Author: sheilawillard

2L law student at IU McKinney Law School.

My Overnight in D.C. On My Way to Guantanamo bay

I am a 2L at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and am traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on mission representing the Indiana University Program on International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) at the hearings in the case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi.  My Ft. Meade experience and my Guantanamo Bay pre-departure post may be found here.

Flight and Hotel Information

I had an uneventful 1.5-hour flight from Indianapolis, Indiana to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. and have checked into my hotel. The Uber ride from the airport to the Quality Inn took around 30 minutes and cost a little less than a dollar per minute. A shared van or Uber could have been cheaper, but I preferred to quickly settle in to the hotel for the night. I am staying at the Quality Inn in Camp Springs, MD, which is just across the street from Joint Base Andrews. The hotel is humble and unassuming, and the rooms are large and very clean. There are three stories in the hotel building, and a room may be rented for as little as $81 per night.


Quality Inn on Allentown Road in Camp Springs, MD

There are several restaurants advertised at the front desk that deliver lunch and dinner straight to your hotel room. I ordered dinner from Pizza Boli’s. They have a website you can order from, but I called their number to place the order. My combined lunch/dinner was here in less than half an hour and the food was hot and of good quality.

Arrival Requirement

I traveled to D.C. the night before my scheduled flight to Guantanamo Bay, because I am required to arrive at Andrews by 5:00AM tomorrow (Sunday) morning, and the Pentagon graciously arranged a pick-up for me from the hotel at 4:45AM. The flight to Guantanamo Bay is scheduled to depart from Andrews at 8:20AM.


Hotel room at Quality Inn in Camp Springs, MD.

Preparing for Tomorrow

Tonight, I am preparing for departure from Andrews by re-reading an informative email I received from the Pentagon, and going over my Orders (sheila-willard_orders_redacted) and APACS (Aircraft and Personnel Automated Clearance System) (sheila-willard_apacs_redacted). These documents were sent to me by my Pentagon contact.

I am excited to meet my fellow NGO observers tomorrow morning and pass out a copy of the Manual Excerpt, a comprehensive guide for preparing to observe Guantanamo Bay proceedings. Hopefully we will have time to introduce ourselves, our organizations, and share more about our missions and perhaps receive feedback for the MCOP’s Manual, a 500-page, 2-volume resource for all things Guantanamo drafted by Professor Edwards and the PIHRL at Indiana, the Manual Excerpts, a reduced version of the Manual with highlights, such as what a fair trial looks like, the roles and responsibilities of an NGO observer, and background info on Guantanamo military commissions, and Know Before You Go Guide, a 76-page guide that speaks directly to NGO observers and is helpful in preparing for a successful mission, and may also be found in both the Manual and Manual Excerpts.

Sheila Willard (J.D. Candidate, ’18)

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Preparing for my mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

I was nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law and confirmed by the Pentagon to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor military commission hearings in the case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who has requested to be called Nashwan al Tamir, from 9 – 14 January 2017.  Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda responsible for war crimes.

My earlier monitoring at Ft. Meade 

Last month I traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor military commission hearings in the Guantanamo case against the 5 alleged masterminds of he 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The hearings were held at Guantanamo, but broadcast live into a secure facility at Ft. Meade.


Standing at the entrance to the Visitor Center at Ft. Meade, MD after a long day of observation.

Experiencing the hearings first-hand through live feed at Ft. Meade was intriguing in the sense that it seemed surreal.  Watching the alleged 9/11 masterminds as one would any defendant on trial was incredibly interesting, considering that until then, the news was my only source of information regarding these men.  Seeing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s red beard, and hearing the defendants speak in their native language, followed directly by broken English tinged with what appeared to be annoyance made these larger than life figures come to life.

My Guantanamo Bay travel nomination

When I monitored at Ft. Meade, I was excited, and had an enlightening experience.

But when I was nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay, I could not believe my eyes, or my fortune.  The nomination email came from the program on the night before my first final exam of the fall semester, and I couldn’t wait to finish finals so that I could focus on preparing for my mission.  Having had the experience at Ft. Meade and now gaining the experience of witnessing the hearings first-hand at Guantanamo Bay will enable me to contribute to Indiana’s project in a better, more informed way.

I was truly honored to represent Indiana at Ft. Meade, and am truly honored to represent Indiana at Guantanamo Bay.

My Background

My journey to this precise moment has been a long, eventful one.

