Author: Steve

Guantanamo Bay: Final Preparation and Travel from Indianapolis to Washington D.C./Joint Base Andrews Area

An image of the Quality Inn near Joint Base Andrews

Timothy Morgan’s Blog Post

Lauren Lanham’s Blog Post

Collier O’Connor’s Blog Post


            As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I am a second year law school student at Indiana University McKinney School of law travelling to Guantanamo Bay to monitor pretrial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against Mr. Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri for his alleged conspiring in, organizing, and planning of the USS Cole bombing off the coast of Yemen in 2000 which killed 17 U.S. Navy sailors and injured dozens more.

            I was nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) – which is part of our Law School’s Program in International Human Rights Law  [link to the PIHRL] for this mission, which requires me to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on Guantanamo proceedings. A more detailed explanation of the application process can also be found here.

            This blog post is the second in a series of posts I plan to make with regards to my travel to Guantanamo Bay and duties as a monitor in the case against Ms. al Nashiri. In this post, I discuss my final steps in completing paperwork for the program and my experience getting to the Joint Base Andrews, which is the U.S. military base from which the plane to Guantanamo departs.

Pentagon Documents and Final Form Submissions

            As I mentioned, monitors like myself must complete multiple forms – required by the Pentagon and IU Office of International Affairs. After the initial round of paperwork, detailed in my previous blog post (i.e. pre-departure clearance, student abroad forms, etc.), are completed, the Pentagon sends each monitor three different e-mails, numbered 1 of 3, 2 of 3, and 3 of 3. The email title will also include the hearings you are scheduled to attend as well as the dates of travel for your mission.

            The Pentagon will send monitors and other NGO travelers attending the same hearings the same set of emails. Each email details different aspects of the trip ranging from general information about Guantanamo Bay to flight information. After receiving these three emails, I had all the necessary documents and information to travel to Guantanamo Bay.

            The first email includes a tentative schedule for travel as well as some general information about Guantanamo Bay. I received this form on 7 July 2022. It also gives a list of forms that will be required for travel listed below:

  1. Aircraft and Personnel Clearance (called APACS) (2 Copies in Color)
  2. Health Screen Form (2 Blank Copies)
  3. Joint Base Andrews Parking Form, if needed
  4. Invitation Travel Order (ITO) (3 Copies)
  5. Approved SECNAV 5512 NSGB Naval Base Access Form
  6. Bio?

The second email will include the ITO and 5512 form from the pentagon that has been officially stamped and cleared. I received this form on 28 July 2022. These are the versions of the form that must be presented for travel.

            The third email includes the final versions of your APACS form, a copy of the health screening form, final trip details including flight information, and your parking permit (if you want to drive your own car to Andrews). I received this e-mail on 8 August 2022.

            Since flight information from the Pentagon arrives only a few days before departure, the Office of International Affairs asks that monitors resubmit their final travel itinerary to include all flight information through the iAbroad portal (IU McKinney School of Law’s study abroad application webpage) as well as their final plans for travel to the Washington DC/Joint Base Andrews area.

            The days before traveling to Guantanamo Bay can be hectic, especially if you are working full-time or otherwise busy during the day, so do not forget this final submission. I was caught up in preparing for getting to the Washington D.C. area, that I did not remember to do this until reviewing past monitors’ blog posts (on

            IU Affiliated monitors must send a copy of the MCOP Guantanamo Checklist [What is this checklist?] that helps participates keep track of the different travel and program requirements. Monitors send the Guantanamo Checklist to Professor Edwards and Acting Director Professor Dunlap. The Guantanamo Checklist contains some items that cannot be completed until the monitor arrives at Guantanamo, and some items that cannot be completed until the monitor returns from Guantanamo. So, complete the Guantanamo Checklist as best as you can when due, and plan to resubmit it later, after you complete its tasks. For example, it is necessary to complete the Guantanamo Checklist as best as you can and submit it within 72 hours of departure from Joint Base Andrews to both Professor Edwards and Acting Deputy Director Professor Charles Dunlap.

