Defense Attorneys

Reflections on my Previous Guantanamo Observation Trip

I traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from 11 to 18 November 2017 to observe military

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Four other NGOs and I at Guantanamo’s Camp Justice that week

commission proceedings against Mr. al Nashiri, who is facing war crime charges as the alleged mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded dozens more. I am a student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and I was a non-governmental organization (NGO) representative on behalf of McKinney’s Military Commission Observation Project. I was there to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on my experiences.

My Previous Guantanamo Observation

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Lighthouse at Guantanamo

Court was in session four of the five days during my week at Guantanamo. Most of the witnesses were called by the prosecution to testify about evidence they had collected from the USS Cole after the bombing and to verify the chain of custody.

Some of the witnesses were called to testify about the ongoing professional responsibility issue in the case. The issue is complicated, and is discussed more in-depth here and here.

In brief, Mr. al Nashiri’s Learned Counsel (an attorney who is experienced in death penalty cases) and two other civilian attorneys for Mr. al Nashiri did not travel to Guantanamo Bay for hearings that week as they contended that the Chief Defense Counsel of the Military Commissions released them from representing Mr. al Nashiri for “good cause.” The Judge disagreed with the Chief Defense Counsel’s decision and held him in contempt for refusing to rescind his order to release counsel and for refusing to take the stand and testify about the issues. The Judge has asserted that these three defense counsel have “abandoned” Mr. al Nashiri.

In January 2018, the Judge ordered the prosecution to subpoena the three defense counsel and recommended that the remaining defense counsel, LT Piette, become “more comfortable handling capital matters” so that the case can continue forward. The case did arguably move forward in January, in the sense that hearings were held that month, with LT Piette sitting in the courtroom as the only lawyer representing Mr. al Nashiri.

The Judge is awaiting decisions from two federal district courts.

Further Thoughts

Now that time has passed since I observed Mr. al Nashiri’s proceedings I have had time

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In front of the North East gate which separates the U.S. and Cuba

to reflect on his case, and on the military commission proceedings in general.

U.S. military commissions are not new, and in fact have been around since the Revolutionary War. Our current military commission process is guided by the Military Commission Act (MCA) of 2009, which built upon the MCA of 2006, which followed from an Executive Order signed by President Bush in 2001. The MCA of 2009 is the legal authority for this court-martial/federal criminal court hybrid, and a legal observer can see the qualities of both criminal processes present in these military commissions.

Guantanamo defendants and defendants in the U.S. are under law meant to be afforded due process, and all have the Constitutional right of habeas corpus. On the other hand, their trials are guided by two different, but similar, rules of evidence. Both courts-martial and military commissions are generally open proceedings, but both can be closed for classified sessions. Courts-martial and military commissions both have a panel of military members and are not a trial by a judge or with a civilian jury.

Reasons for Wanting to Return

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Flying over Cuba

I hope to travel back to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to either continue monitoring the commissions against Mr. al Nashiri, or to begin monitoring the commissions against Mr. Khalid Shaik Mohammad, also known as “KSM”, and his four co-defendants, also known as the “9/11 five.” I want to return to monitor the commissions against Mr. al Nashiri because I have observed his hearings in the past, and I have since been following his case.

I am also interested in observing the 9/11 five since the courtroom and military commission proceedings were designed to specifically try the 9/11 defendants. Further, I was in 2nd grade when 9/11 happened, and it is an event that I remember clearly and grew up learning about. It is an event that affected nearly everyone in the U.S. and beyond. In addition, 9/11 was a key event that changed how the U.S. combats terrorism and seeks to protect national security. I would be interested in observing and analyzing how the government is working towards those goals of counterterrorism and national security via the military commissions.

For either case, I believe it would be a great opportunity to learn more about this hybrid court-martial/federal criminal court process. I believe I would also gain insight that I could bring back to the Program in International Human Rights Law at McKinney so I can contribute to the Know Before You Go Guide and the Fair Trial Manual.

In addition to traveling to Guantanamo Bay, I would like to travel to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where the Guantanamo proceedings are broadcast by live CCTV to a secure room. This will offer me another perspective on the issue of openness and transparency of the proceedings, which is outlined in the MCA.

