Camp X-Ray

Arrival at Guantanamo Bay’s “Camp Justice”

Camp Justice Tents

Tents where we live at Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Justice.

[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.

national airwaysWhile 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 postThe 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.

Evening

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

Paul Logan - Radio Gitmo - with microphone

At Radio GTMO

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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

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An Igauna at the beach

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.

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A view from the Ridge. That’s Guantanamo Bay in the background. You can also see the part of Cuba over which the Cuban government exercises jurisdiction, outside the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay.

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

Second Day of the al Darbi Deposition in Hadi al Iraqi Guantanamo Bay Military Commission Case

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NGO observers working in the NGO Resource Center after a day’s court session.

I have been in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since Sunday, August 13th, 2017 serving as an NGO observer with the Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law. The program is approved by the Pentagon to send observers to view proceedings that are a part of the military commission system. Other schools and organizations that have an interest in what goes on in GTMO also send observers. I am here with five other observers from four organizations and one other law school.

Morning Session Deposition – Day 2, Wednesday August 16, 2017

The prosecution called Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi to the witness stand to testify in the military commission case against Hadi al Iraqi, an alleged al Qaeda commander. al-Darbi pleaded guilty in 2014 to charges related to the 2002 attack on a French oil tanker, and as a part of that plea deal agreed to testify when called upon by the prosecution.

An issue of the direct examination on both days was that the prosecutor asked numerous complex and compound questions that appeared to be lost in translation and objectionable.

Unlike the first day of the deposition when Hadi al Iraqi was present, on the second day, he voluntarily waived his appearance and did not attend. al-Darbi looked very much like a business professional dressed in a dark gray suit, light gray tie, white shirt, and nice watch.

The second day of the deposition began with the prosecutor asking al-Darbi about Hadi’s alleged activities at a guesthouse/headquarters building in Kabul, Afghanistan. al-Darbi described about how Hadi would go to the communications room to check on the latest developments from the front and later go to the front himself to check on his fighters. The prosecution elicited from al-Darbi information in an apparent attempt to paint a picture of Hadi as an active al Qaeda commander, the extent to which he commanded the defense will most likely dispute. al-Darbi testified he last saw his former commander Hadi al Iraqi in the year 2000 at the guest house in Kabul.

Struggles in Recounting Torture 

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Camp X-Ray, the temporary detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, where the first 20 detainees were brought in January 2002. The camp closed in April 2002 and a court has ordered the preservation the camp to be potentially used as evidence in any future litigation. Though al Darbi arrived to Guantanamo after Camp X-Ray was closed, during his interrogation, he was allegedly threatened with being sent there where bad things would happen to him.

The afternoon session began with al-Darbi’s account of being taken in to U.S. custody, first at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, and later at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During this portion of the testimony, al-Darbi’s body language changed drastically. Instead of leaning towards the microphone when giving sometimes lengthy answers at a normal volume, when speaking of his captivity he leaned back in his chair and gave short answers at a low volume. The only time he gave a long answer during this portion of his testimony was when he stated that remembering the details about the things that happened to him after he was captured was more difficult than the experiences themselves.

al-Darbi appeared visibly to have had a difficult time recounting his treatment at Guantanamo Bay. He testified to having had to endure “stress positions,” sleep deprivation, physical assault (to include pushing, hitting, and having chairs thrown at him), humiliating tasks, and being forced to wear bunny ears and a diaper on his head.

The most difficult line of questioning came when al-Darbi described an incident while at Bagram Airfield in which his interrogator, Army Private First Class Damien Corsetti exposed his private parts and put them in al Darbi’s face. Though by all accounts he lived up to his nicknames as “The Monster” and the “King of Torture,” notorious interrogator Corsetti was acquitted of charges relating to his abuse of detainees.

The strategy of the prosecution in the latter portion of the second day seemed to be to bring out torture on direct examination because there is little doubt the defense will question his ability to recall the over 20 people he previously identified due to the time that has passed as well as the physical toll of the torture. The prosecution also attempted to blunt the impact of it later by asking questions reiterating the free and voluntary nature of his plea deal.