My mother and father came to the United States in the late 1970’s to escape a military regime in Argentina.  They ended up in Texas, where I would be born.  When I was at the age of 3 months, my mother returned to Argentina with me in tow to finalize her Visa paperwork, and we were unable to return to the U.S. because the lawyer had not completed the paperwork properly.  I was raised for 3 years in Argentina, while my mother and father tried desperately to reunite.  Eventually, my mother and I were able to return to the U.S. and the family was reunited.

I moved from Texas to Indiana a couple of decades later to join my husband who is a native Hoosier.  Indiana has given me so many incredible opportunities that I never imagined!


Indiana -> Andrews Air Force Base -> Guantanamo Bay, Cuba


The nomination to travel to Guantanamo arrived in the middle of law school finals, but I was determined to see the requirements through.

The Pentagon sent me an e-mail containing 4 documents to complete and return in just a couple of days.  The documents required by the Pentagon are 1) Hold Harmless Agreement, 2) Invitational Travel Worksheet, 3) Navy Base Access Pass Registration, and 4) NGO Ground Rules, along with a biography and picture.

I completed the paperwork using templates provided by Professor Edwards, since lawyers and Administrators at Indiana University have specific requirements as to how Indiana University affiliates must complete the paperwork.

I submitted my completed draft paperwork to Professor Edwards who sent it back to me once for revisions.  I believe that he wanted to make certain that the completed paperwork met Indiana University requirements so that Indiana officials would endorse the paperwork, and he wanted to make certain that the paperwork met the Pentagon’s standards.  The Pentagon has rejected paperwork that was not completed properly, so a second pair of eyes was necessary to make certain I was sending accurate, completed paperwork.

Professor Edwards tracked the documents through the appropriate IU channels for approval.  Once I received the stamped endorsed documents from IU, I forwarded these to my Pentagon contact, who quickly approved them the same day. 

Preparation: The Game Plan

As I prepare for the holidays with my family visiting from Argentina and Texas, I am also preparing for my mission to Guantanamo. I am paying careful attention to a 76-page document titled “What Human Rights Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observers and Others May Want to Know Before Traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba”. The guide may be downloaded by visiting this link (includes 76 pages, 2 Appendices).  This document, of which Professor George Edwards is the principal author, provides all of the information necessary to successfully prepare for and complete a mission to Guantanamo.  Without this guide, preparing for my mission would be near impossible.  I have communicated with previous IU McKinney observers Justin Jones and Aline Fagundes, but having a script to fill in the rest of the details that one may forget has been invaluable in my preparation.

[The Know Before You Go  guide (76 pages, 2 Appendices) may be found as a standalone document, or, it is included in the Excerpts (158 pages, Know Before You Go starts on page 75 of the Excerpts), which is a digest of the full and complete Manual (over 500 pages).]

I have also been reading other people’s accounts of travel to Cuba on the Gitmo Observer blog (Justin Jones’ and Aline Fagundes’ account of their mission to Guantanamo), and will continue reading where I left off from my trip to Fort Meade, Maryland in October, where I observed the hearings in the case against Khalid Shaik Mohammed.

I will also begin to prepare my travel arrangements to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where I will depart to Guantanamo Bay.

Sheila Willard (J.D. Candidate, ’18)

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

My Experience: Monitoring Guantanamo Bay War Crimes Hearings

I Monitored Guantanamo Bay War Crimes Hearings Broadcast Live at Ft. Meade, Maryland.

Guantanamo Bay war crimes hearings are broadcast via CCTV live from Cuba to Ft. Meade, an army base in Maryland. I traveled from Indiana to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor Guantanamo Bay pre-trial hearings in the case against Khalid Shaik Mohammed and the 4 other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

I arrived at Washington-Dulles International Airport on Sunday, 9 October 2016 for hearings scheduled to begin the next day. Monday, October 10, Columbus Day. We learned that the hearings would start a day later, on Tuesday, October 11, so I decided to use Monday to tour Washington D.C. Unfortunately, while at Ft. Meade I missed my husband’s bar admission ceremony on Tuesday morning in Indianapolis. Thankfully, he had encouraged me to attend the hearing, as he understood that it was a very special opportunity.

Local Transportation and Venturing into D.C.

