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
Laptop, passport & boarding passcaption
Qaeda member who allegedly committed war crimes. These hearings were originally scheduled for two weeks — five days this coming week and five days next week — but next week’s hearings were cancelled.
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.
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.
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.
Please 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.
Guantanamo Bay courtroom sketch of al Nashiri by artist Janet Hamlin. (copyright Janet Hamlin)
A U.S. Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has scheduled pre-trial hearings next week in the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who allegedly masterminded the 2000 USS Cole bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors off the coast of Yemen.
At pre-trial hearings defense and prosecution lawyers routinely debate evidentiary, jurisdictional, logistical and other issues, and deal with matters such as what evidence will be admissible at trial, which witnesses will be called and when, whether the court possesses jurisdiction to hear the case, and what date to set for the trial to commence.
What is typical (or atypical) about the al Nashiri pre-trial hearings, about his case itself, or about his plight before other tribunals that have or could exercise jurisdiction? Is his case more complex than others?
Multiple courts have either resolved issues related to charges against al Nashiri or have sought to resolve such issue, or to exercise such jurisdiction. These proceedings appear to have extended beyond routine evidentiary, jurisdictional or logistical issues.
Though the military commission judge identified issues to be debated next week (see his 12 August 2016 docketing order below), it is unclear what will be heard. Indeed it is unclear whether the hearings will go forward. al Nashiri hearings were stayed for almost a year, and when they were set to resume in April, they were abruptly postponed until now. Though many dozens of us are gathered in Washington, DC for a post-Labor Day flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Guantanamo, the hearings can be cancelled at any moment, even after we touch down at Guantanamo Tuesday afternoon.
The stakes are high, as proceedings in different courts could result in one, more or all the charges against al Nashiri being permanently dismissed.
The USS Cole after it was attacked by suicide bombers in October 2000 in Yemen. (Photo courtesy of United States Marine Corps)
al-Nashiri is charged with multiple war crimes, including perfidy, murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, and attacking civilian objects. He faces the death penalty.
Several courts have exercised or sought to exercise jurisdiction over al Nashiri, that is, the courts have or have sought to resolve matters related to his detention or his alleged crimes.
First is the military commission itself at Guantanamo Bay. al Nashiri was picked up in 2002, held in secret CIA camps for about 4 years, taken to Guantanamo Bay in 2006, and arraigned in 2001 in a military commission. In that commission, he is charged with war crimes associated with the U.S.S. Cole and other ships. This commission is the primary court exercising jurisdiction over al Nashiri.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has also exercised jurisdiction, ruling on 30 August 2016 that it would not halt the Guantanamo commission against him. The defense had asked the appeals court stop the commission because the commission was not lawfully able to exercise jurisdiction. The appeals court chose not to decide the merits of the matter unless al Nashiri is convicted, at which time the appeals court would decide whether the commission had conducted a trial without jurisdiction.
The Court of Military Commissions Review (CMCR) issued a ruling in his Military Commission case in June 2016, and one in July.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York also has had a stake, as al Nashiri was indicted in that district but the case has not moved forward because Congress prohibited moving detainees to the U.S. for trial.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the government of Poland breached international human rights law when it permitted the U.S. to detain al Nashiri on Polish soil, where he was tortured. The court ordered Poland to pay al Nashiri over $250,000.
At the pre-trial hearings this week, the issue of jurisdiction will certainly arise.
Pre-trial Issues in his case
al Nashiri’s pre-trial hearings have touched on many issues.
Front and center recently have been jurisdictional issues, such as those discussed above handled by the DC Circuit and the CMCR, and also raised in the commissions.
Pre-trial issues have related to his treatment while in CIA black sites beginning in 2002 for 4 years, where the Senate Torture Report and other sources (including al Nashiri himself) have identified the following practices against al Nashiri – waterboarding (admitted by the government), mock executions, stress positions, and threats of sexual violence against his mother. Should a person be tried on criminal charges after being subjected to this treatment? Can any statements made by al Nashiri after such treatment be allowed as evidence in the trial against him?
Other pre-trial issues in his case or that may be raised include:
whether the U.S. can use as evidence the testimony of a man the U.S. killed (alleged co-conspirator Fahd al-Quso);
whether and to what extent the U.S. Constitution applies to al Nashiri’s military commission;
whether the right to a speedy trial was violated (over 13 years since al Nashiri was taken into custody and over 9 years since arriving at Guantanamo Bay — with the trial itself not commencing as of 2016 and no trial date set);
whether his right to humane treatment was violated (even regarding his Guantanamo housing situation – during these proceedings);
his right to have access to classified and other information that might be used against him at trial;
whether high-ranking military members engaged in undue influence;
the timely acquisition of defense lawyers’ security clearances; and
al Nashiri’s physical and mental health.
Much remains to be resolved before any actual trial is held.
At Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay — George Edwards
My four 2016 summer trips to Cuba
This will be my fourth visit to Cuba in as many months, with three visits to Guantanamo Bay and one to Havana.