Meeting with Chief Defense Counsel, Brigadier General John Baker

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Brigadier General John Baker assumed his duties as Chief Defense Counsel in July 2015.

The NGOs had the opportunity on Thursday, August 17, 2017 to meet with the Chief Defense Counsel, Marine Corps Brigadier General John Baker. Earlier in the week we had met with the Chief Prosecutor, Army Brigadier General Mark S. Martins. BG Martins released a statement on August 19th about the hearings that occurred the week of August 14th. That statement can be read here.

BG Martins appears to be very much hands on with the prosecution of each of the military commission cases his office is responsible for prosecuting. He plays a direct role in the direction the cases take both from a staffing standpoint as well as a legal strategy. In addition, because of his background as Rhodes scholar, instructor at the Center for Law and Military Operations, and being widely published in professional journals, his meetings are significantly more polished, though not necessarily better. He speaks much more fluidly and longer winded in a manner that shows he speaks about the military commission system and law in general in the political arena.

BG Baker on the other hand is, as he characterized his role, more of a manager. He views his job as getting the tools each of his defense teams state that they need to do their job. He does not personally represent any of the clients, though he does seem to meet with them on a regular basis. One of the challenges he spoke at length about was the personnel issues that both he and his adversary, BG Martins have to deal with unique to the military. Most military attorneys, or JAG officers, are assigned for 2-3 years. In order for military personnel to advance their careers they cannot stay in place for long periods of time, and because these military commission cases in some instances last for a decade or more, staff continuity in the case is a constant challenge. Ultimately, the client suffers when the staff members are constantly turning over and the careers of the staff members suffer if they stay in their positions for too long.

BG Baker responded to our questions much more candidly and off the cuff. He, unlike BG Martins, gave us explicit permission to attribute things to him, as well as quote him. BG Baker spoke frankly about how he views the military commission system as a “failed experiment” and how he sees no way in which these cases will survive appeal. Though he says he is a firm believer in the general idea of military commissions, he sees “zero benefit” to trying the cases in this iteration of the military commission system.

On Friday of last week, the judge in the Hadi al Iraqi case, Marine Corps Colonel P.S. Rubin issued an order suspending the CCTV feed of the al Darbi deposition to Fort Meade. I asked BG Baker directly if he had received an explanation about why feed was suspended. He offered a theory that the deposition was not a court proceeding and therefore not under the authorization of a protective order issued by the judge, to send the feed to Fort Meade. The issue of whether or not to allow a deposition to be transmitted to Fort Meade has come up before. In the al-Nashiri case, the judge ruled the deposition of al-Darbi was to be completely closed. This meant no NGO observers could be present and the CCTV feed was suspended. In the Hadi case, the judge ruled NGO observers could be present, but still no CCTV feed.

BG Baker recognized the unprecedented nature and importance of the presence of NGOs at Guantanamo Bay hearings. He said to tell the world of about what happened here. That’s a responsibility I felt like each NGO observer has taken seriously in this unique and fascinating week.

Defense Team BBQ

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Sunset over Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, August 13, 2017

Two members Hadi’s defense team invited all of the NGOs to the temporary house where they were staying for a BBQ. They cooked great burgers and hotdogs, and had a wide variety of beverages. Each NGO observer reported having a number of fascinating conversations with individual members of the defense team, to include the lawyers, intelligence personnel, investigators, and paralegals.

In September 2015, I traveled to Guantanamo Bay to observe a hearing for Hadi’s case in which he fired his military defense counsel. Fast forward to August 2017 and Hadi finally seems to have a solid defense team in place. According to members of this team, he chose Navy Commander Aimee Cooper to lead his defense, though she is not the highest ranking member of the team. The members of the defense team I spoke to report having a really good relationship with their client. This bodes well for his defense and seems to solidify the chance that he will have the rights afforded to him (as outlined in the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual) protected to the greatest extent possible.

Concluding Remarks

I want to thank each of my fellow NGO observers for an incredible week. Each shared their unique insights and made the experience one I will never forget.

I will continue to follow this case as it moves slowly forward in the hopes that someday justice will be served in a way that does not undermine the values America supposedly stands for.

Tyler J. Smith, J.D., LL.M.