I booked a Super Shuttle – a shared van cheaper than a taxi — to take me to Ft. Meade. Since I opted for the cheaper option, it took about 2 hours to reach the military base. The van dropped off 3 other passengers on the way. The Ft. Meade Visitor Center was closed when I arrived. I was thankful that fellow Indiana University McKinney School of Law students Katherine Forbes was waiting at the gate to escort me onto the base. Katherine is a member of the military, and has an ID card (Department of Defense CAC – Common Access Card) that permits her to enter the base and escort others onto the base. I was not going to be able to pick up my Ft. Meade access badge until Tuesday morning, just before the hearings began. We had dinner and went to our hotel for the evening.

The next morning, Columbus Day, Katherine dropped me off at Odenton train station (the MARC station), about an 8-minute drive from Ft. Meade. The train ride into D.C. was very reasonably priced, and only took about 40 minutes from Odenton Station to Union Station. Union Station is located half a mile from the Capitol building and the Supreme Court. From there, I used Uber to get around and spent the day wandering around the city and walking from landmark to landmark. I made it back to Ft. Meade by 7PM, and had dinner with Katherine before continuing to prepare for the next day’s hearing.

The Hotel

Katherine is in the Indiana National Guard, so we were able to stay at the Candlewood Hotel located inside Ft. Meade. The hotel was built only 3 years ago, and was very clean and well-appointed. Our room had a kitchen, including a dishwasher, full size refrigerator, microwave, and coffeemaker. The cabinets were stocked with silverware, dishes, and glasses. Every morning, the hotel offers a complimentary continental breakfast.


Entrance to the Candlewood Hotel located inside the base at Ft. Meade.

Visitor Center

On Tuesday morning, Katherine and I drove to the Visitor Center and met up with Faisel Sadat, an Egyptian international LL.M. student at IU McKinney. He needed to be escorted onto the base, and Katherine was able to do that. Faisel and I were each issued a day pass onto the base.



After successfully picking up my day pass to access the base.

Badge Issue

Originally, we were under the impression that our Ft. Meade badges would be valid for one year from the day of pick-up. Unfortunately, there must have been a misunderstanding, because we were only issued a one-day pass. We were able to get back onto the base with no problem, and made our way to the hearing located at the McGill Training Center.


Driving up to the Ft. Meade control station after picking up our badges from the Visitor Center.

The Courtroom – Viewing from McGill Training Center

The room in which the hearing was broadcast was a large training/educational room in the McGill Training Center. There were several rows of desks with 2-3 chairs per long desk. In the back of the classroom, there was a cubby box of around 20 individual cubbies to place your phone in, which could be locked with a key. Personal communication devices are not allowed during the transmission of the court proceedings. Apart from the IU McKinney attendees, there was one gentleman present who works for a federal law enforcement agency, another gentleman I did not meet, and a lady whom I also did not meet.

The section of the courtroom at Guantanamo Bay that was visible at any given moment depended on who was speaking and which camera was panning at that moment. There was a camera that showed most of the courtroom, with the defendants, their counsel, and the prosecution visible at once, a view of the judge when he spoke, a view of the witnesses who testified seated next to the judge, and live feed from witnesses who transmitted their testimony from a location just outside of Washington, DC.

From the perspective of the judge looking into the courtroom, the 5 defendants were seated on the right, each at a separate table.

Each defense team was split according to the defendant, and divided into 5 small groups, seated in the 5 rows. Seated at the 6th and final table on the defense side were lawyers for one of the defendants who did not want his lawyers to sit next to him at his table. Each defendant was wearing a headdress, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed was the most recognizable in his

The prosecution sat at a series of tables to the left of the judge.

The Hearing

The hearing started at 9:00 AM with Military Commission Judge Army Colonel James L. Pohl addressing each defendant, inquiring whether they understood their rights to waive attendance at the hearing. Each of the five defendants was required to be present to hear their rights, but, Ramzi bin al Shibh was not present when court opened.

The judge addressed al Shibh’s counsel, requesting that he convince al Shibh to voluntarily be present at the hearing, otherwise, he would be involuntarily brought in.  He called for a 15 minute recess for bin al Shibh’s counsel to speak with him. When the court reconvened, al Shibh had joined his defense at the table.

bin al Shibh stated on the record that he boycotted the legal proceedings, and in an act of protest, refused to acknowledge his right to waive attendance. The judge asked him several times to acknowledge his rights, but al Shibh refused. Eventually, the judge asked for al Shibh to be escorted away, and we found out through Aline Fagundes, a McKinney LL.M. student who was present in the observer gallery of the courtroom, that al Shibh was removed, while

The four other defendants — Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ammar al Baluchi, and Mustafa al Hawsawi — acknowledged their rights in Arabic. Each defendant had an interpreter seated next to him to who helped facilitate conversations between the defendants and their defense team members. There was an off camera interpreter who interpreted on-the-record communications in the courtroom.


