GTMO

Reporting from Guantanamo Bay:  Courtroom Clash and Hearing Delays

Reporting from Guantanamo Bay

I am a recent graduate of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) and I am representing 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 has been 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.

Tuesday 25 September 2018 Hearing

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Me reviewing the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual – Excerpts before the day’s commission hearing.

Tuesday’s hearing (25 September 2018) began with testimony from an Assistant Staff Judge Advocate (ASJA) of the U.S. Navy.  The ASJA testified that he provided Nashwan / Hadi notice of his right to be present during Tuesday’s hearing in accordance with Judge Libretto’s orders during the hearing on Monday (24 September 2018).  The ASJA further testified that Nashwan / Hadi declined to be present for Tuesday’s hearing, and that Nashwan / Hadi expressed feeling “medically unable to appear”.

Following a short recess, prosecuting counsel (Mr. Vaughn Spencer) and defense counsel (Mr. Adam Thurschwell) presented oral arguments regarding whether or not the week’s remaining commission hearings should proceed in Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence.

Thurschwell argued that Nashwan / Hadi could only waive his right to appear for Tuesday’s hearing after making his first hearing appearance during this week’s commission session.  As Nashwan / Hadi did not appear for the first hearing of this week’s commission session on Monday, Thurschwell argued that it would be erroneous to continue proceedings for the week absent a valid waiver of Nashwan’s / Hadi’s right to appear for those proceedings.

In other words, Thurschwell recalled the principle of express waiver as discussed under under the Rules of Military Commissions—R.M.C. 804(c).  In practice, this principle requires the military judge (Libretto) to require the defendant (Nashwan / Hadi) to appear for the first hearing of a new hearing session (the Monday 24 September 2018 hearing).  During that first hearing, the judge must inform the defendant of his rights, including the right to not be present at future hearings for the week.  On subsequent hearing days for the week, the defendant can waive his right to be present for any hearing day during the session, in which case the court requires the defendant to sign a formal waiver stating that he is voluntarily absenting himself.  Thurschwell applied this principle to the context of Tuesday’s hearing, and argued that the court did not properly follow the practice described above.

On the other hand, Spencer argued that the Senior Medical Officer (SMO) medically cleared Nashwan / Hadi to appear in court on Tuesday, and that Nashwan / Hadi had been adequately informed of Tuesday’s hearing.  Therefore, Spencer argued, Nashwan’s / Hadi’s failure to appear for Tuesday’s hearing was a voluntary refusal.  In other words, Spencer argued that Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence constituted a voluntary absence as discussed under R.M.C. 804(c).

Judge Libretto ruled in line with the prosecution (Spencer), stating:

Central to the commission’s analysis is whether the accused’s refusal implicates the principle of express waiver or voluntary absence.  The two principles are distinct. Express waiver, to be valid, requires an accused to be fully informed of his right to attend and the consequences of foregoing that right.  Voluntary absence, on the other hand, has no such requirement.  The absence needs only be found to be voluntary. In order to be voluntary, the accused must have known of the scheduled proceeding and intentionally missed them.

As an initial matter, this commission finds that the circumstances presented by the accused’s refusal to attend the scheduled sessions thus far this week implicate the principle of voluntary absence, not express waiver, as argued extensively by the defense.

In reaching this conclusion, Libretto held that Nashwan / Hadi had been medically cleared to appear for Tuesday’s hearing, and that appropriate accommodations had been made to allow his appearance.  Libretto therefore deemed Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence from this hearing to be intentional, and accordingly found “the accused’s absence from this session to be voluntary and that the accused will have forfeited his right to be present if he continues to refuse to attend”.

Libretto then ordered the commission to reconvene at 9:00 a.m. each remaining day this week, beginning on Wednesday (26 September 2018).  Libretto further ordered that Nashwan / Hadi be allowed opportunities to appear for each scheduled proceeding for the week.  Libretto declared that the commission would not proceed in Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence on Wednesday or Thursday (27 September 2018).  However, Libretto explained that should Nashwan / Hadi not appear on Friday (28 September 2018), Nashwan / Hadi would be considered voluntarily absent from that hearing, and the hearing would then proceed in Nashwan’s / Hadi’s absence.

Tuesday’s hearing then recessed for the day at 1:15 p.m.

Note:  For those wishing to access the unofficial / unauthenticated transcript of the Tuesday 25 September 2018 commission hearing as published through the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) website, you may do so here.

Nashwan / Hadi Suffers Further Back Spasms Causing More Hearing Delays

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).

Ms. Carol Rosenberg (whose twitter feed I have been monitoring for updates while at Guantanamo) tweeted on 3:01 p.m. Tuesday that Nashwan / Hadi suffered more severe back spasms sometime following the day’s earlier hearing.  She then explained that “Gitmo’s prison doctor” (presumably the Army SMO, but this remains unclear) revoked Nashwan’s / Hadi’s medical clearance to be transported from his cell.

Shortly afterward at 3:05 p.m., Ms. Rosenberg tweeted that Judge Libretto cancelled the hearing scheduled for Wednesday.  Around 9:00 p.m. that evening, I learned from an NGO escort that Judge Libretto similarly canceled the hearing scheduled for Thursday as well.  It remains unclear if the hearing scheduled for Friday will proceed should Nashwan / Hadi fail to appear.

Conclusion

Please stay tuned for further Guantanamo updates.

