany, and spent the first few years of my life as an “army brat.” After living in Germany, Colorado, and Kentucky, my family settled in Indiana, where I spent most of my formative years. At the age of seventeen, I enlisted as an infantryman in the Army. I served in the National Guard for six years and received an honorable discharge in 2014. After finishing my undergraduate studies in 2015, I moved to Shenzhen, China. I lived there for four years, working first as an English teacher for adult learners and then as a project manager for a trading company. During my free time, I studied Mandarin and traveled across China and Southeast Asia. I returned to the United States in 2019 to attend law school. 

Cover of the Universal Periodic Review shadow report submitted by PIHRL in 2020 

In the summer of 2020, I took an international law class with Professor George Edwards. The topics discussed during this course included international humanitarian law, extraordinary rendition, and torture. That fall, I took an international criminal law class with Professor Edwards, where we explored many of these same topics on a deeper level. As part of this course, we had the opportunity to research and write about the fair trial of Guantanamo detainees. This work resulted in the submission of a United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) shadow report that tackled potential human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay. During that time, I also worked as a research assistant with the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL).  

I first learned about the Military Commission Observation Program (MCOP) as a student of Professor Edwards. The MCOP provides Indiana University McKinney School of Law students, alumni, and faculty the chance to travel to Guantanamo Bay as NGO observers. I had initially applied to participate in the program in 2020; however, the Covid-19 pandemic spoiled the opportunity for that year. This fall, I applied again and was accepted to participate. 

I am preparing for the mission by completing a checklist provided by the MCOP. This checklist includes receiving permission from Indiana University to travel, obtaining the necessary clearance from the Pentagon, and ensuring that I have all required documents in order. Moreover, I am reading as much as possible about the 9/11 attacks, the backgrounds of the defendants, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, and the history of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. My future posts could delve deeper into any one of these topics. But, until then, I am focused on the upcoming mission.   

Pre-Departure Reflections  

My international experience, military background, and interest in international law and human rights all converge into one nexus through this mission. While serving as an observer, I will keep in mind the goals of our mission: to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials about the 9/11 hearings from an objective and neutral perspective.   

Jeff Johnson  

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) 

Indiana University McKinney School of Law