The hearing proceeded with the following motions/issues addressed:

  1. Defense raised al Baluchi’s motion to compel declassification of classified documents.
  2. Regarding the seizure of a certain document containing defense notes from the defendant, four witnesses were put on the stand to testify:
    • “Captain L”
    • “Captain B”
    • “Assistant Watch Commander 1482”
    • “Major (?)”
  1. Regarding the modification of a protective order, Learned Counsel James Connell III asked the judge to require the modification of the order in question, and not allow the creation of a new order as a matter of simplification.


The courtroom recessed at 12:45 PM for lunch, and the group of observers made our way to lunch on the base, to discuss what he had experienced so far, and ask for clarification from Professor Edwards on procedural questions.

The 6 IU McKinney Observers went to the Food Court. We chose different restaurants, got our food, then all sat together to talk about what transpired that morning in court. We talked about the proceedings up to that point, and discussed why the hearings were taking as long as they are, in general.

I learned from that defense’s counsel appear to work as hard for their clients as any defense counsel would, notwithstanding what criminal actions the client may have allegedly been involved in or how much evidence may exist of the client’s involvement.

We then took group photographs before returning for post-lunch proceedings.

Afternoon Hearing

 The court reconvened at 2:00 PM.

The first motion presented after lunch concerned classified material. The defense argued that documents received from the prosecution were highly redacted and in some cases, unable to be read other than a few words. It was a concern to the defense that the redactions were causing discovery issues, and that redactions were being applied arbitrarily and in a disingenuous manner, to intentionally interfere with defense’s preparation. The hearing continued until 4:00 PM on the topic of redaction, until Judge Pohl called for the hearing to be continued the following day.


After the courtroom was dismissed for the day, I had a chance to speak with one of the other Observers who seemed to work for the government and who has been to Guantanamo Bay on many occasions. It was interesting to speak with someone who appears to have sound knowledge about the Military Commissions.

A little later, I was dropped off at the Visitor Center where Super Shuttle was picking me up to take me back to the airport. While at the Visitor Center, I ran into Professor Edwards, and we discussed the hearing, and my background and interests. He was at the Visitor Center to discuss the issue of several observers being given one-day passes instead of a year-long access card. The person in charge told Professor Edwards that they would look into the problem. After discussing the issue, Professor Edwards and I took several pictures outside of the Visitor Center that may be helpful to a future observer in finding where to go upon arrival at Ft. Meade.


Enjoying a nice chat with Professor Edwards at the Visitor Center while waiting for my shuttle back to Dulles airport.

From Ft. Meade to Dulles, and Home Again, Reflection

This time, I was the only person picked up by the shuttle, so the drive to Dulles only took about an hour, even in evening rush hour traffic. The plane ride back home was quick and uneventful. I look forward to observing again in the future.

This opportunity afforded me a valuable glimpse into the proceedings that are ongoing in Guantanamo Bay. The fact that I am one of not many people to actually be able to witness the proceedings feels very special, and something I will remember for the rest of my life.

I knew that the hearings would have the normal U.S. court proceeding structure, but the realization did not occur to me until that morning that I would have the rare opportunity to hear the “9/11 Five” speak live. Seeing the defendants and hearing them speak both Arabic and English really brought a very human moment to an occurrence in history that seemed surreal to me, having happened when I was a young girl.

I urge anyone with an interest to apply as an observer. The opportunity is very unique, and not something many people can say they have ever experienced from the vantage of the IU McKinney Military Commission Observation Project.

Sheila Willard, J.D. Candidate 2018

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Arriving at Ft. Meade to Monitor Guantanamo Bay Hearings

I completed the first leg of my journey from Indiana to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Military Commission case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The hearings are being broadcast from Guantanamo to Ft. Meade this week. I am monitoring as a representative of the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Program in International Human Rights Law of Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

My arrival in the DC area

I arrived at Washington-Dulles Airport late last night (Sunday) and proceeded to Ft. Meade, where my fellow Indiana McKinney student Katherine Forbes was waiting to escort me onto the base. Katherine was able to escort me on to base since she is also a member of the Indiana National Guard.  She and I are staying at a hotel inside of Ft. Meade, which makes picking up our badges and attending the hearings very convenient.