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

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

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 Nomination to Observe War Court Proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Nomination

I am a third-year law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and have participated in the law school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) as an NGO Observer since October 2016.  The MCOP is part of the law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

I was confirmed by the Pentagon to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on military commission hearings at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (GTMO) in the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and four other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks (the “9/11 case”). The hearings are scheduled to occur from 28 April through 5 May 2018.

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Meeting fellow NGO observers in Gtmo during my last observation, October 2017.

This will be my fourth military commission observation. My first observation was at Ft. Meade, Maryland, where I observed hearings in the 9/11 case via CCTV in October 2016. My second observation was in January 2017 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where I observed hearings in the case against Hadi al Iraqi / Nashwan al Tamir, an alleged high-ranking member of al Qaeda. My third observation took me back to Guantanamo Bay where I attended the 9/11 hearings in October 2017.

Background and Interest in Observing

I became interested in the MCOP during the fall of my second year of law school after hearing about the program and other students’ experiences in observing the hearings. Stemming from my interest in human rights, I applied to participate in the MCOP observations.

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Touristing in a bell tower while working with refugees at an NGO in Prague.

In the summer of 2017, I worked in Lisbon, Portugal and Prague, Czech Republic at non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), which is the program that administers the MCOP.  During my time in Prague, I had the incredible experience of working with people seeking asylum in Czech Republic.

The PIHRL recently celebrated 20 years of successful internship placements around the world. I was also a research assistant to the program director of PIHRL in the fall of 2017. This coming fall, I will be working abroad  in an area of international human rights law.

Preparing to Observe

Even though my observation is a few weeks away, I am preparing now so that I am fully informed and updated on the hearings. I am paying careful attention to a document developed and written by MCOP participants titled What Human Rights Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observers and Others May Want to Know Before Traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 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 not be complete, even though I have traveled to Ft. Meade and Guantanamo in the past. It is a resource that is full of information not only for the first-time participant, but also for the seasoned observer.

I have also been keeping up-to-date on the hearings and goings on at Guantanamo by following the Miami Herald online, as journalist Carol Rosenberg keeps close watch on the proceedings and reports on the hearings and beyond. I have also found Twitter to be instrumental in keeping informed about the hearings.

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

NGO Coins

The MCOP has developed a special coin for distribution.  I will have a few coins available during this observation.

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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

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

Possible Return Trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from 30 September to 7 October 2017

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 30 September – 7 October 2017.  Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda responsible for war crimes.

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My earlier monitoring at Ft. Meade and Guantanamo

This will be my third time to observe in the war crimes pre-trial hearings.  I traveled toFt. Meade, Maryland in October 2016 to observe the hearing in the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 4 other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks, and to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in January 2017 to observe hearings in the case against Hadi, the same defendant in the upcoming hearings.

 

 

Possible hearing delay

As of last Thursday, 14 September, Carol Rosenberg reported in the Miami Herald that Hadi has been referred for neck surgery after a period of time of known health issues.  It was reported that he had lower back surgery earlier this month.  There is no official word yet from the Pentagon as to the status of the hearings slated to begin 2 October and run through 6 October.  The Miami Herald reported that Pentagon spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben said the hearings were still on (as of Friday, 15 October) and that any request for delay would only be considered in the event that the defense file the appropriate motion.

Current filings/where the case stands 

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Guantánamo prisoner Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who says his true name is Nashwan al Tamir, poses for the International Committee of the Red Cross in a 2014 photo taken for his family, and provided by his attorneys.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article173566786.html#storylink=cpy

 

As of today, Monday 18 September, the defense filed a motion regarding Hadi’s current medical status to request an emergency motion to abate the proceedings until he is physically competent to stand trial, per the filing listing available on the Military Commissions website. The most recent motion regarding the emergency abatement was filed today and is still being processed under security review and not available to read by the public.  Once it has gone through the security review, the document will become available here.

Another hurricane?

The National Oceanic and Atomspheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that a category 5 hurricane is heading towards the Caribbean.  Hurricane Maria is a 160mph storm that recently made landfall on Dominica and is now headed towards Puerto Rico, which is officially on national alert after President Trump issued an emergency declaration for federal assistance for the territory.  If it continues on its current trajectory, it may narrowly miss Cuba as it veers north towards the Atlantic.

Preliminary thoughts

I am grateful to have the opportunity to travel to Guantanamo again to observe the Hadi hearings, but am aware that the hearings may be canceled and rescheduled to allow for a lengthy recovery period of the defendant.  I will continue to prepare for the hearings as if they were to go forward so that I am fully prepared in case I am able to travel next week to Guantanamo.

 

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Observers representing various organizations posing in front of our sleeping quarters in January 2017 at Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Sheila Willard, J.D. Candidate

Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggles in Recounting Torture 

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting with Chief Defense Counsel, Brigadier General John Baker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Team BBQ

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

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

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

Concluding Remarks

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

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

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

Member, Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Deposition of Ahmad al-Darbi in the Guantanamo Military Commission case against Hadi al Iraqi

I have been in Guantanamo Bay Cuba since Sunday as an NGO observer as a part of Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program on International Human Rights Law to view the hearing session for the Military Commission case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi (or Nashwan al Tamir).

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NGO observers in front of the Camp Justice sign before the first day of the Ahmad al-Darbi deposition.