Member, Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

From Indianapolis City Employee to Guantanamo Bay Observer — Nomination, Confirmation, Preparation

bp-picFrom my perch as an Indianapolis city employee working in economic development, I don’t often receive an email inquiring about the seriousness of my interest in traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But that’s exactly what happened on January 31, 2017.

Indiana University McKinney School of Law Professor George Edwards, an International Human Rights Law Professor of mine and who was also my third-year law school research paper faculty supervisor, emailed me with a simple question: “Are you available for a quick phone call?”

I was puzzled.  I had, years ago, inquired about the law school’s then new Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions Observation Project (MCOP), but after a few exchanges with Professor Edwards and other inquiries, I realized it was simply bad timing on my part.

That said, it turns out I had been in contact with Professor Edwards on an unrelated matter, and renewed my interest in traveling to Guantanamo Bay to monitor military commissions.  Professor Edwards and I discussed the project, and he impressed upon me the gravity of the undertaking.

Professor Edwards asked If I really want to travel to Guantanamo Bay to do the work; which includes lots of preparation, work once you’re there, and work once you return.

He reminded me of the importance of the work of our law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law generally, and about the importance of its Guantanamo Bay work which began more than a decade ago.

It was quite clear this wasn’t a passive trip to Cuba; this was to be taken very seriously and the hard work required of each individual would ideally result in substantive and value add contributions to the policies and procedures Professor Edwards and his partners have worked hard to create.

After a discussion with my spouse, I was officially committed.

Background and Experience

For some background, I was not deeply involved with human rights when I was a law student, and I am not a human rights attorney.  Since graduating from McKinney law school in 2010, I have worked in the private sector for a global aerospace company and in the nonprofit sector for a disabilities services organization.  I currently work for the City of Indianapolis managing real estate transactions and economic development projects and strategy.

In short, I did not think that I was an obvious candidate for a mission to Gitmo as part of a legal proceedings observation effort.  But, it is my hope that my outside viewpoint and fresh set of eyes can be beneficial and offer a different perspective as I observe and try to contribute to the understanding of existing guidelines and procedures.

Back to the Storyline

Once I told Professor Edwards I was committing to the assignment, it was time to better understand the process and the various entities involved.

The Indiana University McKinney School of Law Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), under the leadership of Professor Edwards, established the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).  After the Pentagon Guantanamo Bay Convening Authority granted MCOP Non-Governmental Organization Status, affiliates of Indiana University McKinney became eligible to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor U.S. military commissions which were established to try alleged perpetrators of war crimes. Specifically, as observers or monitors, our 5 principal responsibilities are to: (a) attend; (b) observe; (c) analyze; (d) critique; and (e) report on hearings of detainees at Gitmo.

My process began by submitting certain personal information for consideration by the MCOP Advisory Council.  Once approved for advancement by the Council, my name was then submitted to Pentagon as a nomination.  At this point, the Pentagon can confirm you or deny you.  Fortunately, on February 9, 2017, I was “CONFIRMED” by a Pentagon representative.

To be specific; from the Pentagon:

“You have been CONFIRMED to observe the March 18-25 9/11 Week ONE military commission in-person at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Currently, the flight schedule is as follows:

Departing from Joint Base Andrews to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay on 18 Mar (SAT) at 1000

Departing from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay back to Joint Base Andrews on 25 Mar (SAT) at 1000.”

I then had to fill out various forms and agreements. In some ways, this has been the most complicated part so far, since each of the documents is different, and each document must be completed following very specific guidelines. Professor Edwards sent my “completed” documents back to me numerous times for me to modify my original entries to comply with Pentagon requirements, and with requirements of the Indiana University administration including IU lawyers who review some of the forms before we observers are permitted to return them to the Pentagon. The templates that I was given to follow were helpful, but it was nevertheless still a challenge.

Finally, all the documents were reviewed by Indiana University officials (including the IU Treasurer) and by the MCOP, I sent all requisite information to the Pentagon in the hopes that they would grant me full clearance.

ksm-picWhat Hearings will I monitor?

