GITMO

Reporting from Guantanamo Bay: Commission Hearing in Limbo

Reporting from Guantanamo Bay

I am a recent graduate of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) and I am a representative of the IU McKinney Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).

I traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba this weekend to monitor hearings in a U.S. military commission against an alleged high-level member of al-Qaeda who is charged with war crimes.

My mission at Guantanamo is to attend, monitor, be seen, analyze, critique and report on the proceedings of the defendant, Mr. Nashwan al-Tamir / Abd Hadi al Iraqi (hereinafter “Nashwan / Hadi”).  More about the MCOP and Nashwan / Hadi may be read through my earlier blog posts found here.

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The NGO Observer tents in Camp Justice where I reside at Guantanamo.

The Only Thing Constant in Guantanamo

Three fellow non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives join me this week in Guantanamo.

On Monday morning (24 September 2018), my fellow NGO representatives and I walked from our residence tents located in Camp Justice to the courthouse complex, about one hundred yards away.

I observed heavy equipment mobilizing around the courthouse complex as we walked.  While I presume this equipment is being employed pursuant to a series of multi-million dollar expansions proposed for Guantanamo under the Trump administration in 2018, I cannot say with certainty.

After passing through a series of security checks to gain entry into the courtroom site, we joined media representatives and military personnel in the Guantanamo courtroom viewing gallery where we would watch the proceedings.

I entered the gallery around 8:30 a.m. and observed a nearly-empty courtroom behind a double-paned glass wall separating the gallery from the well of the courtroom.  Only a few uniformed military personnel sat along the right-hand courtroom wall, while another conducted mic checks throughout.  I observed a 40-second delay between the live activities within the courtroom, the sound emitting from the gallery speakers, and the images displayed on five closed circuit televisions (CCTVs) mounted within the gallery.  I learned to expect this delay through the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay guide, and have since been informed by one of my escorts that the delay seeks to ensure that classified information is not released into to the gallery, and in turn to the public at large.

At 8:57 a.m., a U.S. Army internal security officer briefed those of us in the gallery on proper gallery decorum and standard emergency protocol.  He informed us that we were visible to the rest of the court attendees, that we were otherwise visible through gallery cameras, and that we were not to cause any distractions during the hearing.  He told us that we were free to exit the gallery during proceedings (or during recess), but that we should take our personal belongings with us when we left.  He told us that the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) would not assume responsibility for our possessions, and that all materials left in the gallery after court ended would be destroyed.  The courtroom remained nearly-empty during this time, with only a few military personnel moving throughout.

At 9:02 a.m., another Army internal security officer informed us that the day’s scheduled hearing was delayed indefinitely, “if it is to occur at all”.  He told us that we were free to exit the court site and return later should the hearing be rescheduled.  As we exited the gallery, I confirmed with the announcing officer that Nashwan / Hadi was not present at the court site.  I began to accept the possibility that I may not have a chance to monitor live proceedings while at Guantanamo.

My fellow NGO representatives and I remained near the court site as directed while we waited to receive further updates on the now delayed proceedings.  By 12:00 p.m. (noon), we had yet to hear anything, and I became restless.  Clamoring for news, I fruitlessly searched through various web resources, including the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) website, and the Miami Herald, which commonly features articles published by Ms. Carol Rosenberg.  Ms. Rosenberg is an award-winning and widely-published reporter of Guantanamo happenings, and was among the media representatives present with me in the courtroom gallery when the delay was announced.

At 2:30 p.m., our escorts received notice that the hearings would continue, and that we should immediately return to the courtroom gallery.  However, upon our return, we discovered that proceedings were yet again delayed, this time until 4:00 p.m.

“The only thing constant in Guantanamo is change,” one of my escorts declared with a chuckle.

Commission Hearing Resumes

Finally, at 4:03 p.m., the recently detailed Marine Lt. Col. Michael Libretto took the bench for the first time as the presiding military judge over the Nashwan / Hadi case.  Mr. Adam Thurschwell spoke as the lead defense attorney for Nashwan / Hadi, while Mr. Vaughn Spencer spoke as the prosecuting attorney for the U.S. Government.

Libretto began the Monday 24 September 2018 hearing by stating that Nashwan / Hadi would not be present for the day’s proceedings.  Libretto said that today’s proceedings were delayed because Nashwan / Hadi “refused to attend…and refused to expressly waive his presence via a written waiver.”

Next, Libretto stated that a recently detailed U.S. Army Senior Medical Officer or “SMO” (whose duties began on 17 September 2018) conducted a medical examination of Nashwan / Hadi following Nashwan’s / Hadi’s “refusal” to attend.  Libretto then stated that that today’s hearing was being held “for the limited purpose of hearing testimony from the [SMO]”.

Next, prosecuting counsel (Spencer) and defense counsel (Thurschwell) took turns questioning the SMO.  The crux of their questions regarded Nashwan’s / Hadi’s health concerns, and whether or not it would be reasonable for this week’s remaining commission hearings to proceed in Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence.

Abd Hadi al Iraqi (Nashwan al Tamir)

Nashwan al Tamir / Abd Hadi al Iraqi (pictured) underwent his fifth spinal surgery within an eight-month period in May 2018 (2014 photo by the International Committee of the Red Cross).

During questioning, the SMO stated that it would be “reasonable” for Nashwan / Hadi to be transported from his cell for up to four hours at a time, but not more than once per week.  This would allow Nashwan / Hadi to meet with defense counsel, and to attend abridged commission hearings as needed.

Accordingly, Spencer asked the SMO whether or not removing Nashwan / Hadi from his cell for up to four hours as the SMO suggested would “affect his [Nashwan’s / Hadi’s] underlying medical condition in any way”.

The SMO responded, “I don’t believe so.”

Next, Thurschwell expounded upon Nashwan’s / Hadi’s health concerns through a series of questions.  Notably, Thurschwell asked the SMO whether or not Nashwan / Hadi has suffered chronic “severe upper back pain and spasms” which have at times caused Nashwan / Hadi “difficulty breathing”.  Thurschwell also characterized Nashwan’s / Hadi’s symptoms as “extreme pain, stress, and difficulty breathing”.