The court session yesterday (Monday) involved several defense motions. Two were argued in the public setting, in which the NGOs and victim’s family members were allowed to be present. A third motion was not heard at all, and the fourth was heard (along with classified parts of the first) in closed session, in which all members of the public (NGOs, victims, and media) were not allowed to be present for.

 

Morning Deposition Session – Tuesday, 15 August 2017

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Ahmad al-Darbi in an undated Red Cross photo obtained by the Miami Herald. 

The prosecution called Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi born admitted jihadist to the stand to be deposed. al-Darbi pleaded guilty and promised to testify against Hadi, but because al-Darbi hopes to be repatriated to his homeland of Saudi Arabia soon, and will not be available to testify against Hadi in person at Hadi’s trial, his deposition testimony today will be preserved to be possibly used against Hadi at his trial. Hadi al Iraqi  was present for the first day of testimony. al-Darbi, wearing a gray suit, white dress shirt, and tie, sat calmly speaking with a soft even tone. Unlike in the picture to the right, he was clean-shaven, wore nicer glasses, and had short slightly gray hair.

Hadi al-Iraqi was seated at the left end of the first defense table in the courtroom wearing a white robe, white turban, and black vest. From my vantage point, I did not see if the two men looked at each other before or at any point during the testimony.

Six of us NGO observers were present in the gallery, along with several military servicemembers, family members of some of the victims, news media, and numerous military police. Veteran Guantanamo Bay military commission reporter for the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg published a piece a few hours after the conclusion of Tuesday’s session. That article can be viewed here.

The deposition was recorded for possible use by the prosecution at trial of Hadi al-Iraqi. al-Darbi, testifying in Arabic, but seemingly understanding some English through his interactions with the deposition officer, had the assistance of four interpreters that rotated throughout the testimony.

After several hours of foundation and background, al-Darbi identified Hadi as his former commander and stated that he recognized Had al Iraqi from a guesthouse in Afghanistan.

Presiding judge, P.S. Rubin, served as the deposition officer responsible for ruling on any raised objections. Throughout the five-hour deposition session, the defense raised many standard objections to the form of the questions the prosecutor asked and the answer elicited from al-Darbi. The defense objected to the prosecution asking leading questions, speculative answers from al-Darbi, being unclear about the time frame in which he was speaking about, and the non-relevance of large portions of his testimony.

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Osama bin Laden, notorious leader of al-Qaeda.

The narrative the prosecution tried to convey, though disjointed and hard to follow at times throughout the entire morning session, painted a picture of al-Darbi as a committed (at least initially) jihadist who had numerous interactions with high-level al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, to include Osama bin Laden.

al-Darbi testified that as a young man from a troubled non-devout Muslim family, as a teenager he found reassurance, peace, and comfort at mosque. From there he became very much a believer in jihad, the highest rank of worship. He stated that to him jihad meant fighting infidels in self-defense, not giving into desires of soul, defense of home and property, and the defending of honor.

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The Bosnian War (1992-1995) claimed the lives of over 62,000 Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims.

He testified that following his service in the Saudi army during 1992, with no other job in his hometown, he slowly began to find his calling as a jihadist. By 1994, he would find his first jihad fighting as part of a Bosnian Army unit against Serbian aggression towards his fellow Muslims. As a young jihadist, al-Darbi dreamt about becoming a martyr, and became depressed when he left Bosnia alive.

He stated that following his return from Bosnia, other jihadists recruited al-Darbi to go to
Afghanistan for training. By 1996, he received recommendations to finish his training at al-Qaeda camps, despite previously being unaware of al-Qaeda’s existence, but knew of Osama Bin Laden due to the prominent nature of his family. During this time he first met with Bin Laden. After several more months of training he was invited by al-Qaeda to fight with the Taliban.

Afternoon Session

 Up until this point, the deposition focused on al-Darbi’s background and activities, as well as the identification of other fighters he interacted with, but made no mention, to my recollection, of Hadi al Iraqi. Much of the testimony in the afternoon finally began to focus on the nature of his interactions with Hadi.

al-Darbi testified that after he completed his training, he went to Kabul, Afghanistan. It is here at a guesthouse that he first saw Hadi al Iraqi. Despite all the training he had in advanced tactics and weaponry and his interactions with high level members of al-Qaeda, al-Darbi still appeared to be a fairly low level fighter, when he testified that his commander, Hadi al Iraqi, assigned him to be on a three-man tank crew. Al-Darbi saw Hadi on a daily basis during this period. In addition to the commander-subordinate relationship, they ate meals together while at the front lines.

One of the major purposes for the prosecution having al-Darbi even testify was to be able to positively identify the accused, Hadi al Iraqi. With all the background covered, the prosecution finally asked al-Darbi if he recognized the accused sitting at the defense table, to which he answered yes, though he looked older with a grey beard. When asked who he recognized the accused to be, he responded it was apparent to him that the accused is Hadi al Iraqi.

One of the strategies for the defense is to essentially say their client is not Hadi al Iraqi, but instead is Nashwan al-Tamir. During the deposition of al-Darbi, the prosecution specifically asked him if he ever heard Hadi al Iraqi go by any other name, or if he was aware of anybody else who had used that name. al-Darbi answered no to each of those questions and sated that he had never heard Hadi al Iraqi called Nashwan al Tamir.