There are three sets of hearings ongoing at Guantanamo Bay now. During the week of my scheduled monitoring (19 – 25 March 2017), hearings will be held in the case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I remember where I was on September 11, 2001, and I cannot escape the impact it had on me. Pictured in this blog is Khalid Shaik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind himself, who was, among other things, waterboarded 183 times.

This is Actually Going to Happen?!?

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At this time my focus has turned to the nuts and bolts of traveling from Indianapolis to Cuba.  Easy right?  Yeah… I plan to fly to Washington, DC then snag a Lyft and drive to a hotel near Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, which is around a thirty-minute trip.  I will stay overnight there, in anticipation of my morning flight from Andrews in a military airplane directly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

While at Guantanamo Bay, among other duties, I plan to provide updates via this blog site.

I hope to offer unique insights contributions to the existing body of work relating to legal proceedings, policies, and guidelines. I see this as an occasion to provide transparency from an “on the ground” perspective.  Very few have had the chance to travel to Gitmo to monitor military commission proceedings; I intend to make the most of this opportunity, for the benefit of all concerned.

Duties and Responsibilities

One of the most important tasks of anyone traveling to Guantanamo Bay as part of the IU McKinney MCOP is to contribute to the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.  You can find the Manual here: https://gitmoobserver.com/military-commission-observers-manual/

FT Manual

This Manual is the product of the hard work performed by Professor George Edwards and other student and legal partners who have been observing at Gitmo for years.  It provides many of the policies and procedures that govern the treatment of detainees and the trial and legal proceedings.  It is an objective and independent document that is used by observers from other institutions and others as they form their own judgments as to whether Guantanamo Bay stakeholders are being afforded all rights and interests they are owed.

I feel it an honor to be able to observe and contribute to this important document.

I am proud to be an Indiana McKinney School of Law alum, and thankful for the opportunity provided by the MCOP and the Program in International Human Rights Law.

Brent M. Pierce, J.D. ’10

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Arrival at Guantanamo Bay to Monitor the 9/11 Pre-trial Hearings

I have been nominated and confirmed to monitor the 9/11 pre-trial hearings against the five alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The hearings are scheduled to take place at the Guantanamo Naval Station, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from December 5-9. I am participating as an affiliate of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), which is a non-governmental organization (NGO). You can see my previous blog posts regarding this mission here and here.

Arriving at Guantanamo Bay

I left Joint Base Andrews (JBA) at 8:00a on Saturday, December 3rd, my pre-departure blog post can be seen here. I flew over on a Boeing 767-200ER operated by Omni Air International. As an NGO observer, there was no cost to me for the flight. The flight was about half full and had approximately 110 passengers. I previously heard that the plane is usually divided into sections for different stakeholders. However, there was never any mention of sitting in a specific area and it appeared that everyone sat wherever they wanted to. It may have been different because the flight was so empty.

After arriving on base at about noon, the NGOs gathered in a group with our escort. There are eight NGO observers in my group, including myself. Our mission is to be the eyes and ears for the outside world. We are responsible for attending, observing, analyzing, critiquing, and reporting our experiences at the pre-trial hearings and Guantanamo Bay in general. We have an escort that helps us move around the base. Our escort also facilitates various needs that we have throughout our time at GTMO. The escort also ensures that we get to court and other places on time. This was our escort’s first time working as an NGO escort, although the escort has been to Guantanamo Bay multiple times.

After departing the plane, the NGOs went into a building where military personnel checked our passports and paperwork. The military personnel inspected our paperwork then sent us to a lobby in the building. Our escort made a phone call to see if we had a vehicle coming to pick us up. After about fifteen minutes, two vans arrived to take us and our luggage to Camp Justice. The main portion of the Naval Base is across Guantanamo Bay from the airport where the plane arrived. I, along with the other seven NGOs, were taken across Guantanamo Bay via ferry. It took about 20 minutes to get across Guantanamo Bay.

Arriving at Camp Justicedsc_0068After exiting the ferry, we were then driven to Camp Justice and had an opportunity to unpack and settle in. The accommodations have been surprisingly comfortable. We have had access to free internet (via Ethernet cord) in the MWR (morale, welfare, and recreation) tent, which is only 50 feet from the housing tents.