The SMO affirmatively acknowledged Nashwan’s / Hadi’s symptoms, and at one time declared, “He [Nashwan / Hadi] reports tightness and tension in his shoulders and in his trapezius that he says has been consistent for a long time.”

Later, Thurschwell asked the SMO if he could predict whether or not transporting Nashwan / Hadi from his cell could cause “those severe symptoms” on any particular occasion.

The SMO responded, “Those symptoms?  Not specifically.”

Finally, Thurschwell asked the SMO whether or not he has “any reason to doubt” Nashwan’s / Hadi’s reported pain or symptoms.

The SMO responded, “No.” and “I don’t.”

At 5:13 p.m., Libretto dismissed the SMO from the day’s proceedings, and stated that the commission would recess for 10 minutes.

Following the recess, Libretto issued the following order, directed commission officials to inform Nashwan / Hadi of the following order, and in turn concluded the Monday 24 September 2018 hearing:

One, that a session of the commission will commence tomorrow morning 25 September 2018 at 0900 [9:00 a.m.].

Two, pursuant to R.M.C. 804, the accused has a right to be present at the session.

Three, the senior medical officer has medically cleared the accused to travel to this commission session that is scheduled for 25 September 2018.

The commission is hereby ordering the presence of the accused at the 25 September 2018 session.

The commission will not order the use of force to compel the accused’s presence.

And finally, six, that it is possible that the commission may proceed in the accused’s absence if he refuses to attend the 25 September 2018 session.

Note:  For those wishing to access the unofficial / unauthenticated transcript of the 24 September 2018 proceedings as published through the OMC website, you may do so here.

Conclusion

My first day of monitoring hearings at Guantanamo required great patience and flexibility.

Pleased stay tuned for future updates.

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Me working in the NGO Center located near Camp Justice.

Jacob Irven, J.D. 2018
Military Commission Observation Project
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Voter Protection Legal Fellow
Indiana Democratic Party

Jacob.Irven@gmail.com

Bound for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: Reporting from Andrews Air Force Base

Reporting from Andrews Air Force Base

I am a recent graduate of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) representing the IU McKinney Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).  This morning I am traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor U.S. military commissions against an alleged high-level member of al Qaeda who is charged with several war crimes.

The MCOP, which was founded by Professor George E. Edwards, routinely sends IU McKinney students, faculty, staff, and graduates to Guantanamo to serve as non-governmental organization (NGO) Observers, through a Pentagon initiative in line with the U.S. government’s stated objective of transparency in the war crimes proceedings occurring at Guantanamo.  Indiana’s NGO Observers travel to Guantanamo with a mission to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on the commissions.  I write to you now from Andrews Air Force Base while waiting to board my military flight to Guantanamo in furtherance of this mission.

I am joined at Andrews by three other NGO Observers representing different organizations.  This is a relatively small group of Observers, as Guantanamo NGO Observer groups can sometimes consist of ten or more individuals.  While we wait, we are studying two manuals, prepared by Professor Edwards, related to our mission:

(a)  Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual – Excerpts (which describes the U.S. Military Commissions, what a fair trial should look like at Guantanamo, the applicable law, and other related materials); and

(b) Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay (which describes a pragmatic approach to NGO Observation, the Roles and Responsibilities of NGO Observers, the Dos and Don’ts at Guantanamo, the beaches, the restaurants, the theaters, and various other amenities available at Guantanamo when court is not in session).

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NGO Observers reviewing copies of the “Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual – Excerpts.

Beyond this, we have been introduced to two escorts who are to serve as our primary liaisons and guides during our stay at Guantanamo.  Our escorts have identified various rules to be followed while at Guantanamo (including photography limitations, security badge requirements, and the need to inform each other of our activities and whereabouts during our stay).  They also explained that serving as an NGO Observer at Guantanamo would be an exercise of flexibility and patience, as rules and schedules are often subject to change (see “Reduced Hearing Schedule” heading below).

Nashwan al Tamir / Abd Hadi al Iraqi

I will be observing the case against Nashwan al-Tamir (what he declares to be his true name), or Abd al Hadi al Iraqi (the name the prosecution used in the charges; hereinafter “Nashwan / Hadi”).  Nashwan / Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda, and is accused of commanding indiscriminate attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan and Pakistan in collaboration the Taliban, among other charges.  Nashwan / Hadi was captured in Turkey in late 2006 and was soon turned over to U.S. intelligence.  He subsequently spent 170 days in secret CIA custody before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2007, where he has been the subject of proceedings since 2014.  He is described as a “high-value detainee” by U.S. officials, and was proclaimed by the Bush administration to be among Osama bin Laden’s “most experienced paramilitary leaders”.

Reduced Hearing Schedule

In the days preceding my scheduled flight to Guantanamo, I received an email from the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) Convening Authority informing me that the hearings for this coming week in the Nashwan / Hadi case had been reduced from a full week of hearings (24 – 28 September 2018) to a single hearing day (24 September 2018).  I was not entirely surprised by this news.  Guantanamo hearing schedules tend to change with little notice, perhaps especially in the case against Tamir / Hadi, given the reported fragile state of his health.  Indeed, during my past nomination, the hearings I was scheduled to observe were cancelled altogether.

The OMC initially suggested that because of the reduced hearing days, we would return from Guantanamo earlier than scheduled.  However, at Andrews our escorts informed us that we would remain at Guantanamo for the entire week – Sunday through Saturday – even though we would have hearings only on Monday morning.  Our escorts also told us that they are organizing non-court activities at Guantanamo, with more information to soon follow.

I am excited for the hearing, and to see how the rest of the week unfolds.

Conclusion

Please stay tuned for future updates; I plan to continue blogging throughout my stay at Guantanamo.

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Fellow NGO Observers and I holding our copies of the “Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay Guide” in preparation for our trip to Guantanamo.  I am second from the right.