This line of questioning and the questions dealing with al-Darbi’s interactions with Hadi made up a relatively small portion of the approximately four hours of today’s testimony. The prosecution introduced over 20 exhibits, most of which were photos of people he identified, other than Hadi al Iraqi. The NGOs, myself included, kept waiting for the prosecution to get to the point where al-Darbi would identify Hadi.

Unlike during a normal type of deposition when the deponent (the witness being deposed) is cross-examined immediately after direct examination, the defense will not have the opportunity to cross-examine al-Darbi at least until October. I would be interested to hear how the defense characterizes the name issue, as well as the relatively small number of interactions al-Darbi allegedly had with Hadi.

A transcript of the deposition is not available on the website of the Office of Military Commissions, and by all accounts it does not seem likely that it will be posted.

That concludes the summary of the first day of deposition of al-Darbi. The deposition will likely continue all day tomorrow. The next post will contain a summary of the day’s testimony as well as my overall thoughts on the two days.

 

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

Member, Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Travel to Guantanamo Bay and First Full Day of Hadi al Iraqi Hearings

 

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NGO observers at Andrews preparing before the flight to Guantanamo Bay.

I traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to serve as an NGO Observer to view hearings for the military commission case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, or Nashwar al Tamir as the defense calls him. I am representing the IU McKinney School of Law’s Program on International Human Rights Law, and am joined by five other observers representing four organizations and one other law school.

The flight down here was on a chartered Miami Airlines plane lasting just over 3 hours. Once we debarked from the plane we got in a van and drove onto a ferry that crosses to the windward side of the bay.

First Day of Court

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Welcome sign at the Passenger Terminal on the leeward side of Guantanamo Bay

Last time I came down here in September 2015, Hadi only had military counsel, unlike the other military commission defendants who had both private and military attorneys. At the hearing I viewed, he fired his chief defense attorney to make way for a private attorney. Today, I immediately noted that in addition to several different military counsel, he had a private attorney as well.

In addition to the 6 NGO observers in the courtroom gallery, a number of family members from two servicemen killed in Afghanistan in 2003 were also present.

Just before the start of the session, everyone in the gallery was made known about the approximate forty-second delay from the action in the actual courtroom to the audio and visual feed on the four monitors visible from the gallery. This delay is supposed to prevent those in the gallery from hearing potentially classified information. Practically speaking, the delay makes it almost useless to watch the actual happenings in the courtroom. This is especially prevalent when the hearing comes to a conclusion in the actual courtroom but is still going on the monitors that we can hear and see in the gallery. At the conclusion, everyone stands in the courtroom and we in the gallery are given the “all rise,” but the hearing hasn’t finished yet on the monitors. Despite this, watching and listening exclusively on the monitors causes little issue.

Morning Court Session

Four items were on the docket for the week, in addition to the deposition of al Darbi, a defendant in another military commission who agreed to testify against Hadi and al Nashari.

The session began with the judge giving a brief rundown of the meting (called an 802 conference) that occurred on Sunday evening between the judge, prosecution (trial counsel), and defense. The private attorney then spoke of several issues relating to the defense’s initial objection of the deposition, the camera angles for the deposition to be conducted this week, the defense team not receiving transcripts from al-Darbi’s deposition from a previous case, and the prosecution’s Friday afternoon delivery of thirty-five exhibits the defense claims to have had no knowledge of. Another issue the private counsel addressed was an issue of attorney-client confidentiality between al-Darbi and his counsel.

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The page that shows up when one attempts to access a file not currently available for viewing by the public from the Office of Military Commission’s official website.

After those initial concerns and responses by the prosecution, the judge heard arguments on the first motion, Appellate Exhibit (AE) 091. This motion, like many of the most recent filings, is not available to be viewed by the public on the Office of Military Commission’s official website. Therefore, we could only go off what was said about it during the session.

In this motion, the defense requested the court compel the prosecution to allow their client to use a laptop to be able to view the 31,000-33,000 pages of documentary evidence.

The defense argued their client’s ability to access these documents in an electronic format would allow him to have meaningful access to the courts and facilitate effective assistance of counsel. The defense also argued that because of the massive amounts of documents, he has limited ability to store documents in his cell.

One member of the prosecution, Navy Lieutenant Commander David Lincoln, argued that Hadi should not be given a laptop due to security concerns, that he has six defense counsel that can represent him effectively in court without a laptop, and that he does not have the constitutional right to a laptop.

The second motion, AE 70CCC was only partially argued, limited by the potential for classified materials. This motion seeks to compel discovery of unredacted statements of Ahmed al-Darbi, a detainee who has traded his release from Guantanamo in exchange for testimony in several cases.

AE 085 is a motion to dismiss the charges, in which the defense argues that Congress lacks the authority under the Constitution to limit the jurisdiction of the law of war military commissions to non-citizens. This motion was not heard as the defense requested to hold off on having it argued before the commission.

A Shortened Court Session

The two motions discussed above were argued before lunch break. Shortly after finishing arguments for the second motion, the all of the attorneys and judge had a meeting, presumably in his chambers. The judge then dismissed the court for lunch. After the court reconvened for the afternoon session, the judge announced that the court was going to close the hearing to the public. The remaining motion, AE 070FFF and portions of the second motion, AE 070CCC were to be argued in a closed session due to concerns about classified material.

Accordingly, all of the victims and NGOs had to leave the courtroom and were done in court for the day. Our NGO escort informed us afterwards that we would have a chance to talk with the Chief Prosecutor after the conclusion of the closed session.