After we settled into camp, we were taken to have our badges made. We also received a short briefing from the head of security. A lot of the discussion focused on where we were allowed to take pictures. Within the Expeditionary Legal Center (ELC), we were informed that we could only take pictures in three areas. The head of security provided us a map that showed the areas that we could take pictures. I folded the map and took it with me when we were finished with the security briefing. After I walked outside the head of security came out and told me that he needed the map back. Without the map it was unclear where pictures were allowed to be taken in the ELC. The general rule at GTMO is to not take any pictures of structures that are inside a fence. Some areas also have signs that say “no photography.”dsc_0112

Around the island

Since we arrived on Saturday, and hearings do not start until Monday, we had the weekend to explore the base with our escort. On Saturday, we had a meeting lined up with the defense team for al Baluchi. The meeting was a great opportunity to speak with the defense team in an informal setting. They were very candid in their responses, and they answered all of the questions asked. It was nice to get their perspective, but I will reserve any judgment until I have had an opportunity to listen to the prosecution and see the hearings this week.

On Sunday, we went on a driving tour of the base. We started by drivindsc_0036g to Camp X-Ray. I had requested a foot tour of Camp X-Ray but our escort said that it takes at least a month to get approval to do a foot tour. We stopped on the road and were able to look at the camp. It was probably 150 yards from the road and was very overgrown with weeds and trees. We were not allowed to take photographs of Camp X-Ray. We were then taken to Windmill Hill, which provided excellent views of the island. We could also see the detention facilities from there. There were no pictures allowed there either. Next, we drove by Radio GTMO, which was closed. We then drove to Cable beach. Finally, we made our way back to Camp Justice.

A portion of our group then decided to go to the beach. We were informed that Girl Scout Beach would be the best beach for swimming. Hurricane

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Justin at Girl Scout Beach

Matthew caused some damage to the stairs that lead down to the beach, but it had been repaired recently. The beach was nice but sandals or beach shoes would have been helpful because it is very rocky. The water temperature was great and the water was very clear.img_4973

 

Part of the group finished the day at O’Kelly’s Irish Pub and the other half of our group watched Hacksaw Ridge at the Lyceum outdoor movie theater. I was happy to see that the base had many of the same amenities as home, although, it often creates a strange dichotomy. One minute you are driving by a football field and McDonalds, then the next minute you are driving by buildings and tents surrounds by fencing and razor wire.

The base also had a lot of holiday activities and decorations. There was a Christmas parade on Sunday, with decorated floats. The NEX (similar to a supermarket) had a bunch of decorated Christmas trees outside. Near the marina, there was a very large decorated tree and a bunch of outdoor Christmas decorations. When we are traveling through the base, it very much felt like any other town.

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Justin and two other NGOs.

I look forward to posting about the upcoming pre-trial hearings.

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Justin at Girl Scout Beach

 

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Iguana at Girl Scout Beach

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Justin’s room at Camp Justice

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Girl Scout Beach

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Girl Scout Beach

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Girl Scout Beach

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Justin W. Jones (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

Guantanamo defendant Hadi al Iraqi Fires His Legal Counsel

Tyler Smith, standing in front of the sign at Camp Justice, the site of military commissions held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Tyler Smith, in front of Camp Justice, the site of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba U.S. Military Commissions

I traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for hearings in the Military Commission case against alleged al Qaeda member Hadi al Iraqi.

The hearing, which had been postponed by one day, was set to begin at 10 a.m. today, Tuesday the 22nd of September 2015. Finally, at 10:45, the military judge commenced the hearing.

It did not really surprise anyone that the first thing that occurred was that Hadi al Iraqi “released” his military defense counsel, essentially firing US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jasper and Air Force Major Ben Stirk, who had been representing Hadi al Iraqi. Hadi expressed his desire to have a civilian attorney represent him.

The military judge ruled that the military defense counsel would be released, and would be replaced by other military defense counsel, probably Army Major Robert Kincaid. The Chief Defense Counsel, Marine Corps Brigadier General John Baker, had already tapped Major Kincaid for this role, but was still undergoing clearance review and briefings, and could not meet with Hadi until those processes had been completed. The military judge said that in the meantime, LTC Jasper and MAJ Stirk would still act as a “mouthpiece” for Hadi in communications with the military commissions.

