Showtime – Andrews Air Force Base to Guantanamo Bay
I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay today to monitor hearings in the case of al Nashiri, who is the alleged mastermind of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing off the coast of Yemen that killed and wounded dozens of U.S. sailors. I am representing the Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where I am a student. I am looking forward to carrying out my observer / monitor responsibilities, which include to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the military commissions that have charged several men with perpetrating war crimes.
Arrival at Andrews Air Force Base
Most of the military commission flights to Guantanamo Bay depart from Andrews Air Force Base (AAFB).
Last night I stayed at a nearby Holiday Inn, and took a (taxi?) to the Andrews Visitor Center at 7:00 AM, where I met two other NGO representatives — Carol and Michelle – who were scheduled to join me on the trip to Guantanamo.
A government representative (Tony) picked us up around 7:30 AM and drove us to the Andrews terminal, where we met the rest of the NGO reps.
After we passed through security and I obtained my boarding pass, I handed all the NGO reps who were present a copy of the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo guide and the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual excerpts. These documents were produced by the Indiana McKinney Military Commission Observation Project (Gitmo Observer). I received many thanks for providing such helpful documents.
While waiting to board, we saw Vice President Mike Pence board what looked like Air Force One, but was actually Air Force Two. There were several security personnel around him, including secret service agents and military. An hour after Pence departed, we boarded a bus that took us to the commercial plane (Atlas Air) bound for Guantanamo.
I am now on the plane about an hour away from arrival. I am looking forward for what’s in store to come.
I’m Flying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba tomorrow for U.S. Military Commission Hearings
When I enrolled at Indiana University McKinney School of Law almost 3 years ago, I learned that the school had a program that focused on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After my first year, I participated in that program – the Military Commissions Observation Project (MCOP) — and I observed a pre-trial hearing in the case against Hadi al Iraqi, who is an alleged high level al Qaeda member who and liaison with the Taliban. I viewed the Hadi hearing at the Ft. Meade, Maryland army base via secure satellite transmission live from Guantanamo Bay. This was my first time observing a military commission, not to mention a Guantanamo Bay hearing of such a magnitude. Also I did legal research for the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, which observers and others are using to help them determine whether rights are afforded to individuals and groups related to Guantanamo.
Tomorrow (Saturday, 11 March 2017) I am scheduled to fly from Andrews Air Force Base to Guantanamo Bay, where I will be monitoring the military commission case against al Nashiri, who is alleged to have masterminded the 2000 suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding dozens more. Rather than view the hearings via CCTV at a military base in Maryland, I am expecting to view the hearings while sitting in the galley of the actual courtroom at Guantanamo Bay. I am representing the Indiana McKinney School of Law’s MCOP (also known as the Gitmo Observer). Hearings are set to begin Monday, 13 March 2017.
Travel to DC – Friday, 10 March 2017
10:00 – 11:30: I woke up today feeling slightly better than I felt yesterday. I had hoped to fully recover from whatever it is that I have before departing for DC and beginning my mission to Guantanamo Bay. Nonetheless, I am still fully functional and very excited for what’s set to come these next 8 days.
12:00 – 16:00: The hour and a half flight from Indianapolis to DC was as smooth as ever. Passing through security was a breeze. I won the armrest war. My bags were one of the first few down the conveyor belt.
16:00 – 18:30: After learning that my Verizon phone would not work in Guantanamo Bay and that I would need my own SIM card to communicate with the MCOP director while there, I searched for the nearest T-Mobile store on my phone and hopped onto the DC metro green line headed towards Gallery Place Station (in an area known as Chinatown). I ran into some slight issues at the T-Mobile store when trying to obtain a pre-paid SIM card. The employee must have been new because he said that the $50, 2GB talk/text, pre-paid SIM card that I had sought use in Guantanamo Bay did not exist. However, after some back and forth, a few calls to customer service, and a brief chat with his coworkers, we discovered that there was indeed a $50 pre-paid SIM card available for purchase ($66 total, $10 for the SIM + Tax). Our Project Director, Professor George Edwards, published in Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay that T-Mobile began operating at Guantanamo last summer. In one of my blog posts from Guantanamo I will report on how well the T-Mobile sim card works.
19:30 – 22:00: After obtaining the SIM card, I hopped back onto the green line and headed towards Branch Avenue. I am comfortably familiar with this line as I had taken it practically every day during my 2015 summer law internship with the Navy JAG Corp, when I worked at the Washington Navy Yard.
I got to my hotel – the Holiday Inn near Andrews Air Force Base – checked into my room, and unloaded my luggage. I then read additional parts of the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo guide while I had dinner (which I had brought with me from Indianapolis). Afterwards, I introduced myself via email to the 9 other NGO representatives who will be observing the hearings, and attached a copy of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, and the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo guide so that they could reference these materials before, during and after the hearings.