Jacob Irven, J.D. 2018
Military Commission Observation Project
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Voter Protection Legal Fellow
Indiana Democratic Party

Jacob.Irven@gmail.com

Travel to Guantanamo Bay to Monitor War Crimes Hearings Against Nashwan al Tamir / Hadi al Iraqi

Nominated for Travel

I am a recent graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) seeking to begin a career in public interest law, and I am participating in IU McKinney’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) as an NGO Observer.

Abd Hadi al Iraqi (Nashwan al Tamir)

Nashwan al Tamir / Abd Hadi al Iraqi (2014 photo by the International Committee of the Red Cross)

With the Pentagon’s approval, I am now scheduled to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on military commission hearings at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station (GTMO) in the case against Nashwan al-Tamir (what he declares to be his true name), or Abd al Hadi al Iraqi (as he is being charged by the prosecution; hereinafter “Tamir / Hadi”).  I am scheduled to observe hearings in the case against Tamir / Hadi between 22 September 2018 and 29 September 2018.

Tamir / Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda, and is accused of commanding indiscriminate attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan and Pakistan in collaboration the Taliban, among other charges.  Tamir / Hadi was captured in Turkey in late 2006 and was soon after turned over to U.S. intelligence.  He subsequently spent 170 days in secret CIA custody before being transferred to GTMO in 2007, where he has been the subject of criminal proceedings since 2014.  He is one of seventeen men U.S. officials have described as a “high-value detainee” currently being held at GTMO, and was proclaimed by the Bush administration to be among Osama bin Laden’s “most experienced paramilitary leaders”.  Tamir / Hadi faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for his alleged crimes.

Previous Nomination

I was previously nominated to observe proceedings against Tamir / Hadi in April 2018.  However, approximately one week prior to my scheduled travel date, I received an email from the U.S. Office of Military Commissions declaring that these hearings were cancelled.  I never received an official communication stating the reason for this cancellation, nor have I located definitive information regarding this cancellation elsewhere.  Thus, I cannot conclusively state the reason for it one way or another at this time.

Notably, however, Tamir / Hadi’s severe chronic back pain, which caused him to undergo a series of four spinal surgeries in 2017, has compelled cancellations and other adjustments within Tamir / Hadi’s hearing schedule in past instances.  Indeed, Tamir has apparently undergone a fifth spinal surgery as late as May 2018, which also resulted in hearing cancelations.  With this in mind, I have opted to keep my September schedule largely flexible so I may possibly attend alternative hearings in the event of further cancelations.

Background and Interest in Observing

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Me speaking during the Program in International Human Rights Law 20th Anniversary in December 2017.

I became interested in the MCOP through my past engagements with IU McKinney’s exceptional Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.  During the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to support human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) spanning across three continents as a PIHRL Intern.  I worked with NGOs in Poland, Uganda, and Mongolia on a broad range of public interest and human rights work.

With the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland, I generated research presented in amici curiae briefs in the European Court of Human Rights.  With the Community Transformation Foundation Network in Uganda, I conducted field interviews with survivors of intimate partner violence to supplement ongoing impact reports.  With the LGBT Centre in Mongolia, I helped train over 100 police officers to better understand Mongolia’s newly-established hate crime laws and to better support survivors of hate crimes.

It is through these tremendous experiences that I developed a deeper appreciation for international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law.  This appreciation immediately attracted me to the MCOP, as the crux of its mission is to ensure the U.S. Government follows its enduring mandate to respect fair trial rights and other internationally-recognized human rights for all stakeholders during GTMO proceedings.

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Me in the Ulaanbaatar City Public Library in August 2017 presenting and facilitating discussion on “A Guide to U.S. Master of Laws (LL.M.) & Other U.S. Law Degree Programs for Students from Mongolia”, as prepared by Professor George E. Edwards.

Preparing to Observe

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Me reviewing the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume I) in preparation for travel to GTMO during my previous nomination.

To prepare myself to travel to GTMO as an NGO Observer, I continue to review several relevant documents authored by Professor George E. Edwards with contributions from other IU McKinney affiliates.  First among these are the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume I) and the Appendices to Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume II).  These Manuals identify the internationally-recognized rights which apply to fair trials in the U.S. Military Commission context.  They also detail the roles and objectives of NGO Observers in this context, and thus continue to be invaluable resources during my preparations.

Next among these documents is the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay Guide.  The Guide further details the roles of NGO Observers at GTMO, and seeks to assist Observers with all manner of logistics as they prepare to travel and observe hearings.  Information regarding how to travel to GTMO, how to stay healthy while at GTMO, and even where to eat while at GTMO are all included in the Guide.  Not only has this Guide been informative, it has also offered me great peace of mind.

Beyond these materials, I have continued reviewing publicly accessible GTMO case information through the U.S. Military Commission website – www.mc.mil – to better familiarize myself with the substantive proceedings in the case against Tamir / Hadi, and to better understand the procedural context of Military Commissions in general.  Among the most notable progressions in the Tamir / Hadi case since my first nomination is the detailing of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael D. Libretto as the new presiding judge over proceedings, who replaced the previously detailed Marine Colonel Peter S. Rubin on 13 June 2018.

Since my first nomination, I have also closely monitored posts authored by journalist Carol Rosenberg which are available on the Miami Herald, as well as subsequent blog posts by other MCOP Representatives which are available on the GITMO Observer.  As past MCOP Representatives have pointed out, Ms. Rosenberg provides comprehensive reports on GTMO proceedings, which serve as excellent supplements to the GTMO case information I described above.

I remain hopeful and excited that the hearings I am scheduled to attend will not cancel as they did during my prior nomination, and I remain eager to fulfil my important role as an NGO Observer.

As always, please stay tuned for future posts.

Jacob Irven, J.D ‘18.

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

My NGO Observer Trip to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is Cancelled

Tamir / Hadi Hearings Cancelled

I am a 3L student at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law and was recently approved by the Pentagon to travel to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (GTMO) to observe military commission hearings in the case against Nashwan al-Tamir, referred to by the prosecution as Abd al Hadi al Iraqi (“Tamir / Hadi”).