Carol Rosenberg, of the Miami Herald, published this article regarding today’s proceedings indicating the paralysis of the commission’s lone non-capital case.

This Pentagon approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin shows Hadi al Iraqi during his arraignment in June 2014. Second from the left is Hadi’s now former counsel, Air Force Major Ben Stirk.

This Pentagon approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin shows Hadi al Iraqi during his arraignment in June 2014. Second from the left is Hadi’s now former counsel, Air Force Major Ben Stirk.

As was explained on our tour of the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC), there was a 40 second delay during the hearing with what was happening in the actual courtroom to the audio video feed we saw on five TV screens from the gallery.  What is said in the courtroom must be vetted through an intelligence officer to help ensure nothing classified is leaked and has to be translated. The delay can cause some confusion as to what is happening in the courtroom in real time and the delayed audio. For example, at the conclusion of the hearing, everyone in the courtroom and in the gallery were given the “all rise” order in real time, while the audio from the previous 40 seconds of hearings was still going. Other than that, the delay didn’t really cause much of an issue during this hearing. Most of the observers simply watched the screen in front of them instead of watching the happenings in the courtroom through the glass.

Candid Meeting with Hadi’s Former Defense Counsel LTC Jasper

Hadi al Iraqi's former defense counsel, US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jasper.

Hadi al Iraqi’s former defense counsel, US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jasper.

One of the highlights of this mission was the post-hearing meeting with Hadi’s newly-former defense counsel, LTC Jasper. He talked to us for a solid hour about his experience as Hadi’s counsel, his feelings on being fired, and his opinions about the military commission system. LTC Jasper represented Hadi for about a year, and he said that over that period of time built a good personal relationship with him. All indications are that it will take time for MAJ Kincaid to come up to speed on the case and build a rapport with Hadi. LTC Jasper explained that even though Hadi didn’t tell him why exactly he was firing his attorneys, LTC Jasper attributed it, in part, to the distrust Hadi has with the military commission system and that Hadi’s fellow detainees (his “brothers”) all have civilian counsel. In my opinion, it is a miracle that LTC Jasper was able to build any kind of rapport with Hadi given the logistical issues of meeting with his client, and the fact that LTC Jasper was a Marine Corps officer that served in Iraq and Afghanistan around the same time Hadi allegedly commanded elements of al-Qaeda.

As now former defense counsel, LTC Jasper was very candid with us when talking about his views of the military commission system. Based on what I have read and observed about the military commission system I was not surprised when I heard LTC Jasper’s observations and opinions he gained from his experience in working within the military commission system. I was very impressed to hear a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, with as much experience as he has be so candid and down to earth. LTC Jasper expressed disappointment, though I can’t quote him as saying so, perhaps a bit of relief as well. He indicated he has already accepted a non-litigation job at the Pentagon.

Post Hearing Activities

Following the hearing, our Office of Military Commission (OMC) escorts drove us to the various areas of interest on the base.

One of the many beautiful beaches at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

One of the many beautiful beaches at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Though Guantanamo Bay is synonymous with the infamous detention facilities, it is a naval base of 45 square miles (Camp Atterbury, Indiana is approx. 54 square miles, the US’s largest military base, Fort Bragg, North Carolina is approx. 254 square miles) with the typical military base accommodations. It has a military grocery/department store (Navy Exchange, or NEX for short), souvenir shop, radio station (which we toured), very large recreation and gym facilities, housing, schools, and restaurants (yes, there is a McDonald’s and a Jamaican run Irish-pub).

Not typical of military bases, at least the ones I have been on were the beautiful beaches, lighthouse, and large reptiles. Also the Internet is incredibly poor. Odd considering that Internet is often the only lifeline military members deployed have to their loved ones back home.

A special area of interest we stopped at but could not tour, was Camp X-ray, the infamous temporary detention camp that received its first prisoners in January 2002.

By: Tyler Smith, 3L, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

An illusion of transparency

 Camp X-Ray Experience

The cancellation of today’s hearings left the NGO observers at loose ends.  A few of us asked if we were permitted to visit Camp X-Ray. A van and driver were arranged and we headed out late morning for the 15-minute drive to the no-longer used facility.