 

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Chief Prosecutor of Military Commissions, Brigadier General Mark S. Martins was kind enough to pose with me following his briefing with the NGO observers in September 2015.

Meeting with Chief Prosecutor, Brigadier General Martins

The last time I traveled to GTMO in 2015, I had the pleasure of meeting the Chief Prosecutor of Military Commissions, Brigadier General Mark Martins when he sat down with all the NGO observers for a Q&A session. This time, he remembered me at the terminal in Andrews on Sunday and we briefly exchanged pleasantries.

We met him again for a Q&A session after the closed session on Monday. He was as gracious as he was last time. His intellect, legal knowledge, and scholarly demeanor are most impressive. The NGOs asked insightful and tough questions. He answered each with candor showing his firm belief in the rule of law.

I come away with the impression that he is unlikely to say anything other than that his personnel are doing the best job they can do under limiting circumstances. He seems to recognize that there are issues with how the proceedings occur. However, he is the best position to know the effort his staff exerts in trying the cases within the framework of the system they are given.

The military commission system is deeply adversarial. So far we have only heard one side. We are greatly interested in hearing the perspective of the defense counsel when we are given the chance.

 

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

Member, Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Travel to Andrews/Public Hearing for August Hadi al Iraqi Session?

I’m on my way to Guantanamo Bay Cuba as a member of the Program on International Human Rights Law at the IU McKinney School of Law. This will be the second time I’ve traveled to view a session of hearings for the Hadi al Iraqi military commission case. This week is scheduled to address several issues, including the deposition of Ahmed al-Darbi, a detainee who has traded his release from Guantanamo in exchange for testimony in several cases.

First Attempt – Arrived One Day Early For My Flight 

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An empty Passenger (PAX) Terminal at Andrews.

After a very rainy drive to D.C. on Friday, I picked up copies of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts and the Know Before You Go guide to give to my fellow NGO observers. These materials have been developed by the Program on International Human Rights Law at the IU McKinney School of Law, and serve as valuable resources to NGO observers.

Saturday morning, I arrived at Andrews Joint Air Base and was able, unlike initially last time, to gain entry on to the base. When I arrived to the terminal, I was slightly alarmed to only find the only two people in the entire terminal to be two Airmen cleaning the floor. They were quickly able to inform me my flight was to leave the next day, Sunday.

The email I received stated the flight would be the 13 (Sat), giving the correct date but wrong day. Misinterpretation and misinformation is a fairly common occurrence in my experience working for and with federal, state, and local governmental entities. No harm, no foul this time though. It was a good dry run. I know exactly how to get to the Passenger Terminal (PAX Terminal) and have the day to brush up on the available case documents and potential issues.

Public hearing?

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Ahmad al Darbi, set to be deposed this week in the Hadi case, pled guilty in 2014 to the 2002 attack on a French oil tanker. He has yet to be sentenced.

On Friday, the military judge issued an order that effectively will deny public access to the deposition of al Darbi this week.

Ordinarily, the military commission proceedings are available for viewing via a secure feed at Fort Meade, Maryland. However, that may not be the case this week. I will confirm this tomorrow at the terminal.

If this is true, then the five of us NGOs will bear the responsibility alone to report on the deposition. We are the “eyes and ears of the outside world as to what happens at Guantanamo Bay.” This responsibility will greatly be enhanced if others cannot view the proceedings at Ft. Meade.

In 2012, the defense counsel for the U.S. v. Al-Nashari case summited a motion to request that the proceedings be available to media outlets in addition to the CCTV locations. In response to the motion, the government cited U.S. v. Moussaoui, a case in which the Court found that an audio-visual feed and online publishing of the transcripts “fully satisfy the constitutional requirements for openness and accessibility.”

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The courtroom in the Expeditionary Legal Complex at Guantanamo Bay, looking from the gallery. (Photo credit: CBS News).

The suspension of a live feed of a deposition is different than not allowing live cameras in a military proceeding at issue in Moussaoui, but the suspension of the audio-visual feed seems to implicate a potential conflict with the constitutional requirements for openness and accessibility.

More research would need to be done to determine the legal impact of the feed suspension and I look forward to investigating further, should it turn out to be the case.

Second attempt – The Correct Day of My Flight 

After my self-imposed delay, I successfully arrived at the Passenger (PAX) Terminal Sunday morning and met my fellow NGO observers. Five total NGO observers representing five different organizations are set to travel to GTMO. Those organizations include the New York City Bar Association, Georgetown University Law Center, National District Attorneys Association, and Judicial Watch. Each observer seems eager to get there and get to work.

The next blog post I make will be from Guantanamo Bay Cuba.

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

Member, Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

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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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.

Boarding Pass -- alone - Andrews -- April 2017

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.

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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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

Yemeni Detainee asks Obama Administration to release him from Guantanamo

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al Ansi in a Department of Defense photo.

Today, after 14 years imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a Yemeni detainee named Mohammad Ahmad Abdallah al Ansi asked the U.S. Government to transfer him from Cuba to a third country. If released, 58 detainees would remain at Guantanamo, down from a record high of 780 detainees.

This parole board like hearing is called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), and was convened pursuant to President Obama’s 2011 Executive Order calling for PRBs to ascertain whether detainees pose a continuing threat to the national security of the U.S. If a detainee does not pose such a threat, he may be repatriated to his home country or transferred to a third country. It is unknown whether the next President will rescind this Executive Order and cease Period Reviews, and whether any of the 5 dozen remaining detainees will be released after January 2017.