Preparing for Travel to Guantanamo Bay

            In preparation for travel, I sought advice from IU Affiliates who had previously traveled to Guantanamo Bay . Most of the individuals I spoke to have blog posts on this Gitmo Observer website, where they share their own unique experience with this process. Requirements for travel to Guantanamo Bay are constantly changing, but many of the core procedures appear to stay the same or are similar. These previous IU Affiliated monitors addressed my questions about travel from Joint Base Andrews, located outside of Washington DC, to Guantanamo Bay. They helped me with basic logistical questions to what I needed to pack for my trip. They helped in many other respects.

            After speaking to previous and current travelers, I made my arrangements to drive from Indianapolis to Washington DC and stay at the Quality Inn immediately outside of the entrance to Joint Base Andrews. I had originally planned to stay with family in suburban Baltimore, but that would have required me to wake up at 3:30 or 4 AM on the flight departure day from Andrews, after driving for 10 hours from Indiana the previous day . I decided that being very close to Joint Base Andrews overnight was the right choice. I had originally planned to fly from Indianapolis to DC but decided that driving would be cheaper and easier. Thankfully, I purchased a fully refundable airplane ticket that went back on my credit card for the full amount.

            I also read the two requirement manuals, The Fair Trial Manual and Know Before You Go,  looked up articles news coverage, and research case related documents on al Nashiri’s case at the Military Commissions website — Mc.Mil.

The Fair Trial and Know Before You Go Manual

Printing and Prepping Documents/PCR Test

            I had to print several important travel documents sent in the three Pentagon emails before leaving Indianapolis. Along with the above documents, I had to bring all the typical information required for international flight (i.e. passport, COVID Vaccine Card). For travel, it was also required to present a negative PCR test taken within 72-hours before travel. This timeline is stressful for any travel, and it was no different this time.

            My final travel itinerary was [was received?] around 1 PM on Tuesday, 2 August, only four days before my departure from Andrews. I scheduled my PCR Test within the 72-hour time frame as soon as I received my final travel [itinerary]. The flight from Andrews to Guantanamo was scheduled for 9:20 AM on Saturday, 6 August so I scheduled a PCR test at the CVS near my apartment at 10 AM Wednesday, 3 August (around 71 hours prior to departure? Not sure of the math here.]. I have had experience testing at this location and was confident that I would receive my test results within 72 hours.

            I had a negative PCR test in hand by 1:30 PM the next day, Thursday, 4 August 2022. My best advice on this requirement is to be in touch with the pharmacy or location beforehand to clarify test result timelines. If you have experience getting tested at a specific pharmacy, go there. These tests can be expensive, but you should be able to get them for free or under $25.00 if you plan.

Packing for Guantanamo Bay

            Packing for this a Guantanamo Bay monitoring trip requires a bit more attention to detail than your average trip. Aside from the forms listed above, you also need to pack for hot, humid weather with the potential for trips to the beach as well as clothing to wear in court. You are allowed to bring as much luggage as you can carry, but remember you need to carry it.

            I decided to bring one larger bag to check, a small carry on, and a backpack. This is what I travel with regularly and I was comfortable walking for at least a mile with this amount. Everyone is different so what you bring is up to you as long as you have nice clothing for court. The two essential items I was told to bring were bug spray, apparently the mosquitos can be bad, and a beach towel. Monitors will have access to a towel for showering, but you might not want to use it after a shower if you took it to the beach. Thanks Madison Sanneman! Here is a link to her post.

            Since this is a work trip, you will need to bring a laptop or tablet you feel comfortable using to type posts. You will also need a pen and pad of paper to take notes in court. They will not allow you to bring in any “smart” electronic devices, really anything with WIFI access. You should also bring any adaptors and chargers for your phone, watch, etc. I would recommend bringing chargers for anything you will need throughout the week as well as an adaptor for ethernet adaptor. There is free WIFI, but it is not always reliable. You can plug into the WIFI using ethernet, but newer laptops and tablets usually do not have this port. Guantanamo Bay uses standard American plugs, so no need to bring adaptors for this.

Driving from Indianapolis to Joint Base Andrews

            The drive from Indianapolis to Joint Base Andrews should take about nine and a half hours. I left Indianapolis around 8:30 AM on 5 August 2022 and did not  arrive at my hotel, the Quality Inn located immediately outside Joint Base Andrews, until nearly 9 PM – over 12 hours later. I drove through two major thunderstorms, one in Ohio and one in Maryland, that significantly slowed me down. I received a few important calls that I did not feel comfortable answering in the weather, so I also pulled over for those as well.