There is a strange juxtaposition of life here on the base. On our way to Camp X-ray we drove through military family housing–many of the houses are decorated with festive Christmas decorations–and just as we made the last turn out of the neighborhood there was a woman walking her dog and another woman jogging while pushing children in a double stroller. We could have been in any middle class suburb in America!

Within minutes of the neighborhood we pulled over & viewed Camp X-Ray. 

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Camp X-Ray (detainees were held here from January to April 2002)

Camp X-Ray was the temporary detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The first detainees arrived in January 2002. In April 2002 Camp X-Ray was closed and the detainees transferred to the permanent prison camp–Camp Delta.  It is estimated that Camp X-Ray housed 800 men and teens during its use. Carol Rosenberg (Miami Herald) reported that in 2009 the FBI photographed and documented the camp.  U.S. courts have ordered the preservation of Camp X-Ray facilities where detainees were held at the request of defense lawyers who want it kept intact as a crime scene.

Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay

Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay

Although media representatives and others have toured Camp X-Ray, we were only permitted to view it from the road. Similarly NGO observers are not given access to the detainee facilities and other facilities used by the military commission process. The government challenges the credibility of the NGO observers by limiting our access while demanding that we report that all is well here with the Military Commissions in Guantanamo Bay.

 

18 and 19 November Military Commissions Events at Guantanamo Bay – Hattie Harman

Wrapping up the week of al Nashiri GTMO hearings – Charles Dunlap

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Watching the press conference from the NGO lounge. Note the picture is of the GTMO courtroom that was used for the hearings.

Press Conference

After the hearings were over for the week in the al Nashiri case (4 – 7 November 2014), the prosecution and the defense teams held a brief press conference with the four media representatives who were with us at GTMO for the week.

Victims and Victims’ Families

During the press conference, the victims and their families had an opportunity to also speak to the media.  When the victims and their families spoke it was a reminder of what this trial is all about and the 17 people that died on the USS Cole and the 39 wounded.  During the hearings it is easy to get caught up in the “legal arguments” and the various details and tactics and lose sight of why we are here.  For me, hearing the victims and their families at the press conference really made me re-focus on them and their experiences.  In addition to the overall suffering that they have been through, the main point that they expressed was their frustration with the slowness of this process and their desire for there to be an end to this and to see justice done.

Last Days Events

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NGO’s gather for a farewell cookout and a chance to reflect on the weeks events.

On the last days of the trip, we had an opportunity to do several things.

Time with Defense Team – Rick Kammen and defense lawyers

The NGOs spent an hour and a half with Rick Kammen and the defense team.  They were extremely generous with their time and were able to answer many questions about the hearings we had observed.

Again, some of the overall themes from that meeting were similar to others; the incredibly difficult logistics and the high costs that result; the complicated issues associated with the case which are compounded with the issue of classified information; and also how politics at the highest levels impacts the trials.  Speaking specifically to this last point, Rick talked about a time when the former leader of Yemen was in the United States to receive medical care and the defense team tried to depose him.  The US State Department denied it due to their policy of not wanting to impose on foreign leaders in the US who are here for medical treatment.

Visit to Camp X-Ray

The NGOs also had an opportunity to visit Camp X-Ray, which is the outdoor detention facility where they held the detainees when they first arrived.  We were not able to take photos of the site but we were able to see it.  It is abandoned now but there is a federal court order in place to preserve it as evidence in some of these proceedings.  Camp X-Ray was only used to house the detainees for a few months when they first arrived on the base because they didn’t have any other facilities to house them in at the time.  Within a few months they were moved to more permanent structures indoors.

Radio GITMO

Another place NGOs were able to visit and tour was radio GTMO.  The base has a radio station that broadcasts 3 channels on the base.  They have an arrangement with Cuba so the signal is not broadcast into mainland Cuba.  The radio station has one of the largest collections of vinyl records in the world with many being extremely rare and limited editions.  The stations still plays the records on the air.  One unfortunate fact is that due to the licensing rights from the record companies, if the records are taken out of circulation they must be sent back to the record companies where they would be destroyed.  It’s crazy to think that some of these one of a kind records made especially for the military would be lost forever and destroyed but that is what is required due to the licensing rights.