My first visit to Guantanamo Bay in this cycle was to monitor U.S. Military Commission pre-trial hearings in the case against Hadi al Iraqi, who is alleged to have been a high-ranking al Qaeda Iraq member, and to have liaised between al Qaeda Iraq and the Taliban. Hs is charged with various war crimes.
My Hadi al Iraqi monitoring mission was through the Military Commission Observation Project of the Program in International Human Rights Law of Indiana University McKinney School of Law. Our project seeks to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on U.S. Military Commissions. We are producing the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, which is used and usable by any person interested in assessing whether the rights and interests of all military commission stakeholders are being afforded to them. We are interested in the rights of the defendants. We are also interested in the rights and interests of the prosecution, the victims and their families, the media, the guards and other prison personnel, witnesses, and others.
Edwards on U Boat Crossing Guantanamo Bay – 14 August 2016 – the morning that 15 detainees were released to the UAE, bringing the total GTMO detainee population down 20 percent from 76 to 61
On my second trip to Cuba this summer I was part of a delegation from the National Bar Association (NBA), which is the organization principally for African American lawyers, judges, law professors, and other legal professionals. An NBA conference was held jointly with the Cuban bar association, focusing on a wide range of U.S. interests and Cuban interests, and interests affecting both countries. The topic of Guantanamo Bay came up repeatedly in our discussions with Cuban judges, lawyers and law professors. I also gave a lecture at the U.S. Embassy – Havana.
NBA law professors at Residence of U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, with Deputy Ambassador
My third trip to Cuba this summer was in August for a Guantanamo media tour. When I arrived on Guantanamo at noon on Saturday, 13 August 2016, 76 detainees were imprisoned there. When I left Guantanamo at noon the next day, Sunday the 14th, only 61 detainees remained. During the darkness of night, 15 detainees were released to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). That resettlement marked a 20% drop in the Guantanamo Bay detention population over night.
NBA law professors at Cuban lawyers collective.
Writing projects of mine I was researching at Guantanamo on that third trip include The Guantanamo Bay Reader and a contributions to The Indiana Lawyer.
This fourth trip to Cuba is to monitor the al Nashiri hearings pursuant to our Indiana McKinney School of Law observation program.
Docketing Order – Motions on the schedule to be heard
The Military Judge in the al Nashiri case on 12 August 2016 issues a Revised Docketing order, outlining the proposed program for the 3 days of scheduled hearings this week (7 – 9 September 2016). Here is that order.
I’m scheduled to fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Monday, 16 May 2016, as a non-governmental organization (NGO) observer of proceedings in the U.S. Military Commission case against detainee Hadi al Iraqi.
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 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.
Hadi was officially charged in the equivalent of an arraignment in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom in June 2014. I happened to be present in the Guantanamo courtroom for that proceeding.
Unlike most of the other detainees currently facing trial, 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.
For the last 2 years, since formal charging, Hadi’s pre-trial hearings that have been plagued with disruptions related to, for example, conflict of interest issues, and his “releasing” his counsel.
Recently, Hadi’s defense counsel made a motion to continue (postpone) the 17 – 18 May hearings. The Military Commission website (mc.mil) indicates that the Military Judge has ruled on this motion to continue, but the contents of the ruling have not yet been posted because the ruling must be cleared before posting for public view. Apparently the Judge denied the motion, as all systems appear to be go for the proceedings this week.
Two Days of Hearings Scheduled for This Week
My flight to Guantanamo is set to leave from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside of Washington, DC. I’m due at Andrews at 6:00 a.m. on Monday the 16th, along with defense counsel, the prosecution, the judge and the court staff, the media, other NGOs, and others associated with the case against Hadi. We are all set to fly on the same plane.
We travel down on Monday, get situated, with court scheduled to begin Tuesday morning and run through Wednesday. Then, everyone who flew down to Guantanamo on Monday gets back on a plane to fly back to Andrews.
Unfortunately, details of the nature of the 2 days of hearings are not readily available to observers such as myself, since many of the motion papers are not released yet. At times it takes many days for unclassified motion papers to be made available for public view on the Military Commission website.
Papers that were recently filed that may perhaps be covered on Tuesday and Wednesday include a Trial Counsel Detailing Memorandum (filed 13 May 2016), a Supplemental Defense Notice to Commission IAW Order (filed 27 April 2016), and the Defense Notice of Excusal of Detailed Defense Counsel (filed 20 April 2016). All of these papers are listed on the website, but the contents of these papers have not been made available for public view.
Brigadier General Mark Martins, who is the U.S. Military Commission’s Chief Prosecutor, is typically great about briefing NGOs upon arrival at Guantanamo Bay. papers. That will be very helpful, particularly for Observers who are not familiar with intricacies of each Guantanamo Bay case.
More to come
Please stay tuned for more reports from Guantanamo Bay. Among other things, I plan to talk about 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 6 other NGO representatives scheduled to observe this week’s proceedings with me. I will also talk about my new book, The Guantanamo Bay Reader.