Tamir / Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda, and is accused of commanding attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan in collaboration the Taliban, among other charges.  Tamir / Hadi has been detained at GTMO since 2007—over 10 years.  As a representative of the law school’s Military Commission Observation Project, I was compelled to attend, observe (and be observed), analyze, critique, and report on Tamir / Hadi hearings.  The hearings were scheduled to occur between 8 April 2018 and 14 April 2018.

Approximately one week prior to my scheduled travel date, I received an email from the U.S. Office of Military Commissions declaring that the hearings I was scheduled to attend were cancelled.  I have yet to receive word regarding why these cancellations occurred.

The Importance of NGO Observers

Admittedly, I am a little disappointed the hearings cancelled.  As an independent NGO Observer, I was to serve an important role helping ensure the U.S. government followed its enduring mandate to respect fair trial rights and other human rights for all stakeholders during the hearings.  I was also to serve an important role communicating my experiences, insights, and conclusions about the hearings with the broader public, just as past Observers have done through The Gitmo Observer and other channels.

However, I ultimately remain hopeful that I will have the opportunity to attend hearings in the future, whether at GTMO or at Ft. Meade in Maryland.

In the meantime, I plan to continue consulting both the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume I) and the Appendices to Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume II).  These Manuals, which feature ongoing contributions from Professor George E. Edwards and other Indiana University McKinney Law affiliates, identify internationally-recognized rights that apply to fair trials in the U.S. Military Commission context.  They also detail the roles and objectives of NGO Observers in this context, and have therefore been invaluable resources as I have prepared for my role as an NGO Observer.  Beyond the Fair Trial Manuals, I also plan to continue consulting the publically accessible GTMO case information available through the U.S. Military Commission website – www.mc.mil.

Jacob Irven (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

Nominated to Travel to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to Monitor Hearings Against Nashwan al-Tamir / Abd al Hadi Al Iraqi

Nominated for Travel

I am a student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, and I am currently participating within the law school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) as an NGO Observer.  With the Pentagon’s approval, I am scheduled to attend, observe (and be observed), analyze, critique, and report on military commission hearings at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (GTMO) in the case against Nashwan al-Tamir, referred to by the prosecution as Abd al Hadi al Iraqi (“Tamir / Hadi”).  The hearings are scheduled to occur between 8 April 2018 and 14 April 2018.

Abd Hadi al Iraqi (Nashwan al Tamir)
Nashwan al Tamir / Abd Hadi al Iraqi (2014 photo by the International Committee of the Red Cross)

Tamir / Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda, and is accused of commanding attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan in collaboration the Taliban, among other charges.  Tamir / Hadi has been detained at GTMO since 2007, and has been the subject of criminal trial proceedings there since 2014.

Background and Interest in Observing

I became interested in the MCOP through my past engagements with the law school’s exceptional Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL).  During the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to support human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) spanning across three continents as a PIHRL Intern.  I worked with NGOs in Poland, Uganda, and Mongolia on a broad range of public interest and human rights work.

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Me standing next to the “A Tolerant and Hate-Free Mongolia” banner developed during my summer 2017 PIHRL Internship.

With the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland, I generated research presented in amici curiae briefs in the European Court of Human Rights.  With the Community Transformation Foundation Network in Uganda, I conducted field interviews with survivors of intimate partner violence to supplement ongoing impact reports.  With the LGBT Centre in Mongolia, I helped train over 100 police officers to better understand Mongolia’s newly-established hate crime laws and to better support survivors of hate crimes.

It is through these tremendous experiences that I developed a deeper appreciation for international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law.  This appreciation immediately attracted me to the MCOP, as the crux of its mission is to ensure the U.S. Government follows its enduring mandate to respect fair trial rights and other internationally-recognized human rights for all stakeholders during GTMO proceedings.

Preparing to Observe

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Me reviewing the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume I) in preparation for travel.

To prepare myself to travel to GTMO as an NGO Observer, I have primarily been reviewing several documents authored by Professor George E. Edwards with contributions from several other Indiana University McKinney Law School affiliates.  First among these are the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume I) and the Appendices to Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume II).  These Manuals identify the internationally-recognized rights that apply to fair trials in the U.S. Military Commission context.  They also detail the roles and objectives of NGO Observers in this context, and have therefore been invaluable resources during my preparations.

Next among these is the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay Guide.  The Guide further details the roles of NGO Observers at GTMO, and seeks to assist Observers with all manner of logistics as they prepare to travel and observe hearings.  Information regarding how to travel to GTMO, how to stay healthy while at GTMO, and even where to eat while at GTMO are all included in the Guide.  Not only has this been informative, but it has offered me tremendous peace of mind, particularly as a first-time Observer.

Beyond these materials, I have also been reviewing publicly accessible GTMO case information available through the U.S. Military Commission website – www.mc.mil.  This has allowed me to better familiarize myself with the substantive proceedings in the case against Tamir / Hadi, and has granted me a better understanding of the procedural context of Military Commissions in general.

Finally, I have arranged for own my travel to Joint Base Andrews in Washington, D.C., which is required for all MCOP Representatives.  I remain excited for the journey to come, and to further engage in my important role as an NGO Observer.

Please stay tuned for future posts.

Jacob Irven (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

Public Denied Guantanamo Bay Hearing Broadcast at Ft. Meade, Maryland

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Observers from Indiana at Ft. Meade monitoring a Guantanamo Bay Military Commission hearing. Observers were permitted to see / hear the video / audio feed from the Guantanamo courtroom. (file photo)

Public observers at Ft. Meade, Maryland were banned today from watching satellite broadcasts of a hearing being conducted in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom, even though public observers physically at Guantanamo were permitted to view the same hearing.

Pentagon pledge of open and transparent hearings

For many years U.S. Military Commissions have been held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to try individuals charged with war crimes. The Pentagon has stated that these criminal proceedings should be open and transparent, and that to facilitate transparency the Pentagon permits a small number of Observers to travel to Guantanamo to monitor hearings. Observers typically represent human rights or advocacy groups, or academic programs. Observers serve as eyes and ears for the general public, who do not have the opportunity to travel to Guantanamo Bay to witness hearings.

