Guantanamo Bay

9/11 Hearings at Guantanamo

GTMOLegalComplex-featured

The Convening Authority’s Administration Building at Guantanamo.  Photo from the Defense Systems Journal.

As I learned during my first visit to Guantanamo as an NGO representative of Indiana University School of Law’s observer program in January, the fact that there are hearings scheduled at the war court complex is no guarantee that they will go forward.  At that time, hearings were cancelled and shortened due to concerns for the health of alleged al-Qaeda commander Abd al Iraqi/Nashwan al Tamir, who has now undergone five back surgeries in the past nine months.  As we prepared to observe this week’s hearings against five alleged September 11 conspirators, we learned that there were again issues that threatened to derail the hearings scheduled through the week.

Mold issues at the war court

When the defense team for alleged 9/11 conspirator Walid bin Attash arrived at their offices in a prefabricated trailer-style building Saturday, they found it, their files, and their court clothes caked in mold.  The legal teams’ trailers are a part of the “Expeditionary Legal Complex,” which, along with the “Camp Justice” tent city housing visiting NGOs and journalists, all atop an obsolete airfield.  The hearings were again in question, until Sunday night, when we learned that they would indeed go ahead at 9 a.m. after an 8 a.m. conference between Judge Parella and the parties’ lawyers.

The first hour of the day was spent in discussion of the mold problems, and the delays to planned preparation they caused the defense teams.  According to Bin Attash’s defense lawyer, William Montross, two members of the defense team had gone to the ER for “breathing difficulties” and a third’s arms were “all red” as a result of the exposure to the mold.  His own suits were ruined, and he wore instead green chinos, a gray collared shirt, and a “Harry Potter” tie.  Confidential documents had to be left behind rather than risking contaminating other areas.

Proposed alternate office contained a decaying rat and rat feces and nests.  The other teams, who’s offices share a common ventilation system, were also affected.  Montross argued that the hearings should be delayed to permit more preparation time to make up for time lost dealing with the mold, re-printing documents, and finding an alternate workspace.  Judge Parella rescheduled oral argument on a bin Attash motion until later in the week, and otherwise decided that hearings would proceed as scheduled.

The gallery

I and observers representing eight other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and our Guantanamo escort entered the court complex through a security tent and a walkway lined with chain-link fencing covered with black cloth sniper-netting and lined with razor-wire.  There was additional security at the entrance to Courtroom II itself, and we then received our seat assignments in the gallery.  The nine of us sat in the third and last of four rows on the left side of the gallery, and several journalists sat in the first row.  Several uniformed servicemen sat to our left, as did a paralegal and one of the legal teams’ victim family member liaisons.

Eight victim’s family members (VFMs) entered the gallery last, sitting in three rows on the right side of the gallery, separated from us by a blue curtain.  Before the hearings started, VFMs were escorted individually to the left side of the gallery to get a better view of the defendants.  While most of the NGOs are lawyers or law students representing law schools and other legal organizations, one of our group represents September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and herself lost her sister in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on that fateful day.

The gallery we were seated in has five large windows looking into the courtroom, each with a television monitor at the top.  The monitors display the person speaking, whether the judge, defense or government counsel, and they and the audio work on a 40 second delay.  We were informed that if classified information is mentioned, a police-type light to the left of the judge would turn on, the monitors and audio would stop, and white noise would begin.  This has not occurred while I’ve been at the court.  Cameras in each corner of the gallery kept watch upon observers, who were warned that decorum would be maintained as if we were seated in the courtroom.  The proceedings were also broadcast by closed circuit television to sites at Fort Meade, Maryland and Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

NGO tent

Me in front of the tent housing three other NGO observers and I this week

The Courtroom

Inside the courtroom are six tables for each the defense and prosecution teams of up to six defendants.  A chair on the left side of each defense table is equipped with “shackle points” – a chain about a foot long secured to the floor to which Defendants may be shackled.  These shackle points have not been used in some time. The five defendants were escorted in by guards of the Joint Task Force – Guantanamo Bay (JTF-GTMO).  Twelve to fourteen guards rotated in and out of the courtroom and along the left wall periodically throughout the hearings.