I learned that one of the observers scheduled to attend will not join us on the flight from Andrews tomorrow, which means that there will be at most 8 other NGO representatives will join me at the hearings.
Reading the “Know Before You Go” Guide in my hotel room the night before departure
22:00 – 22:30. I believe this trip to Guantanamo Bay will be a unique, informative and rewarding experience. I anticipate having much more to write about once set foot on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station.
I was first introduced to the complex issues surrounding Guantanamo Bay during the summer of 2015 when I monitored a pre-trial proceeding of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who is an alleged high ranking member of al Qaeda and liaison between al Qaeda Iraq and the Taliban. Those proceedings were held at Guantanamo Bay, but I observed them through a secure video feed at Ft. Meade, Maryland, along with Ms. Hee Jong Choi (an IU McKinney School of Law alumni), and Professor Edwards (who founded and directs the IU McKinney Guantanamo Bay project).
I was previously at Ft. Meade monitoring a pre-trial proceeding of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi.To my left is Ms. Heejong Choi and Professor Edwards.
Since 2015, I have learned a great deal about military trials and the rights of all stakeholders during this arduous process. I applied to travel to Guantanamo Bay to gain a further understanding of the military proceedings and to observe firsthand whether the rights of all stakeholders are being afforded to them. I recognize that detainees have the right to a fair trial. But other individuals and entities have rights and interests as well – for example, the victims and family members, media, the prosecution, and the general public all have rights and / or interests in this process. Because of this, I am very excited that I have been selected to travel to Guantanamo Bay.
Initial thoughts on my travel to Guantanamo Bay
Throughout the past 2 years of law school, I have had a few experiences related to the U.S. Military.
During the summer of 2015, I worked with the Navy JAG as a legal clerk for the Military Court of Criminal Appeals located at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
Also, as mentioned, during that summer I had the chance to observe a military hearing of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, an alleged senior member of al-Qaida, at the Fort Meade military base. During these proceedings I was able to listen to Hadi speak at length with the military judge – in open court — about whether he understood the rights afforded to him. Also, at this proceeding I was able to observe the issue of whether there was a potential conflict of interest in having the defendant’s lawyer represent another detainee, with whom the defendant had close ties.
Upon returning to school for the Fall 2015 semester, as part of my International Criminal Law class, I conducted high level academic research on the use of hearsay in military courts for the Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual.
I believe the ability to remain objective is an essential skill for human rights advocates and lawyers. Collectively, my past experiences involving the military have greatly shaped how I view the issues surrounding military trials and Guantanamo Bay. I believe my ability to remain objective during the upcoming proceedings will require less mental effort as my prior experiences have given me a balanced understanding of the issues.
My Indiana McKinney Law School Career
Since beginning law school in the fall of 2014, I have been engaged in a variety of activities.
During my 1L year, I was a legal intern at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis. Also, as previously mentioned, during the summer of 2015 I was an intern for the Navy JAG in Washington, DC and participated in the MCOP at the Ft. Meade military base.
During my 2L, I participated in the JESSUP international moot court competition in Chicago as well as my school’s Staton moot court competition. I was also an executive board member of the Asian Law Students Association (ALSA) and the International Human Rights Law Society (IHRLS). Through the IHRLS, we were able to raise over $8,000 for Women and Law Swaziland (WLSA), an NGO in Swaziland involved in promoting women’s rights.
In Swaziland with three women for a rural village. I had the opportunity to work with Women and Law Swaziland (WLSA) promoting women’s rights.
During the summer of 2016, I was a participant in my school’s Program in International Human Rights Law Overseas Internship Program. As part of that program, I had the opportunity to work at Women and Law Southern Africa (WLSA), a women’s rights NGO in Manzini, Swaziland for 5 weeks, and HURIGHTS, a human rights NGO in Osaka, Japan for 8 weeks.
I interned at HURIGHTS Osaka for 8 weeks during the summer of 2016. I collaborated with a few NGOs as part of my research. Here I am with a staff members of CHARM, which I wrote a newsletter article on.
Now as a 3L, along with being a full-time student, I am an intern at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in downtown Indianapolis.
I am hoping to work as an intern for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the spring of 2017, and delay my law school graduation.
I am hoping that my travel to Guantanamo Bay and my observation of the week’s proceedings will give me insight into the U.S. military’s approach with high profile cases and will help clarify some of my questions, namely, how the legal mechanisms in place are implemented and are they implemented in a way that conforms with international standards of justice and a fair trial?
I am glad that I had an opportunity to travel to Ft. Meade for the Hadi al Iraqi hearings and to work on the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual. I would encourage any IU McKinney law student, graduate, or faculty or staff member to participate in the MCOP.
Tex Boonjue, J.D. ’17
NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)