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The Guantanamo Bay Military Commission Courtroom, viewed from the spectator gallery. (file photo)

Observers sit in an enclosed spectator gallery in the rear of the Guantanamo courtroom, separated from the lawyers, prosecutors and defendants by a double-paned glass. Observers can see what is going on in the courtroom, and hear what is said.

The Pentagon also permits Observers to view Guantanamo proceedings by close-circuit television (CCTV) in a secure facility at Ft. Meade, Maryland. Observers at Ft. Meade can see what the cameras are pointing at in the Guantanamo courtroom, and hear what he Observers at Guantanamo hear.

Today, in what appears to be the first time, Observers were permitted to be present in the Guantanamo courtroom spectator gallery and monitor proceedings live, but Observers were not permitted to view those same proceedings by CCTV at Ft. Meade.

Thus, NGOs in the U.S. were effectively banned from monitoring today’s proceeding.

Why the ban?

It is unclear why Observers in the U.S. were banned from monitoring the hearings by CCTV at Ft. Meade today, while Observers could view the hearings live at Guantanamo.

Lawyers for the prosecution and defense apparently argued yesterday and over the weekend about the Ft. Meade ban. But, at least some of those arguments were held behind closed doors, with no Observer being permitted to hear.  Though motion papers were filed related to the ban, those documents are subject to a security review and are not releasable to the public until after 14 days, and may not be released even then.

There are 5 Observers at Guantanamo this week, and they were able to hear some arguments about the Ft. Meade ban. Indeed, they were in the courtroom able to witness today’s hearings – the same hearings from which the Fort Meade Observers were banned.

Again, it is unclear what the convincing argument is that Observers can watch today’s proceedings live in the Guantanamo courtroom, but other Observers cannot watch today’s proceedings by CCTV at Ft. Meade.

My Ft. Meade experiences today

I arrived at Ft. Meade well before the scheduled start time of today’s hearing. The staff member who oversees the Ft. Meade viewing room was there, the lights were on in the room, and the miniature lockers were in place in the rear of the viewing room so Observers could store their cell phones which can’t be used during the CCTV broadcasts.

The minutes ticked away, and soon I learned that an official message had been received that the hearings would not be broadcast to Ft. Meade today, and that was by order.

Nevertheless, I waited to see if  the hearing would open, with an announcement of closure made, before the transmission stopped.

Also, was there still a chance that the hearing would be transmitted in full? Just as an order is made, an order can be reversed.

In today’s case, the initial order regarding this week’s hearings was that Observers could monitor at Guantanamo Bay and at Ft. Meade. A subsequent order reversed the portion of the former order that permitted transmission to Ft. Meade. That reversal prohibited the transmission to Ft. Meade. That reversal could very well have been, and could still be, reversed, and transmission could have occurred today. It appears that it would only take a flip of a switch to begin transmitting from Guantanamo to Ft. Meade, and that such transmissions could be started at any point.

I continued to wait. The large video screen in front of the viewing room stayed dark and blank.

The person at Ft. Meade who oversees the technical side of the transmission sits in a different room of the same building where the viewing room is. I checked with that person, and was informed that there was no sign that the transmission would commence.

I left about 90 minutes into the hearing, with the screen still dark and blank, witnessing none of today’s testimony.

Options?

Yesterday I discussed in a blog post what my options were for being able to observe today’s hearings, particularly since I (and other Observers) chose not to travel to Guantanamo Bay this week in part because we were initially permitted to observe at Ft. Meade. We were informed 4 days ago (Friday) that NGOs would be banned from viewing the hearings at Ft. Meade. By then it was too late to catch the Sunday flight to Guantanamo Bay to view the hearings in person, sitting in the spectator gallery, along with the 5 Observers who are there. There are 14 seats reserved for Observers in the Guantanamo courtroom, so they had room for 9 more Observers this week.

Had I known last week what I know today, I definitely would have requested travel to Guantanamo Bay for this week’s hearings.

I am scheduled to deliver in Australia early next week, and I could have delivered (and still could deliver) that lecture by video rather than in person, freeing me to be at Guantanamo Bay for this entire week. Indeed, if I could go to Guantanamo tonight or tomorrow for the remainder of this week’s hearings that are not being transmitted to Ft. Meade, I would do so and deliver the Australia lecture by video.

Perhaps the Military Commission will permit Observers who were banned from viewing this week’s proceeding at Ft. Meade to view the videotape? The videotape cannot be classified, because if it were, then the 5 Observers at Guantanamo this week would not have been permitted to be in the courtroom for the hearing.

If the reason for the Ft. Meade ban was security associated with transmitting it stateside – maybe the possibility of interception / hacking – then I and other interested Observers could watch the videotape in a secure room at the Pentagon, or in a secure facility when we are next at Guantanamo Bay – and even possibly watch the video in the courtroom itself.

Also, if any victims and family members of victims (VFMs) are interested in watching the video, maybe they will be permitted to do so as well. Several FVMs were present in the Guantanamo courtroom for today’s hearings, but VFMs were denied the opportunity to observe today’s hearing at Ft. Meade, just as Observers were denied the opportunity to observe. Indeed, any member of the general public, aside from Observers, were similarly denied the opportunity to observe at Ft. Meade, though members of the general public are entitled to observe at Ft. Meade, as are Observers, VFMs, and media.

George Edwards

 

Prohibited from observing Guantanamo Bay hearing at stateside CCTV viewing facility

ft-meadeI was scheduled to travel to Ft. Meade, Maryland, the week of Monday, 14 August 2017 to monitor pre-trial hearings in the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commission case against an alleged high-level al Qaeda member. The hearings were to be broadcast via-closed circuit television (CCTV) from Cuba to the Ft. Meade army base, where I have monitored hearings in all the active Guantanamo Bay cases. The U.S. government has stated that Guantanamo Bay (a/k/a Gitmo) proceedings should be open and transparent, and that CCTV broadcasts to Ft. Meade promote openness and transparency.

Now, unexpectedly, it is unclear whether the CCTV will operate this week, and whether I and others will be able to observe this week’s proceedings at Ft. Meade.