The defense side of the court was full.  Four of the defense teams, both military and civilian lawyers, are seated to the right of their clients.  Walid bin Attash has declared that he no longer wants his counsel to represent him, so they sit at the sixth table.  Most of the female defense lawyers, in consideration of their client’s cultural sensitivity, wear traditional Muslim abayas covering their heads.  Six three shelf carts full of documents binders are arrayed around and behind defense tables. Government trial counsel sit to the right of the aisle, and are either military, Department of Defense, or Department of Justice lawyers.

Defense motions to compel additional evidence – business records correspondence

Much of the day was taken in arguments over defense motions to compel the government to produce additional evidence about CIA torture and its rendition, detention, and interrogation program.  The first of these was Mustafa al Hawsawi’s motion to compel the government to produce records regarding communications the FBI had with, and records it obtained from, third parties during its investigation of the case.

Al Hawsawi lawyer, Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Sean Gleason, explained that during the testimony of FBI Special Agent Abagail Perkins last year, it was revealed to the defense for the first time that the banking and financial records’ declarations the prosecution had offered in its case against al Hawsawi were not collected by the FBI themselves, but were provided by foreign government intermediaries, sometimes years after the records themselves were collected.  Therefore, the defense needs notes, letters, or e-mails containing requests or responses between the FBI and foreign governments in order to properly evaluate the foundation for the records.  Lawyers for Walid bin Attash and Ammar al Baluchi joined in the motion, noting that the financial records were the government’s most important evidence regarding their client’s alleged support for the 9/11 hijackers.

Defense motions to compel accurate information regarding CIA black sites

Lawyers for Ammar al-Baluchi then argued two motions to compel the government to produce additional information about CIA torture, mainly conducted at “black sites” at locations around the world.  Following his arrest in April 2003, al Baluchi was kept in CIA custody at undisclosed locations prior to his September 6, 2006 transfer to prison at Guantanamo.  During al-Baluchi’s secret detention, he was tortured by the CIA using what have become known as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Al-Baluchi’s civilian lawyer, Alka Pradhan, made the argument that the index that the government had provided regarding the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program (“RDI”) was full of errors, gave only code names instead of actual locations, and failed to identify individuals that were present during his interrogations and torture.  Other defendants joined in the motion, and Walid bin Attash’s lawyer deferred argument until Friday’s closed session.  The government argued that Judge Pohl had ruled the index they had provided was sufficient, and that witness identification was unnecessary.

Defense motions to compel information about torture and interrogations

Al-Baluchi’s learned counsel, James Connell, argued related motions that the government produce information for non-CIA requests for black site interrogations, documents regarding interrogation personnel, and a report regarding the CIA’s sleep deprivation policy.  Death penalty defendants are entitled to counsel experienced in capital cases.  Connell argued that it appeared that the FBI had fed questions to CIA interrogators, and that the court should therefore compel the government to provide information regarding FBI investigations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.

The defense is also requesting profiles of individuals who worked at black sites and had direct and substantial contact with the defendants.  Government lawyer Jeff Groharing argued that Judge Pohl had approved its index as satisfying the requirement for a synopsis of individuals with substantial contact with the defendants, and that the government was continuing to supplement its responses to the defendants’ requests.

baluchi-vert

Ammar al Baluchi was tortured at CIA black sites for 3 1/2 years prior to his transfer to Guantanamo

Court was adjourned for the day at 3:30 to permit defense teams at least some additional time to prepare for Tuesday’s testimony of William Castle.  Castle was the acting general counsel at the Department of Defense in February, when Defense Secretary James Mattis fired the Military Commissions Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof and its legal adviser Gary Brown.

Paul Logan

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

14 November 2018

 

 

 

 

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

Photo on 9-26-18 at 5.40 PM

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.