While I was observing the military commissions against Mr. al Nashiri in November

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Camp Justice, where I lived with the other NGOs for the week

2017, I was taking courses in Counterterrorism, Evidence, Professional Responsibility, and Criminal Procedure: Investigation back at Indiana University McKinney School of Law. I found all these classes to be helpful in understanding what was happening in the courtroom. I believe I will now have an even fuller understanding of what is happening in the courtroom since I have completed those courses. I am now currently taking Military Law and Criminal Procedure: Adjudication. Considering the military commissions are essentially halfway between a court-martial and a federal criminal trial, all the mentioned classes are very helpful. I also greatly appreciate that I have the opportunity to observe what I am learning at McKinney in the real world.

Further, I would have the opportunity to achieve the goals of McKinney’s Military Commission Observation Project: to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on my experiences. I would be able to bring what I observed first-hand, critique and analyze it, and share it with the public via the Gitmo Observer.

 

Jessica Ayer (J.D. Candidate, ’19)

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Guantanamo Bay lawyers on all sides brief non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

9 NGO representatives following briefing by Guantanamo Bay Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins

9 NGO representatives following briefing by Guantanamo Bay Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for ringside seats at U.S. Military Commission war crimes proceedings. NGOs, which tend to focus on human rights issues, attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on what they see and hear at Guantanamo. NGOs are windows to the outside world for people without Guantanamo access.

For the first time in recent memory, this week NGOs at Guantanamo had separate briefings by each of the three sets of lawyers involved with a pending case against a particular defendant.

The 9 NGO representatives present were briefed by: (a) the Chief Prosecutor; (b) the Chief Defense Lawyer; and (c) the military and civilian lawyers for al Nashiri, who is accused of masterminding the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding dozens. The NGOs were at Guantanamo for a week of pre-trial hearings in the case of al Nashiri, who faces the death penalty.

The first lawyers’ briefing of the week was by Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins, who is responsible for the prosecution of any and all Guantanamo Bay detainees. He is formally part of the prosecution team against all defendants, including al Nashiri, and he actively participated at the prosecution table in this week’s hearings.

9 NGO representatives following briefing by Guantanamo Bay Chief Defense Counsel John Baker and Deputy Chief Defense Counsel Brent Filbert

9 NGO representatives following briefing by Guantanamo Bay Chief Defense Counsel John Baker and Deputy Chief Defense Counsel Brent Filbert

The next lawyers’ briefing was by Chief Defense Counsel Brigadier General John Baker, joined by Deputy Chief Defense Counsel Captain Brent Filbert.  General Baker is responsible for all defense counsel on all Guantanamo cases, and is not part of the al Nashiri defense team or of any other defense team. Neither he nor Captain Filbert has an attorney client privilege with any detainee.

The final lawyers’ briefing was by civilian and military attorneys for al Nashiri. These were civilian lead counsel (Learned Counsel Rick Kammen) and military co-counsel (Lt. Commander Jennifer Pollio).

NGOs with al Nashiri's Learned Counsel Rick Kammen and military co-counsel Lt. Commander Jennifer Pollio.

NGOs with al Nashiri’s Learned Counsel Rick Kammen and military co-counsel Lt. Commander Jennifer Pollio.

These briefings offered the 9 NGOs insights into a range of perspectives on Guantanamo law and practice. The NGOs on this mission, who agreed that these briefings were insightful and very helpful, expressed hope that the NGO briefings would continue when future NGO representatives travel to Guantanamo for future hearings.

Substance of the briefings

Predictably, the three briefings focused on similar issues. Military Commission fairness (or not). Compliance with U.S. and international law (or not). Transparency of the process (or not). Rights afforded to all stakeholders (or not). Comparisons among U.S. federal criminal law and criminal procedure, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and the Military Commission substantive and procedural statute, regulations and rules (favorable / unfavorable comparisons).

The lawyers expressed different perspectives on the pace of the proceedings, to whom delays should be attributable, and logistical and other issues regarding trials at Guantanamo Bay versus on the U.S. mainland. They also shared on more personal issues, such as their careers and families, and possibilities for life for the lawyers after Guantanamo. And yes, the topics of Guantanamo iguanas, banana rats, gnats and mosquitos came up.

None of the briefings was on the record, and of course none included any classified information. All the briefings helped NGOs understand critically important matters related to the case at bar – against al Nashiri – and about larger Guantanamo-related issues.

Briefing Style; Briefing Tools

Each of the briefings differed from the others. Each lawyer had a unique personal style, had particular messages they apparently wanted to convey, and used different means to communicate with the NGOS — including visual aids.