Camp JusticeI was informed that the military judge in charge of the case has reversed an earlier ruling, and has now prohibited this week’s proceedings from being broadcast to Ft. Meade. His new ruling apparently permits 5 monitors who traveled to Guantanamo this weekend to observe / monitor the hearings while sitting in the spectator section of the Guantanamo courtroom. However, monitors such as myself who planned to observe from Ft. Meade are effectively banned from observing this week’s proceedings.

In addition, presumably members of other stakeholder groups – such as victims and their families (VFMs), media, and the public at large — are likewise banned from observing this week’s proceedings at Ft. Meade. And, again, the only observers permitted to monitor are those who happened to be on the plane to Guantanamo Bay this weekend.

What are this week’s hearings about?

The defendant in this week’s case is Mr. Hadi al Iraqi (Mr. Nashwan al Tamir), who is an alleged high-level member of al Qaeda who allegedly perpetrated war crimes. This week’s hearings are out of the ordinary in that they would not consist primarily of prosecution and defense lawyers arguing about a range of issues that are typically resolved pre-trial. Instead, this week would consist of testimony by a different Guantanamo detainee, Mr. al Darbi, who pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government as a witness against Hadi. Ordinarily, a government witness would testify at the actual trial, and not during the pre-trial hearing stage. However, al Darbi is set to be repatriated to his home country soon, and is not expected to be available to testify live during the trial. This week’s testimony is in part a stated attempt to “preserve” al Darbi’s testimony (in the form of a deposition), which could be introduced against Hadi at trial.

My interests in this week’s hearings

I am a professor of international law, and founded the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commission Observation Project / Gitmo Observer at Indiana University McKinney School of Law. (www.GitmoObserver.com) The Pentagon granted our Project status that permits us, as a non-governmental organization (NGO), to send observers / monitors to Guantanamo Bay and Ft. Meade to observe / monitor hearings.

Our Indiana Project is a independent and objective. We are not aligned with any side or party associated with the military commissions.

Among other things, we have developed the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual,* which independently and objectively examines rights and interests of all categories of Gitmo stakeholders, not just the rights of the defendants. The Manual explores rights and interests, under international and U.S. law, of the following stakeholder groups: defendants (as mentioned), the prosecution, victims and their families, media, witnesses, the Court and its employees, the Guantanamo Bay guard force, other detainees, NGO observers, and others.

Many of our Indiana observers have traveled to Ft. Meade and Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings. We publish, among other things, blog posts on http://www.GitmoObserver.com.

 The judge’s earlier ruling – Yes, NGOs can view at Ft. Meade this week.

The judge in the Hadi case initially ruled that the taking of al Darbi’s testimony, in the form of a deposition, would be open to the public. For purposes of this blog post, that meant at least two things:

  • NGO representatives would be permitted to fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to be present in the courtroom’s spectator gallery so they can observe / monitor the deposition live; and
  • NGO representatives, and other members of the public, would be permitted to travel to Ft. Meade, Maryland where they could observe / monitor the deposition via close circuit television.

NGOs being permitted to observe at both Gitmo and Ft. Meade has been standard for hearings for years.

The Judge’s most recent ruling – NGOs are prohibited from observing at Ft. Meade this week

This past week, word circulated that the judge had issued an order prohibiting NGOs (and presumably prohibiting other stakeholders) from viewing the al Darbi deposition via CCTV at Ft. Meade. Apparently NGOs who traveled to Guantanamo this weekend could still observe the deposition live in the courtroom.

I have not actually seen the judge’s ruling, as his rulings, like all filed pre-trial hearing motion papers, are not ordinarily released to the public until the papers undergo a security check, a process that takes at least 14 days. However, word of the ban reached me and others.

Options for me to observe / monitor the hearings this coming week?

I had the opportunity to apply for an NGO observer slot to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor the hearings live this week from a seat in the courtroom’s spectator gallery. But, I decided not to apply in part because I believed I would be able to observe this week’s hearings at Ft. Meade.

Had I known that the judge would reverse his ruling and ban NGOs from observing the hearings at Ft. Meade this week, would I have applied for an observer slot to travel to Gitmo for the deposition? Most probably yes.

Though I had a law lecture scheduled in Australia for the week following the Hadi hearings, I would have sought harder to figure out a way to get to Gitmo for the deposition and still arrive in Australia for my lecture. I had figured out that I could do both – fly to Gitmo and fly to Australia, and that would have been my preferred course. But, again, I decided that I could observe at Ft. Meade this time and avoid scheduling issues.

When I learned that the judge prohibited CCTV feed at Guantanamo this week, I thought about how I could get to Gitmo this weekend. It turned out to be an unsurmountable challenge, because, for example, timing was short for the paperwork that needed to be completed before Gitmo travel.

My plans for the al Darbi hearing / deposition

At the moment, I plan to travel to Ft. Meade on Monday morning, 14 August 2017. Though I have been informed that the feed has been cut to Ft. Meade for Monday, the possibility exists that the judge will change his mind and re-open the hearings at Ft. Meade, making it possible for me, other NGO representatives, and other stakeholders to observe / monitor there – again, if the judge orders the CCTV to go forward for Ft. Meade and if any of us is able physically to be present at Ft. Meade this week.

George Edwards

 

* The full title of the Manual is “Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual for U.S. Military Commissions: An Independent & Objective Guide for Assessing Human Rights Protections and Interests of the Prosecution, the Defense, Victims & Victims’ Families, Witnesses, the Press, the Court, JTF-GTMO Detention Personnel, Other Detainees, NGO Observers and Other Military Commission Stakeholders

 

 

Going Back to Guantanamo Bay Today

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Andrews Air Force Base at Dawn. I took this photo in front of the Visitors’ Center

Today is my 4th scheduled trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since January 2017, the month of the inauguration. The first three of these early 2017 war crimes pre-trial hearings were cancelled, the last one just hours before our military flight was scheduled to depart Andrews Air Force base.