            It was not an easy drive, but it was still preferable to flying. It gave me additional flexibility with travel times, and it was easier getting around DC with a car to get dinner. The Quality Inn is the most convenient location, but it isn’t in the most walkable area. For those that do not mind longer drives, I would recommend that you drive to Andrews from Indiana.

            During my drive, I received a call from a representative of the Convening Authority, the official who oversees the miliary commission process, confirming which forms would be required for travel the following day. Fortunately, I had printed off and completed all the forms the day before as I mentioned above.  They also shared with me the name and number of my NGO escort, a designated individual who guides NGOs through secure military sites, that I would be meeting the following morning at 6:15 at the Joint Base Andrews visitor center to guide me through security and get me to the air terminal on base.


            The weeks leading up to my travel to Guantanamo Bay were hectic. Scheduling a PCR, double and triple checking forms, answering emails, packing, and working made for some very long days. All the planning will pay off tomorrow when I am in the air and one step closer to arriving in Guantanamo Bay.

Image of Steven Nisi, J.D. Candidate

Steven Nisi

Juris Doctor (J.D.) Candidate (2023) 

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) 

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) 

Indiana University McKinney School of Law 

My Nomination Process to Monitor the Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri Hearings at Guantanamo Bay


The United States is prosecuting Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mr. Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri for allegedly conspiring in, organizing, and planning the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. The attack killed 17 U.S. Navy sailors and injured dozens more.

Figure 1: An image of the USS Cole

The Program in International Human Rights Law (“PIHRL”, pronounced “Pearl) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) sends students, faculty, staff, and graduate affiliates to Guantanamo Bay to monitor U.S. military commission hearings, such as that in which Mr. al-Nashiri stands charged. The mission for the monitors is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on Guantanamo proceedings. Monitors serve as a window into these proceedings that are not easily accessible to the general public.

As a student at IU McKinney School of Law, I had seen notices about IU students and other affiliates traveling to Guantanamo and thought that I might like to go there as well. But, with my schedule, the timing never quite worked. When the request for applications came through earlier this summer, I jumped at the opportunity. I finally submitted an application.

Professor George Edwards, the Director of PIHRL, contacted me shortly after for a Zoom interview. After several rounds of interviews and a few adjustments to the statement of interest I originally submitted, I was nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) – which is part of the IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law – to travel to Guantanamo in August 2022 to monitor hearings in Mr. al-Nashiri’s case. I am now scheduled to travel to Guantanamo from 6 to 13August 2022 to monitor pre-trial hearings in his case. I plan to continue to post blog entries like this detailing my experiences between now and my scheduled departure, as well as during and after the mission.

In the following sections of this blog post, I offer a quick bio and a recap of the long process between my interviews with Professor Edwards and fulfilling my pre-trip requirements to date.

Figure 2: Camp Justice is on the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. The Military Commissions are held here.

About Me 

I am a second-year law student at IU McKinney School of Law in the part-time program. I started law school in 2020 and expect to graduate with my Juris Doctor degree in December 2023. I plan to pursue a career in criminal defense after graduation. I work as a law clerk and certified legal intern at the Indiana State Public Defender’s Office representing clients in post-conviction relief cases. I plan to serve as a certified legal intern with the Health and Human Rights Clinic at IU McKinney beginning in August 2022 representing clients in eviction proceedings.

After I graduated from Kenyon College in 2014, I worked in college admissions and pursued my passion of cycling. I worked for bike shops around the country as a master mechanic and promoted access to cycling for youth in the Indianapolis area.

I am glad I was able to gain experiences that helped me clarify my goals before enrolling at IU McKinney School of Law. I realized that the best path for me to help my community was to obtain a law degree. While law school has been a difficult, I consider it a privilege and the reset I needed to pursue my commitment to criminal justice. Law school has led me to a job at the Indiana State Public Defender’s office that I love, and I now also have the opportunity of a lifetime to monitor proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.