Katherine Forbes (left) and I in our hotel room inside Ft. Meade.

My DC tour after hearing opening delay

Originally the hearings this week were scheduled to begin on Monday, 10 October 2016. Since the hearings were pushed back to start a day later on Tuesday the 11th, I decided to use Monday to visit Washington D.C., since I have never had the chance to visit before.  I took a train from Odenton MARC station near Ft. Meade, and was dropped off at Union Station in D.C. about 40 minutes later.  From there, I took a taxi to the Lincoln Memorial.  As I walked up to the monument, I was struck with a surreal moment of finally seeing the statue of Lincoln in person, only every having seen it in media.  I sat on the steps of the memorial, looking towards the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument, and thought of how Dr. King must have felt, standing in the same location, giving the “I Have A Dream” speech to thousands of supporters.


Spending time at the Lincoln Memorial.

From there, I walked down the National Mall, stopping at the Vietnam Memorial, as I made my way to the White House.  There it was, as I’d always seen it in videos and pictures.  I was surrounded by people speaking in foreign languages, French, Spanish, Vietnamese, German – other languages I couldn’t distinguish.  It was an honor to me, at that moment, realizing that these people had traveled thousands of miles to visit our center of government, and the heart of our great nation.

After the White House, I walked over to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, before making my way to the United States Supreme Court.  There were less tourists at the Supreme Court than anywhere else I had visited, so I took my time and enjoyed the near-deserted symbol of American jurisprudence.


Enjoying a beautiful, sunny day on Capitol Hill.

Unfortunately, since today is a federally recognized holiday, the court was closed, so I enjoyed the view of the Capitol building from the steps of the Supreme Court, before making my way over.  The Capitol building was my last stop for the day, having walked several miles, and needing to prepare to observe the hearing tomorrow morning.  I made my way to the Union Station, and caught a train back to Ft. Meade.


So far, this trip is, to me, what law school is all about.  To be exposed with a wide variety of experiences makes for a well-rounded individual. Today prepared me for tomorrow in a way I couldn’t imagine before.

Speaking of tomorrow, I have been spending time preparing for the hearings, trying to learn as much as I can about the case. I am looking forward to it.

Observing at Ft. Meade and Hurricane Matthew

My name is Sheila Willard and I am a 2L student at IU McKinney Law.  Born and raised in Texas, I moved to Indiana a year and a half ago with my Hoosier husband to escape the humidity and to start a new life in the Midwest.  My parents hail from Argentina, South America, and I am a first generation American.

I first became acquainted with the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) after receiving an email from Professor Edwards soliciting applications from those interested in participating in the observation of 9/11 hearings.  My entire adult life I have been concerned with human rights and, having grown up with the tragedy of 9/11, the email naturally piqued my curiosity.  I submitted my application, and hoped for the opportunity to be involved in an observation.  A few weeks later, I received clearance to observe the hearings at Ft. Meade, Maryland, during the week of October 10, and immediately began planning my trip there.


Travel from Indianapolis, IN to Ft. Meade, MD with a stop in D.C. on the way.

Due to Hurricane Matthew wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and off the southeast coast of the U.S., the hearings originally scheduled to begin on Monday, October 10, will likely be pushed back a day and begin instead on Tuesday, October 11.  As of this afternoon, there is no update stating otherwise, so I may change my flight to arrive on Monday instead of Sunday, as originally planned.  Regardless, I am happy for the opportunity Professor Edwards has given us and am looking forward to making the trip next week.

Until then, I am preparing by reading the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and keeping a watchful eye out for further instructions.  I am excited to make the trip, but am emotionally torn for the thousands of people affected by Hurricane Matthew.  As of this afternoon, the casualties have soared to over 800 people in Haiti, and Florida is next to be hit.  Having lived in Houston through Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I know from experience how much stress is involved in evacuation and how much heartbreak is felt in the aftermath.  I pray for the people who have lost everything overnight and hope for the strength they will require to rebuild their lives.


First reports of Hurricane Matthew aftermath on Haiti. USA TODAY, Photo: Dieu Nalio Chery, AP (10/7/16)


Sheila Willard, J.D. Candidate 2018

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law