I’m back at Andrews again pre-dawn, with dozens of other people – civilian and military – heading to Guantanamo for US military commission pre-trial hearings in the case against Nashwan al-Tamir, referred to by the prosecution as Abd al Hadi al Iraqi (“Tamir / Hadi”), an alleged high-level Al

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Laptop, passport & boarding passcaption

Qaeda member who allegedly committed war crimes. These hearings were originally scheduled for two weeks — five days this coming week and five days next week — but next week’s hearings were cancelled.

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Boarding pass. Note the price.

We were meant to arrive at Andrews at 6:00 AM for a 10:00 AM flight — four hours in advance is standard. While waiting, there is time for me to meet the other 4 non-governmental organization observers (described below), and to see who else is scheduled to fly with us. There has not been much air traffic at Andrews on any of my trips to and from Guantanamo.  On occasion, dignitaries on official planes will pass through the otherwise spartan Andrews Air Terminal.

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The defendant — Nashwan al-Tamir / Abd al Hadi al Iraqi

The defendant – Tamir / Hadi

Tamir / Hadi is a high-value detainee who is an alleged high-ranking member of al Qaeda who served as liaison between al Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban. He is charged under the U.S. Military Commissions Act with a series of war crimes, including attacking protected property, perfidy / treachery, denying quarter, and targeting noncombatants such as medical workers and civilians. Among other things, he is alleged to have helped the Taliban blow up the monument-sized Bamiyan Valley Buddha Statues, which were a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Tamir / Hadi was officially charged in the equivalent of an arraignment in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom in June 2014. I happened to be present at Guantanamo and in the courtroom for that proceeding.

Unlike most of the other detainees charged with international crimes, Tamir / Hadi is facing a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, rather than a death sentence faced by, for example, the five men charged with masterminding the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Our Pre-Trial Hearing Week at Gitmo 

It is unclear what will transpire during this week of pre-trial hearings. I downloaded an official docket of motions originally scheduled to be argued in court this week. However, the amended docket is hidden behind a pentagon security firewall, beyond the reach of the small handful of “observers”, like myself taking today’s 3-hour flight to this remote outpost tribunal. Rumor has it that we will only have 2 days in the courtroom this week, though the hearings are scheduled morning and evening, Monday – Friday. This means that we may have plenty of time to explore non-courtroom endeavors, including research and writing. Time permitting, I will be able to focus on research for my new book, The Guantanamo Bay Reader: Voices of Those Living and Shaping the Gitmo Experience.

Inevitably, many of us on these trips find time to engage in recreational activities.

It’s good to see some familiar faces here in the terminal, weary as we all gear up for a solid week of Guantanamo work.

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The other 3 male Observers. We have one female observer on this trip as well.

It is also great to meet the 4 other observers who will be with me on this trip. Most appear to be lawyers, with two being prosecutors.

With us are the military judge and his staff, prosecutors, defense counsel, interpreters and translators, security personnel, media, escorts for various groups, and us observers. I also noticed some families, with young children, returning to Guantanamo where they are stationed as part of the 3 to 4 thousand permanent U.S. military living at Guantanamo. Another approximately 1,600 are at Guantanamo to handle matters related to the 41 detainees remaining there.

IMG_0035Please stay tuned for more reports from Guantanamo Bay. Among other things, I plan to provide updates on the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, produced by the Guantanamo Bay Military Commission Observation Project of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and share information about the 4 other NGO representatives scheduled to observe this week’s proceedings with me. I also plan to discuss my new book, The Guantanamo Bay Reader.

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

At Joint Base Andrews Flying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

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Sunrise over the snowy Joint Base Andrews Airstrip.

[Posted on behalf of S. Willard]

This morning (Sunday the 8th of January) I am traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to serve as an observer / monitor of criminal hearings in a U.S. military commission case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who is an alleged high ranking member of al Qaeda Iraq and liaison with the Taliban. The U.S. has charged with war crimes resulting in deaths.

I am an Indiana University McKinney School of Law student on mission representing the Indiana University Program on International Human Rights Law’s (PIHRL) Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP). As an observer / monitor, my role is to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the military commissions – both the substance and the process.

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My passport and Gitmo flight boarding pass.

I arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside of Washington, DC, at 5:00 a.m. for my flight to Cuba, which is supposed to depart at 8:00 a.m. I checked in for my flight, presenting my passport, my Military Orders, and my APACS (which I explain in an earlier blog). It looks like the flight is on schedule this morning.

I met my fellow NGO observers from different human rights groups (NGOs), and we are almost ready to board our plane to take off for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from Andrews Air Force Base (which is the home of Air Force 1). We were told that the travel will be about 3 hours and 15 minutes.

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My boarding pass for Gitmo, & my yellow Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts.

I have my boarding pass in hand (see the photo) and my yellow Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts copies of which I distributed to the other observers.

I took a few photos at Andrews this morning. I will post additional photos and substantive posts when I arrive at Guantanamo Bay. Because I am having trouble with wifi at Andrews, I am asking Professor Edwards (the Indiana program founding director) if he will post this Andrews Post for me.

Sheila Willard (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

(Posted by G. Edwards on behalf of S. Willard)

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Preparing for my mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

I was nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law and confirmed by the Pentagon to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor military commission hearings in the case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who has requested to be called Nashwan al Tamir, from 9 – 14 January 2017.  Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda responsible for war crimes.

My earlier monitoring at Ft. Meade 

Last month I traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor military commission hearings in the Guantanamo case against the 5 alleged masterminds of he 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The hearings were held at Guantanamo, but broadcast live into a secure facility at Ft. Meade.

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Standing at the entrance to the Visitor Center at Ft. Meade, MD after a long day of observation.

Experiencing the hearings first-hand through live feed at Ft. Meade was intriguing in the sense that it seemed surreal.  Watching the alleged 9/11 masterminds as one would any defendant on trial was incredibly interesting, considering that until then, the news was my only source of information regarding these men.  Seeing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s red beard, and hearing the defendants speak in their native language, followed directly by broken English tinged with what appeared to be annoyance made these larger than life figures come to life.

My Guantanamo Bay travel nomination

When I monitored at Ft. Meade, I was excited, and had an enlightening experience.