Some of the one of a kind vinyl albums that Radio GITMO still plays

Some of the one of a kind vinyl albums that Radio GITMO still plays

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One of the last few stops was to the abandoned lighthouse on the edge of the base.  One of the interesting things was the collection of old boats that was in the area which were used by people who fled Cuba or other areas to try and immigrate to the United States.

The abandoned lighthouse with some of the old boats that people used to defect to the base.

The abandoned lighthouse with some of the old boats that people used to defect to the base.

Conclusion

I want to thank Professor George Edwards and the Indiana University McKinney School of Law for allowing me to participate in this incredible experience.  It is something I will remember forever and a trip that has given me so much information.  There are so many things that I was not able to include in this blog but that I will try and address in other forums since one of the goals of the NGO program is for those that witness the process to tell others.

Ambassador, Congressman, Law Professors & Journalist Discuss Guantanamo Bay’s Future

From left Dean and former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Lee Feinstein, Miami Herald Senior Correspondent Carol Rosenberg, Professor Edwards of The Gitmo Observer, Special Assistant to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor Professor Leila Sadat, and former Congressman Lee Hamilton who was Vice Chair of the 9-11 Commission.

From left Dean & former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Lee Feinstein, Miami Herald Senior Correspondent Carol Rosenberg (@CarolRosenberg), Professor George Edwards of The Gitmo Observer (@GitmoObserver), Special Assistant to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor Professor Professor Leila Sadat, and former Congressman Lee Hamilton who was Vice Chair of the 9-11 Commission.

The Guantanamo Bay detention facilities and U.S. Military Commissions were intensely discussed at a panel hosted by the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies.

Panelists spoke about the rationale and feasibility for closing Guantanamo’s detention facilities, how the international community views Guantanamo and its trials, insights from a journalist who has covered Guantanamo Bay since the first detainees arrived in January 2002, and measuring whether all Guantanamo Bay stakeholders’ human rights are being afforded to them.

Former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, who was Vice-Chair of the 9-11 Commission, discussed the US government rationale for the shutting down of Guantanamo Bay and the difficulties in effecting such closure, from a Washington perspective. He described political and logistical challenges to a rapid closure.

Ms. Carol Rosenberg, who is Senior Correspondent for The Miami Herald, was in Guantanamo Bay to witness the January 2002 arrival of the first group of approximately 20 detainees, who were housed in “Camp X-Ray” wearing iconic bright orange prison. Ms. Rosenberg spoke about the history of the detention facilities, and its past, current and future challenges. She further elaborated on her perspective as a journalist assigned to the Guantanamo Bay.

Professor Leila Sadat, of the Washington University School of Law, is Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and Israel Treiman Faculty Fellow, Director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute and the Special Adviser on Crimes Against Humanity to the ICC Prosecutor. She provided a perspective on how the international community, outside of the U.S., views Guantanamo Bay and its Military Commissions.

U.S. Ambassador to Poland (former) Lee Feinstein, who is Founding Dean of the School of Global and International Studies, provided perspective given his many years of diplomatic and international law public experience and research. Dean Feinstein moderated the panel.

Professor George Edwards is founder of The Gitmo Observer, which is also known as the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of Indiana University McKinney School of Law. Professor Edwards spoke on “Assessing Human Rights Protections for All Guantanamo Bay Stakeholders, Not Just the Rights of the Defendants”.

Professor Edwards descried how he founded the Indiana University McKinney Law School’s Program in International Human Rights Law, and how the Pentagon’s Convening Authority selected that program to be granted non-governmental observer status to permit it to send representatives to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings in person, or to Ft. Meade to monitor via secure video feed. Professor Edwards created then created the Military Commission Observation Project, which is now known as The Gitmo Observer. He talked about The Gitmo Observer’s most recent project, the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, which those who monitor the Guantanamo Bay proceedings and process use to determine whether a fair trial is being held.

The panel was held at the University Club, at the Indiana Memorial Union, with a reception that followed in the Faculty Room.

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