[By Paul Logan. Posted by G. Edwards]
We made it
After a long day of traveling yesterday (Sunday, January 28), we arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba’s, “Camp Justice,” which is a “tent city” where I and other representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will live for the next week. We are here to monitor U.S. military commission hearings against Hadi al Iraqi (also known as Nashwan al Tamir), who is accused of perpetrating war crimes in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the early 2000s. I am representing the Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and traveled here with five observers from other NGOs: Zoe Weinberg (National Institute of Military Justice – NIMJ); Sarah Ruckriegle of Georgetown Law School; Kelly Mitchell (American Bar Association); Eric Helms (Human Rights First); and retired New York State Judge Kevin McKay (City Bar of New York).
Our flight to Guantanamo
We had an early start, as our “show time” at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington was at 6 a.m., for a flight scheduled for 10:20 a.m., which actually took off shortly after 11. We observers were told to sit together in three rows near the back of the chartered National Airlines plane. Others on the plane were seated in groups in different sections, including the judge and his staff (in the very front of the plane), employees of the Office of Military Commissions staff, defense lawyers, prosecutors, staffs of the prosecution and defense, court reporters, translators and interpreters, security officials, and Guantanamo Bay Press Corps Dean Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. While victim’s and victim’s family members and panel or jury members are sometimes on these flights, I understand none of these were on our flight today. Also on this flight were defense lawyers who came down to visit their clients who are prisoners who are not involved with the Hadi / Nashwan al Tamir case we came to monitor.
While there were some rough patches, it was generally an uneventful and uncrowded flight. The 757 can fit about 120 passengers, and there were a little over 80 on board, so each of us had three seats. I finished reading my copy of Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay, and began to draft this blog post. The manual, produced by Indiana’s Professor George Edwards, offers many suggestions on things to do when not involved in Military Commission activities, as well as how we can prepare substantively for our Gitmo mission. We had a very nice view of some islands out of my side of the plane, which I at first supposed to be the Bahamas, but because we were still a ways from Cuba, may have been the outer banks of North Carolina.
It was cool and rainy in Washington this morning and was sunny and beautiful here at Gitmo when we arrived after our 3-hour flight. After taxiing on the short airstrip on the leeward side of Guantanamo Bay, Naval Station authorities checked documents of the passengers. After we went through security, we met one of our escorts who will transport us around “the island,” as those here refer to the base, and boarded a ferry to cross from the across Guantanamo Bay from the leeward to the windward side of Gitmo (as the Naval Station is sometimes called).
Reaching Camp Justice
We NGOs were transported to our homes for the next week — tents in “Camp Justice”. We then made our first trip to the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC) to receive our badges that we have to wear when we go to court. The ELC complex contains Courtroom II in which cases are heard against high value detainees (HVDs), as well as judges’ chambers, trailers for the defense and prosecution, court offices, witness trailers, and holding areas for the detainees. We received a tutorial on not taking any photographs of any part of the ELC, and not bringing electronic devices to Court.
As our evening escort drove us to dinner, he received a phone call notifying him that the hearings set for today (Monday the 29th) will be closed to observers, presumably because classified information will be discussed. We all knew that there was a possibility of closed hearings, but we were disappointed that hearings on the first day would be closed, as we are anxious to do what one of the things we came here to do — observe the proceedings. We all understand that sitting in the courtroom is only one of the things that NGOs do. Our NGO mission has 6 parts to it: We are here to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on all we experience, both inside and outside the courtroom. We look forward to talking with prosecutors, defense counsel, Office of Military Commission officials, Carol Rosenberg, and others whose experiences will enlighten us and help us to do our jobs as monitors.
What we did Monday when Court sessions were
This morning our escorts took us to visit Radio GTMO, which operates three radio stations broadcast from the base. I purchased a bobblehead of Fidel Castro displaying the radio stations call letters on it. Thereafter, we took a look at Camp X-ray, where prisoners were first held here in 2002. Some may recall the photos in the news of detainees
in orange jumpsuits held in primitive outdoor “cages” surrounded by chain link fence and barbed wire. Several wooden guard towers ring the camp. Camp X-Ray has been closed for some time. We were informed that it has not been taken down as it is evidence in an ongoing case.
We then took the 2½ mile ridge line hike which has some dramatic vistas of the island, and saw a very large iguana. After our hike, it was time for some R&R at Glass Beach, not far from Camp Justice. We had another iguana visit on the beach.
We are all looking forward to finally seeing the inside of Courtroom II tomorrow, and finally observing the proceedings against Hadi al-Iraqi / Nashwan al Tamir.
Paul Logan, JD ‘94
Military Commission Observation Project
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law