Application Process

I submitted my application to be an NGO Observer through the Military Commission Observation Project’s online forum in June 2022. Soon, after, Professor George Edwards invited me to interview for the mission via Zoom. During the interview, Professor Edwards asked about my interest in the program. We discussed the various requirements of the program and potential dates for travel. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the dates we discussed in the first interview. After that first conversation, I assumed I would not hear back.

Text Box: Figure 2 Camp Justice is on the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. The Military Commissions are held here.A couple of weeks later, I attended a second interview. Again, Professor Edwards and I discussed similar topics. On my second interview, I was asked to give a more detailed response to my fit with the program, and I was asked more detailed questions about my academic background. Shortly after our discussion, I resubmitted my application, supplementing my “statement of interest”, and adding a current resume. Within a few days, I was offered a spot to travel to Guantanamo Bay as a monitor. I am honored to be a part of this program and look forward to playing my role as an objective monitor of court proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.

Process After Nomination: When the Work Starts

After your nomination, you must begin preparing immediately for this opportunity. The requirements and steps that must be taken are shared via e-mail. The first set of emails come in slowly. But, do not relax. The requirements, at times, feel overwhelming.

Nominees must read “Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay Guide,”Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual,” and previous observers’ blog posts on the Gitmo Observer. Nominees must comply with the requirements set by the Pentagon, the Program in International Human Rights Law / MCOP, Indiana University (e.g. the Office of International Affairs), and Indiana University McKinney School of Law. There are many forms that you must complete. And, the forms can be difficult to complete. Nominees are offered a template of past form submissions to guide them through the process. These forms are then reviewed by Professor Edwards prior to submission to the Pentagon. Between the forms from the Pentagon and the PIHRL there are hours of forms to fill out.

Pentagon Forms

The first set of forms to complete are sent to you by the Pentagon. They are as follows:

  1. the Hold Harmless Agreement;
  2. the NGO Ground Rules for Observation of Military Commissioners;
  3. the Invitational Traveler Worksheet;
  4. the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Access Pass;
  5. the NGO Representative Procedures for Observation of Military Commissions;
  6. the NGO Observer Bio; and
  7. the Foreign National/Dual Citizen form, if required.

Although it is not a requirement for each form, I signed each by hand with blue ink, rather than with an e-signature. This ensures compliance and reduces the chance of having to revise your forms.  If you are a dual citizen, there is an additional form that requires a substantial amount of information (i.e. previous 5 years of employment, addresses, social media presence, etc.). The Foreign National/Dual Citizen form is by far the most involved form.

After completing these forms, I sent them to Professor Edwards and the Project’s Acting Deputy Director Charles Dunlap for a final review. After this internal review process, you email them to the Pentagon for final clearance which comes as late as 3-4 days before you leave.

IU Office of International Affairs Forms

I had to notify the Indiana University Office of International Affairs (OIA) of the nomination for this mission. After the Office of International Affairs confirmed my nomination, I had to fulfill two sets of OIA requirements . The first set confirms eligibility to travel and study abroad while the second gathers various health and safety information. These forms are much easier than those required by the US Government, but they still require attention. Some forms must be dropped off at the Law School in person. During the summer, these hours are not always convenient for those working full time.

At this point, I have completed all the IU OIA forms that I can. I am still waiting for the finalization of flight information to submit my last form and drop off hard copies to the OIA to complete these requirements.

Support of Previous Guantanamo Monitors and Other Nominees

Fortunately, you are not alone in this process. The program provides contact information for current and past participants to help answer questions about the process. The forms are overwhelming at times. Communication with past and present monitors helps reduce the stress.

Guantanamo Checklist

The Military Commission Observation Project also provides a checklist that guides participants through the process and gives them a clear set of tasks to complete. The checklist has over 50 items so start early.

Figure 3: Photo of Steven Nisi


The nomination process and subsequent duties should not be taken lightly. The process is time intensive, but do not be deterred. The NGO observer program is a once in a lifetime opportunity to give back to the American justice system, and to try to help ensure that all Guantanamo stakeholders are afforded all the rights to which they are entitled.

Steven Nisi

Juris Doctor (J.D.) Candidate (2023) 

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) 

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) 

Indiana University McKinney School of Law