President Obama’s 2011 Executive Order calls for three types of PRBs: (a) an Initial PRB for all detainees, involving a hearing at which the detainee may appear and speak on his own behalf; (b) a file PRB, held 6 months after a detainee is denied release following an initial PRB and which detainees are prohibited from attending; and (c) a full PRB, held if after a file review the Board finds that the detainee is a “continuing” risk to US national security.

Al Ansi, who is also known as prisoner number YM – 029, had his initial PRB in February 2016, a file PRB in September 2016, and a full PRB today. This article discusses the initial, file and full reviews.

al Ansi’s initial PRB

At al Ansi’s initial PRB on 23 February 2016, he appeared in person. On 23 March 2016, a month after the initial PRB, the Board made its final determination as follows:

The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.

In making this determination, the Board considered the significant derogatory information regarding the detainee’s past activities in Afghanistan. Further, the Board noted the detainee’s lack of candor resulting in an inability to assess the detainee’s credibility and therefore his future intentions.

The Board looks forward to reviewing the detainee’s file in six months and encourages the detainee to continue to be compliant, continue taking advantage of educational opportunities and continue working with the doctors to maintain his health. The Board encourages the detainee to be increasingly forthcoming in communications with the Board.

al Ansi’s file review PRB

After his initial PRB, al Ansi had a file review PRB, which he was not permitted to appear, with a Board determination based only on his written “file”.  His file review was held on 13 or 14 September 2016 (according to http://www.prs.mil), and on 14 September 2016 (according to the written file review final determination) the Board ruled as follows:

MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD

SUBJECT: Periodic Review Board File Review – Muhammad Ahmad Abdalla al-Ansi (YM- 029)

On 14 September 2016, the PRB conducted a file review for Muhammad Ahmad Abdalla al­ Ansi (YM-029) in accordance with Executive Order (E.O.) 13567, “Periodic Review of Individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station Pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”  The PRB previously conducted a full review of the detainee and on 23 March 2016 determined that continued detention was necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.  After reviewing relevant new information related to the detainee as well as information considered during the full review, the Board, by consensus, determined that a significant question is raised as to whether the detainee’s continued detention is warranted and therefore an additional full review should be conducted in accordance with section 3(c) of E.0.  13567.

I watched al Ansi's PRB broadcast live from Guantanamo Bay into a nondescript Pentagon conference room this morning, with a handful of human rights advocates and one member of the media.

I watched al Ansi’s PRB broadcast live from Guantanamo Bay into a nondescript Pentagon conference room this morning, with a handful of human rights advocates and one member of the media.

al Ansi’s Full PRB

Today’s PRB (6 December 2016) as Ansi had a “full” PRB review.

Today’s full PRB, like all the other PRBs, was held at Guantanamo Bay. Today’s session was broadcast by live close circuit TV (CCTV) to a secure location at the Pentagon for viewing by non-governmental organizations and the media.

I observed the hearing in a modest Pentagon conference room, joined by representatives of non-governmental organizations (Judicial Watch, Heritage Foundation, ACLU, and Human Rights First) and the media (Courthouse News). When we watched these proceedings piped in from Guantanamo, we also had 2 to 3 military or civilian escorts or technicians in the room with us, but I will not reveal further information about the identities, ranks or affiliations of these individuals (all of whom are always very friendly and nice!).

Members of the PRB Board – which comprises one representative each from the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice and Defense; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Security – were not physically at Guantanamo Bay, but watched the proceedings from the D.C. area, presumably from their respective offices.

It is unclear when the Board is expected to make a final determination on this full PRB, and whether that determination will be made before the Obama Administration ends on 20 January 2017.

Some of the words spoken during the hearing were in Arabic, and were spoken by an on-camera interpreter.

An off camera voice, presumably from but not necessarily from Guantanamo, advised in English on the nature of the hearing, the format, and the short agenda.

Another off camera voice read aloud the government’s “unclassified summary statement”, in English, of behavior that al Ansi allegedly engaged in, both before he arrived at Guantanamo and after he arrived.

After the government’s unclassified summary statement, the personal representative read an opening statement in English.

Then, al Ansi’s private counsel read a statement, also in English.

After the statements, an off camera voice asked if anyone had any questions. There were none.

The unclassified portion of hearing ended roughly 15 minutes after it started. Observers were invited to leave the conference room, since Observers are not permitted to observe classified portions of the PRB hearings.

Who is Mohammad Ahmad Abdallah al Ansi?

He is 40 or 41 years of age, born in Yemen. The government paints a picture of him as an avowed war criminal member of al Qaeda, as being loyal to Osama bin Laden, and as a person slated for an aborted hijacking in Asia meant to coincide with 9/11. The government has kept al Ansi in prison at Guantanamo Bay for over 14 years, and has on multiple occasions affirmatively ruled that he posed a threat to the national security of the U.S. Indeed, this same PRB ruled twice this year (February and September 2016) that al Ansi should not be released.

al Ansi’s personal representative and private counsel painted a different picture of al Ansi. The private counsel spoke about al Ansi’s suitability for release, and what he might do constructively upon release. Though the personal representative did not directly speak to the issue of whether he thought al Ansi posed a continuing threat to U.S. national security, the personal representative did not speak against release.