Briefing tools used during the week included (without disclosing which lawyers used which briefing tools!): CDs that contain papers for motions on the week’s docket; basic Military Commission instruments and other information projected onto a screen and a staffer to navigate such; CD readers for NGOs whose new generation laptops lack CD drives; prepared remarks; a scribe to record briefing notes; e-mail addresses and invitations for further NGO communication; a follow-up invitation to a bar-b-que (that served Subway sandwiches!); and a staffer who served as photographer for group and individual shots of the lawyers and the NGO representatives.

[Sidebar – The NGO representatives came into contact with various members of the lawyers’ staffs. In every instance those staff members were helpful, informative, and genuinely interested in assisting the NGOs. And, without exception, each staffer was friendly, pleasant, and just nice — both formally during the briefing, and informally when we would bump into them around the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, whether at Subway or another restaurant, the gym, the bowling alley, or the Guantanamo airport or Andrews Air Force Base.]

Conclusion

NGOs huddled during the week seeking to think of ways that the lawyers might further enhance the NGO experiences. Among the NGO suggestions were for the lawyers to provide NGOs — before the NGOs depart for Guantanamo Bay —  a short summary of the week’s expected motions, the statutory and other information on the CD that was provided, statements / remarks to be presented by the lawyers to the media (if available), and confirmation that the briefing will take place (to prevent NGOs from having to inquire as to whether a particular briefing will occur).

Some of the NGOs wondered about the venues of the different briefings, and who decided which briefings were held in which venue.

Venue 1:  The Media Operations Center (MOC), in a room with cushioned chairs, a blue velvet stage curtain, high tech audio / visual equipment, and parasol shades for camera lighting.

Venue 2:  The NGO Resource Center, barren, with the lawyers sitting on folding card-table chairs.

The NGOs unanimously agreed that the NGO briefings by all sets of lawyers were very helpful to the NGOs as they seek to fulfill their remit of attending, observing, analyzing, critiquing and reporting on the U.S. Military Commissions.

If NGOs are to be the eyes and ears to the outside world, they should be able to see and hear from the lawyers who are most intimately involved with the Guantanamo Bay cases.  The NGOs all hope that briefings by all sets of lawyers will become routine at Guantanamo Bay during weeks when hearings or trials are held.

Full NGO briefings by Guantanamo Bay lawyers promote transparency, human rights, and the rule of law.

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31 May 2016 Hearing in 9/11 Case — Tuesday At Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

 

9/11 lead defendant Khalid Shaik Mohammad, in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom. (Sketch by Janet Hamlin)

9/11 lead defendant Khalid Shaik Mohammad, in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom. (Sketch by Janet Hamlin)

Today’s hearings in the 9/11 case started on time in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom.

Defendants KSM, Ramzi bin al Shibh, and Ali Abdul Axis Ali (aka Ammar al Baluchi or “Triple A” or “AAA”) were present when I walked into the Gallery.  The other two defendants chose not to appear, which is not uncommon.

The Gallery is a small room with soundproof clear glass through which NGO Observers, Victim’s Family Members, Media, and other visitors are able to watch the hearings.  The Gallery has several televisions that show the hearings, with audio on a 40 second delay.  We can see what is happening live through the Gallery glass, and 40 seconds later see what we just saw on the TV.  It is only through the TV that we can hear what happened in the courtroom, 40 seconds after it actually happened.  The purpose of the delay is to prevent the release of classified/confidential information.

There is a curtain in the Gallery separating separating the media and Non Governmental Organization (“NGO”) observers from the victims and victims’ families.  The curtain is usually not in use. I have already written about the selection and approval process which allowed me to attend these hearings as an NGO observer. Victims and Victims’ family are chosen based on a lottery system.

Today’s Motions

The day’s hearing touched on three sets of motions:

  1. AE 018: The hearings on these motions deal with how certain information is treated and released to either the parties or nonparty actors.  I believe there were a total of 13 AE 018 motions on the docket for the week’s hearings.
  1. AE 422: The 422 motion was filed by the Government. The Government seeks the deposition of family members of the victims of September 11, 2001 during public pre-trial hearings scheduled for 4-14 October 2016.
  1. AE 133: This motion was filed by the Defense. It is an Emergency Motion to Remove Sustained Barrier to Attorney-Client Communication and Prohibit any Electronic Monitoring and Recording of Attorney-Client Communication in any Location, including Commission Proceedings, Holding Cells, and Meeting Facilities and to Abate Proceedings.