But when I was nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay, I could not believe my eyes, or my fortune.  The nomination email came from the program on the night before my first final exam of the fall semester, and I couldn’t wait to finish finals so that I could focus on preparing for my mission.  Having had the experience at Ft. Meade and now gaining the experience of witnessing the hearings first-hand at Guantanamo Bay will enable me to contribute to Indiana’s project in a better, more informed way.

I was truly honored to represent Indiana at Ft. Meade, and am truly honored to represent Indiana at Guantanamo Bay.

My Background

My journey to this precise moment has been a long, eventful one.

My mother and father came to the United States in the late 1970’s to escape a military regime in Argentina.  They ended up in Texas, where I would be born.  When I was at the age of 3 months, my mother returned to Argentina with me in tow to finalize her Visa paperwork, and we were unable to return to the U.S. because the lawyer had not completed the paperwork properly.  I was raised for 3 years in Argentina, while my mother and father tried desperately to reunite.  Eventually, my mother and I were able to return to the U.S. and the family was reunited.

I moved from Texas to Indiana a couple of decades later to join my husband who is a native Hoosier.  Indiana has given me so many incredible opportunities that I never imagined!

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Indiana -> Andrews Air Force Base -> Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Paperwork

The nomination to travel to Guantanamo arrived in the middle of law school finals, but I was determined to see the requirements through.

The Pentagon sent me an e-mail containing 4 documents to complete and return in just a couple of days.  The documents required by the Pentagon are 1) Hold Harmless Agreement, 2) Invitational Travel Worksheet, 3) Navy Base Access Pass Registration, and 4) NGO Ground Rules, along with a biography and picture.

I completed the paperwork using templates provided by Professor Edwards, since lawyers and Administrators at Indiana University have specific requirements as to how Indiana University affiliates must complete the paperwork.

I submitted my completed draft paperwork to Professor Edwards who sent it back to me once for revisions.  I believe that he wanted to make certain that the completed paperwork met Indiana University requirements so that Indiana officials would endorse the paperwork, and he wanted to make certain that the paperwork met the Pentagon’s standards.  The Pentagon has rejected paperwork that was not completed properly, so a second pair of eyes was necessary to make certain I was sending accurate, completed paperwork.

Professor Edwards tracked the documents through the appropriate IU channels for approval.  Once I received the stamped endorsed documents from IU, I forwarded these to my Pentagon contact, who quickly approved them the same day. 

Preparation: The Game Plan

As I prepare for the holidays with my family visiting from Argentina and Texas, I am also preparing for my mission to Guantanamo. I am paying careful attention to a 76-page document titled “What Human Rights Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observers and Others May Want to Know Before Traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba”. The guide may be downloaded by visiting this link (includes 76 pages, 2 Appendices).  This document, of which Professor George Edwards is the principal author, provides all of the information necessary to successfully prepare for and complete a mission to Guantanamo.  Without this guide, preparing for my mission would be near impossible.  I have communicated with previous IU McKinney observers Justin Jones and Aline Fagundes, but having a script to fill in the rest of the details that one may forget has been invaluable in my preparation.

[The Know Before You Go  guide (76 pages, 2 Appendices) may be found as a standalone document, or, it is included in the Excerpts (158 pages, Know Before You Go starts on page 75 of the Excerpts), which is a digest of the full and complete Manual (over 500 pages).]

I have also been reading other people’s accounts of travel to Cuba on the Gitmo Observer blog (Justin Jones’ and Aline Fagundes’ account of their mission to Guantanamo), and will continue reading where I left off from my trip to Fort Meade, Maryland in October, where I observed the hearings in the case against Khalid Shaik Mohammed.

I will also begin to prepare my travel arrangements to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where I will depart to Guantanamo Bay.

Sheila Willard (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

Are you going to Guantanamo? New Manual Excerpts for NGO Observers & Others

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Click this link for the full Manual — over 500 pages. Below you can download the Manual Excerpts!

If you’re going to Guantanamo Bay in January 2017, you might be interested in our new Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts that offers insights into:

  • what the right to a fair trial is and how a fair trial should look
  • how to assess whether a fair trial is being afforded to all Guantanamo stakeholders
  • roles & responsibilities of independent Observers sent to monitor Guantanamo hearings
  • background info on Guantanamo the military commissions
  • a schematic of the courtroom (so you can know who is who)
  • and a 76 page “Know Before You Go To Guantanamo” insert that will tell you what to expect on your flight to Cuba, the ferry ride across Guantanamo Bay from the landing strip to your Quonset Hut accommodations, base security, food (which can be quite good!), beach, boating, and of course the courtroom, the hearings, and briefings by the prosecution and defense.

In the past, the Gitmo Observer (of Indiana University McKinney School of Law) distributed Manual Excerpts to Observers after we arrived at Andrews Air Force on the morning of our flight to Cuba (or distributed at Ft. Meade, Maryland, for Observers monitoring live by secure video-link from Cuba). Observers said they wish they had had it earlier.

So, we started to e-mail the Manual Excerpts to Observers as soon as we were sent e-mail addresses of Observers scheduled to travel, and we would receive those e-mails 3 – 6 days before the scheduled departure. Observers said that they wish they had it even earlier than that, that 3 – 6 days in advance wasn’t enough time.

So now we are posting the Manual Excerpts on this site, for access by anyone interested, whether or note traveling to Guantanamo Bay (or Ft. Meade or elsewhere), but especially for those traveling to Guantanamo Bay to monitor 3 weeks of January 2017 hearings. Ideally, about 40 independent observers would travel to Gitmo this month, to fill all the slots allocated to observers.

The Defense Department has stated that it favors strong and robust transparency. Having full complements of Observers for each hearing week would help promote transparency, human rights, and the rule of law for all military commission stakeholders (with stakeholders including the defense, the prosecution, victims and their families, witnesses, the media, observers, observer escorts / minders, the public, the U.S. soldiers and others who operate the detention facilities, the military commission court staff, and others).

Here are the Excerpts! Please let us know if you have any suggestions for improving our Excerpts, our full Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (over 500 pages in 2 volumes!) and our Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Guide (76 pages). Send to GitmoObserver@yahoo.com