Today’s hearing itself

Today’s full PRB hearing commenced about 9:06 and ended 15 minutes later at about 9:21.

al Ansi sat at the head of a small white rectangular table that appeared to be in a Guantanamo Bay “trailer” (and not in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom). On the long side of the table to his left sat his personal representative in a U.S. military uniform. Directly across from him, to al Ansi right, sat the linguist. Next to the linguist was the private counsel, sitting closest to the camera.

Throughout much of the hearing, al Ansi, who was dressed in white non-descript attire, sat with his elbows resting on the table, hunched a little forward, flipping through documents in front of him, possibly reading through the documents. It was impossible for us to see on the screen what the nature was of the pages in front of al Ansi, or in what language the pages were written. At times he would rest his forearms on the table, with his hand clasped, eyes cast downward.

Government’s unclassified statement

An off-camera woman’s voice read aloud the Government’s “unclassified statement” in which the Pentagon contended that al-Ansi

traveled to Afghanistan in 1999, where he joined al-Qa’ida, swore bayat to Usama Bin Ladin, and served as Bin Ladin’s bodyguard. Judging from other detainee statements and corroborating information [al-Ansi] may have been selected to participate in an aborted hijacking plot in Asia intended to coincide with the 9/11 attacks. He was captured by Pakistani authorities after the battle of Tora Bora in 2001. [al-Ansi] has been mostly compliant with the detention staff at Guantanamo, and his last disciplinary infraction was in June 2014. He has not expressed support for extremist causes or maintained contact with terrorists at large.”

Private Counsel Arguments supporting al Ansi’s request for transfer

al-Ansi’s was represented at this PRB by private counsel Beth Jacob who is a partner at the New York law firm Kelley Drye & Warren, where she represents generic pharmaceutical companies.  Before she joined Kelley Drye & Warren, she represented the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey in litigation arising out of the 9/11 attacks, representing 9/11 victims who sought compensation. She had previously been an assistant district attorney i n New York, prosecuting fraud and official corruption.

She only began representing al Ansi since after his initial PRB ruling finding that he continued to pose a threat to national security of the United States.

She pointed out that al Ansi showed her some of the artwork created at Guantanamo Bay, and she showed it to a New York-based artist, who “was struck by his ability and innate talent , as she has written in her letter to this Board”.

In arguing that al Ansi should be released from Guantanamo Bay, she noted that the New York artist and Reprieve said that. “Mr. al Ansi’s art will stand him in good stead if he is deemed transferrable” for several reasons, including: (a) ‘it will give him something to do and a means of expression, in the first days and weeks after his transfer”; (b) “he will be part of the community of artists, which will provide stability and social contacts; and (c) “there i s the possibility of earnings from his art.” She went further to state that “Mr. al Ansi is planning for more practical ways to make a living – he told me he would like a construction job, and among the many classes that he is taking here at GTMO is one about small business.”

In support of her arguments supporting al Ansi’s transfer, his private counsel argued that his: “family still has resources which they are completely willing to use to help their brother start a new life after Guantanamo , as shown by the statements the family submitted to the first board and this panel. His family will be a stabilizing force when he is transferred.

Further, she argued that his health situation supported transfer, though the details of his health situation were not revealed, as a portion of her letter was redacted. She wrote:

The second factor [supporting transfer] is his health. [Redacted] [Redacted] [Redacted] [Redacted] He knows that managing these chronic conditions takes much time, effort and attention, and that he must follow a strict diet and exercise regimen , in addition to his medications.

She argued that if released, he will also have support of the Carter Center, founded by President Carter, and Reprieve’s Life After Guantanamo project, which has helped over three dozen former detainees.

Personal Representative Statement

al Ansi’s personal representative, who was a military officer in fatigues, read a simple, prepared 1-page statement that noted that

al-Ansi has intensely participated in the PRB process”,  has “maintained a record of perfect attendance for meetings with his Personal Representative (PR) and Private Counsel (PC) despite the constant change in schedulling”, and that his “professional manner throughout all engagements with his PC and PR has not wavered.

The personal representative noted that:

He continues to enthusiastically maintain his compliant behavior with the Joint Task Force (JTF) Guard Force and continues to engage with the JTF Medical Staff in order to deal with chronic health issues.  In addition, Mr. Al-Ansi has not ceased to passionately take advantage of the educational opportunities to include courses in Mathematics , Science, English, Spanish, Life Skills, Computers, Art, and recently started the Arab British Academy for higher education studies.  Since July of 2016, he has created an additional 150 quality works of art.  Seven additional works of art are included in his case submission.  Recently, he has enrolled i n Small Project Management , Business Administration, Accounting and Ledgers classes.

Unlike other personal representatives in other cases, this Personal Representative did not say whether or not he believed that al Ansi is or is not a threat to the security of the United States”.

By George Edwards,

Professor of Law, Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Faculty Director (Founding), Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) Project

Faculty Director (Founding), U.S. Military Commission Observation Project

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

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

Arriving at Guantanamo Bay

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

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

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

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

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

Around the island

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

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

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

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Justin at Girl Scout Beach

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

 

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

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

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Justin and two other NGOs.