All the filings related to each motion can be found on the military commission website. Howeve,r not all will be public. http://www.mc.mil/CASES/MilitaryCommissions.aspx

 AE 018

I will not discuss each motion that falls under AE 018, but generally they deal with how communications and information can be released, how those communications are reviewed by the various security processes, and the format and timeliness of prosecution’s discovery responses.  There are processes in place for the how various communications are to be reviewed and delivered, however the processes continue to evolve as the litigation continues.  The discussions on these motions appear to be good examples of the types of issues that have delayed the 9/11 trial.  A few of the specific AE 018 motions are:

  1. AE 018 BB: Government Emergency Motion for Interim Order and Clarification that the Commission’s Order in AE 018U Does Not Create a Means for Non-Privileged Communications to Circumvent the Joint Task Force Mail System.
  2. AE 018EE: Defense Motion to Compel Discovery Responsive to Mr. Mohammad’s Request for Discovery Dated 14 March 2014. (emphasis added)
  3. AE 018 KK: Defense Motion to Invalidate Non-Legal Mai Restrictions Unrelated to Legitimate Penological Interests.
  4. AE 018MM: Defense Motion to Compel Reasonable Privilege Review Team Hours of Operation.

AE 422

This motion was filed by the prosecution to conduct depositions of certain witnesses. Specifically, the prosecution seeks to depose 10 victims’ family members during the October 2016 hearing. The prosecution wants the depositions conducted in open session at Guantanamo Bay, during the October 2016 hearing.  The prosecution cited ages and health concerns, the uncertain posture of the case, and the logistical difficulties for potential witnesses to travel during the actual trial.

The defense generally agreed with the need for depositions but expressed expected concerns about holding the depositions in open court and the proposed dates.  The defense teams were not all on the same page with respect to the deposition issue, but some of the arguments expressed by the defense were:

  • public hearing will taint potential panel members (jury)
  • there is no need to preserve the testimony because there are so many witnesses
  • the age and health of potential witnesses is not a factor
  • there is no need to have the depositions in open court if the evidence may never be admitted
  • if the prosecution wants to preserve evidence for the elderly and those in poor health, bringing them to Guantanamo Bay would be counterproductive
  • it does not make sense to have public depositions so close to the election
  • there is a difference between having the victims’ voice heard and presented vs. creating a public spectacle

I tend to side with the defense, and if I were to bet, I would bet that depositions will take place, but not in open session and not during the proposed dates. A very recent article by Carol Rosenberg on this issue.

AE 133

This is an ongoing motion dealing with allegations that the government has been trying to pierce the attorney – client privilege.  The defense is concerned that they are subject to monitoring which prevents frank exchanges between the attorney and the client.  The motion stems from the finding of microphones in fire detectors in rooms that were used for attorney/client meetings.

I suggest reading the AE 133 motions on the military commission website.  The discovery of these microphones is documented.

The prosecution stated that while the recording capabilities were present, they were not used during attorney/client meetings. The prosecution stated that while the microphones were used for other law enforcement purposes in the past, they have not been used to monitor attorney/client meetings related to these trials.

Mustafa_al-Hawsawi_2012My Personal Observations

One issue that stood out for me was the AE 018MM Motion.  This motion was filed by the defense to compel the Privilege Review Team (“PRT”) to have reasonable hours of operation.  The Privilege Review Team, among other duties, reviews all documents that are taken to a detainee, including any notes attorneys may bring to an attorney client meeting.  If the PRT is not operating, then the team of attorneys cannot take any notes into the meeting.  Counsel for Hawsawi told the Judge that the PRT was not “open” on the Saturday and Sunday before Monday’s (Memorial Day) hearing, so they had to meet with their client without being able to bring any notes.  To me, this sounds outrageous.  How is it possible that a team of attorneys who are only able to see their client during very limited hours, after chartering a military flight that flies infrequently, are not able to bring in notes to a client a day before the hearing just because staff of the Period Review Team did not want to work?

I was initially “convinced” by the defense arguments. However, the prosecution presented a different side to the story.

The prosecution argued that PRT staff are like any other employees and it is not unreasonable for them to have the weekend off, especially a holiday weekend.  Additionally, the prosecution stated that the PRT is available as long as appointments are made in advance.  Prosecution also stated that it is not uncommon for the defense team to not show up to scheduled appointments.  After the prosecution presented their argument I was less outraged, and more confused.

I noticed this sway in many of the arguments I have seen in my limited experience with the Military Commission: the movant pulls on emotional strings and presents facts that help their case, the opposing party presents facts in a way that appear to be unemotional and paint a fuller picture.  In the end, I am happy I don’t have the burden of having to make a decision.  Having only been at Guantanamo Bay for a few days, and only being able to see what I am allowed to see, I find it very difficult to have a strong opinion one way or the other.  It is difficult to gather unbiased information because of the emotions and passions tied to the subject matter.  Information I receive could be driven by agendas that I do or do not understand.  I have made an effort to keep a neutral point of view in order to allow me to gather as much information as possible before I start to lose impartiality.

AE 422

The hearing on AE 422 was understandably emotional.  The curtain separating the media and NGOs from the victims’ family members was drawn shut.  The parties argued about the prosecution’s motion to depose, in public court, family members of the 9/11 victims.  One particular testimony would revolve around a telephone conversation occurring as a plane hijacking was taking place, just before United 175 flew into the South Tower.  The arguments went into additional details, which I will not do here, but the hearing’s transcript is available on the website of the Military Commission.

KSM was also emotional.  He, without the Judge’s permission, expressed his feelings regarding the proceedings.  I could not make out everything that was said but part of it dealt with the fact that his attorney is an American person and is representing American interest, which is not neutral.  Judge Pohl responded with, “one more word and you’re leaving”.   Later, Mr. Nevin (Lead Counsel for KSM) explained that his client was upset because an objection was overruled and that a lack of an interpreter prevented the defendant from understanding the meaning of “deposition”.

Wednesday

On Wednesday the Commission held hearings open to NGOs, Media, and Victims’ of Family Members in the morning session; the Commission held closed session in the afternoon.  I will write about these later, but I need to get some rest before the hearings tomorrow.  The hearings tomorrow are scheduled to include two witnesses.  Both of the witnesses are high value detainees who have not been charged with a crime.  They will testify during the hearing on AE 152 which is the Emergency Motion for Show Cause Why the Government, JTF Camp Commander and JTF Guard Force Members Should Not Be Held in Contempt.  The motion’s allegation is that Mr. Bin al Shibh continues to be subjected to external sounds and vibrations while detained.  Hassan Guleed is expected to testify at 10 in the morning and Abu Zubaydah is expected to testify at the start of the afternoon session.

Leontiy Korolev, J.D., Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Participant, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), Indiana University McKinney School of Law

The Club No One Wants to Join

At the end of each week of the 9/11 hearings, there are a series of concluding media briefings at which the defense teams, the prosecution, and the families of the 9/11 victims speak to the members of the press who are present in Guantanamo Bay. This week the members of the media included representatives from news outlets, including among others, Associated Press, BreitBart News,  BuzzFeed, and Law DragonCarol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald was present as well and is the only reporter that has attended all of the Military Commission hearings. The NGO Observers are not allowed to attend these press briefings but are allowed to view them via a live stream in the NGO Office Lounge.

After Walter RuizJames Connell III, and David Nevin, defense attorneys, and Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins spoke, four of the Victims’ Family Members chose to speak to the media. It was apparent from their statements that each is on an individual journey.

Phyllis Rodriguez spoke first. Her 31-year-old son Greg died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. She started by saying she was a 9/11 victim’s family member and as such she was a member of a “club no one wants to join.” Phyllis then went on to say that she had always opposed the death penalty, but that her conviction had not been tested before 9/11.

Four days after the 9/11 attacks she and her husband Orlando Rodriguez wrote an open letter, “Not In Our Son’s Name,”calling on President Bush not to resort to a military retaliation against Afghanistan. The print version is here. As a result of the letter circulating on the internet along with several others by victims’ family members calling for non-violent solutions, they met others who held similar beliefs. From these connections, the non-profit September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows was formed on February 14, 2002.

The organization’s mission is stated on its website as follows: “an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn our grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating nonviolent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism. Acknowledging our common experience with all people affected by violence throughout the world, we work to create a safer and more peaceful world for everyone.” (Peaceful Tomorrows website). The organization has received numerous awards, including a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2004.

In 2015 film maker Gayla Jamison produced and directed a documentary about the ongoing reconcilation work of Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez. The film is entitled In Our Son’s Name.

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Phyllis Rodriguez and her daughter Julia. (Guantanamo Bay Ferry)

The press briefings are recorded and the video posted on the Military Commission site for public viewing. The December 11, 2015 briefing will be posted shortly.  The words and stories of all the Victims’ Family Members are powerful reminders of the importance of making sure that the defendants are afforded fair and just proceedings by the Military Commission.
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Sunrise at Guantanamo Bay, awaiting ferry to the base airport.

By: Catherine A. Lemmer, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay, 11 December 2015.