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

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Justin at Girl Scout Beach

 

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Iguana at Girl Scout Beach

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Justin’s room at Camp Justice

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Girl Scout Beach

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Girl Scout Beach

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Girl Scout Beach

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Justin W. Jones (J.D. Candidate, ’18)
NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law

From Brazil to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – Monitoring Military Commissions through the Eyes of a Judge

“Aline, we nominated you for the 9/11 week to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings.”

This was the first sentence I had read on the morning of August 25, around 6 am, when, still in bed, I opened my mailbox on my phone. I could barely hold my excitement! The first step was given!

Well, let me start from the beginning…

My name is Aline Fagundes, I was born in Oakland, California, but I was raised in Brazil, where I received my first degree in law in 1993, from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, in Porto Alegre. From 1993 to 2005 I worked as a trial attorney, and on September 23, 2005 I became a judge in the Labor Court.

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In 2015 I applied for IU McKinney Master of Laws Program in Human Rights, certainly one of the best steps of my academic and professional life. Through the program I was introduced to a great variety of opportunities, all of them incredibly well supported by the Law School. For instance, I attended an externship at the Indiana Supreme Court, where I improved in networking, state matters and law, also made friends for life. The most recent activity I engaged is the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).

MCOP was established by IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), once it was granted “NGO Observer Status” by The Pentagon’s Guantanamo Bay Convening Authority. Through MCOP, IU McKinney Affiliates can be selected to attend, observe, analyze and critique and report on hearings of the Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with war crimes. IU Affiliates can either travel to Guantanamo to observe in person, or monitor the proceedings from Ft. Meade, Maryland military base via secure video-link.

The selection process includes being nominated by the MCOP Advisory Council and having your name submitted to the Pentagon, who in last instance may grant or not the authorization to be an observer. In my case, I was nominated on August 24, 2016, and on September 9, just two days before the 15th anniversary of the September 11 Attack on the World Trade Center, I received this message from the Pentagon:

“You have been CONFIRMED to observe the 11-14 Oct military commission in-person at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We are currently scheduled to depart Andrews Air Force Base at 1000 on Saturday, Oct 8, 2016, and will return on Saturday, Oct 15, 2016, around 1330.”

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Khalid Shaik Mohammed, the lead defendant in the 9/11 case against 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The date was extremely significant. The hearings I am scheduled to attend are in the case against defendant Khalid Shaik Mohammad, and four other alleged masterminds of the September 11 Attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It has been 15 years since that attack, and the defendants in that case are still in the middle of pre-trial hearings.

Logistics of the mission to Guantanamo Bay

Since I have received that message about the Pentagon accepting me to travel to Guantanamo Bay, I could not stop thinking about Guantanamo Bay all the time. I am expected to travel from Indianapolis to Andrews Air Force Base (where is based Air Force One, the United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States). At Andrews, I am expected to fly on a military transportation to Cuba, where I would stay in a military tent. Guantanamo Bay is a U.S. Naval Station (in 1903, Cuba signed a treaty that leased Guantanamo Bay to the United States for use as a Naval Station).

I plan to blog step by step my experience on behalf of the Indiana McKinney Military Commission Observation Project. It is part of my responsibility to be the eyes and ears from Guantanamo Bay to the outside world, as most people will never have the opportunity to travel there for these hearings. I hope to help promote transparency, to tell the outside world what I hear, see – what I experience as part of this Guantanamo Bay mission. I recognize that this mission has already begun, with my preparation. I plan to continue to blog before I go, while I am there, and after I return.

The academic meaning is even more exciting. If you search Guantanamo on the web, an enormous number of links will direct you to stories related to torture and human rights violations. Unfortunately, an expressive number of it are true, or were true. The fact that the United States are taking action in order to provide transparency represents a lot, and to be granted the opportunity of working on this goal is a tremendous responsibility. After my journey to Guantanamo Bay, I will have a better idea about how transparent the process really is.

Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual

As part of my mission, I will be contributing to the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, that Professor George Edwards is creating with students to help observers / monitors and others interested in the rights of and interests of Guantanamo Bay stakeholders. We are reminded that not only do the defendants have rights, but also other individuals and groups have rights and interests, including the prosecution, victims and their families, witnesses, men and women who guard the detainees, the media, and the domestic U.S. and international communities. I hope to share information about and with the full range of stakeholders.

Through the Manual and the observing / monitoring that I and others do at Guantanamo Bay, we are helping to ensure that “whatever happens in Guantanamo does not stay in Guantanamo”. Information is important, and I will do my best to help ensure that knowledge about Guantanamo Bay is share with others on the outside.

I am proudly part of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual project, and proudly part of the Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Laws’ Program in International Human Rights Law.

 

Aline Fagundes (LL.M. Candidate, ’17)

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

 

All of my comments above are mine and mine alone, written in my personal capacity, and not in the capacity as a Judge, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Indiana McKinney’s MCOP, the PIHRL, or any other individual or group.

 

Memorial Day at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — 9/11 Hearings

Leontiy Korolev at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Memorial Day, 30 May 2016

Leontiy Korolev at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Memorial Day, 30 May 2016

Leontiy Korolev,  a graduate of Indiana University McKinney School of Law, traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Memorial Day weekend to observe hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He is representing the Indiana McKinney Military Commission Observation Project, which is part of the school’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

Mr. Korolev will be posting blogs on what he observes at Guantanamo Bay.

Pictured here is a photo taken of Mr. Korolev at Camp Justice, which is where Observers such as Mr. Korolev live while at the U.S. Naval base.