43403134_874299346292395_3842884119369351168_n

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.

43314849_246204346063131_841728545368571904_n

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

27750693_10213624058533869_4865268717048696693_n-1

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.

20953185_10212203372457605_7895559519779333403_n-1

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

Photo on 3-29-18 at 5.52 PM-01

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

Heading to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Today for Next Week’s Military Commission Hearings

I’m at Andrews Air Force Base waiting for a plane to take me to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor hearings 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.​

I arrived in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, April 26 and have been preparing for my final exams that I am taking the week after I return from Gtmo.IMG_2087

This week’s hearings may likely include the following issues, including motions regarding CIA black site location information, access for the Defense to interview current or former members of the CIA, the Trump administration’s influence on military justice process, access to further evidence through discovery, current confinement issues, and procedural issues regarding the speed at which unclassified pleadings are released publicly.

I will report back after my observation this week.

 

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 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.

IMG_5578

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.

IMG_1852

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.

Guantanamo20Coins20-20Final20-20March202018

 

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.

20953410_10212203363497381_6350166741534770962_n
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

Photo on 3-29-18 at 5.52 PM-01

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

Reflections on my Previous Guantanamo Observation Trip

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

111417_GroupatCampJustice

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

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

My Previous Guantanamo Observation

111517_Sunset

Lighthouse at Guantanamo

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

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

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

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

The Judge is awaiting decisions from two federal district courts.

Further Thoughts

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

111717_northeastgate-4.jpg

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

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

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

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

Reasons for Wanting to Return

111117_FlighttoGitmo (3)

Flying over Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

111117_CampJustice (3)

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

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

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

 

Jessica Ayer (J.D. Candidate, ’19)

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

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.

IMG_7036

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 

hadi

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.

 

IMG_8180

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

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).

DSC02291

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

3BD0D12700000578-4085516-Ahmed_Mohammed_al_Darbi_41_He_was_an_instructor_at_the_al_Farouq-a-179_1483646333475

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.

ozama-bin-laden_400x400

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.

help-bosnia-nowIC__600x397

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

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

mcop_observer-group-pic-commissary

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

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

Pentagon pledge of open and transparent hearings

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

Guantanamo_courtroom_gallery - with guard

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

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

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

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

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

Why the ban?

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

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

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

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

My Ft. Meade experiences today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Options?

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Edwards

 

Prohibited from observing Guantanamo Bay hearing at stateside CCTV viewing facility

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

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

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

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

What are this week’s hearings about?

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

My interests in this week’s hearings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My plans for the al Darbi hearing / deposition

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

George Edwards

 

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

 

 

Going Back to Guantanamo Bay Today

img_7098

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 and boarding pass -- april -- Andrews

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 -- 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.

hadi-al-iraqi

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.

3 observers - Andrews -- april 2017

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.

Yemeni Guantanamo Detainee to Ask Pentagon to Release Him

 

prb-al-haji-sharqawi

al Sharqawi to ask Pentagon on Tuesday to release him from Guantanamo Bay after 15 years in custody 

On Tuesday, 28 February 2017, Abdu Ali al Haji Sharqawi, who is a Guantanamo Bay detainee from Yemen, will appear at a hearing at which he will likely tell U.S. officials that he is not a threat to U.S. national security and that he should be resettled in a 3rd country.

Sharqawi, who is 43 years of age, was picked up in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, one month after the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay. He arrived in Guantanamo Bay in 2004, after 3 years in custody under the direction of the U.S., first in Jordan then Afghanistan. It is alleged that he was tortured in Jordan and Afghanistan.

On Tuesday he will argue for his freedom from the incarceration he has endured for almost a third of his life.

The hearing – a Periodic Review Board – PRB

This hearing at which Sharqawi will argue is called a Periodic Review Board (PRB),  and will be conducted pursuant to a 7 March 2011 Executive Order (number 13567) which has required most detainees to have a “periodic review” of their detention status.

The PRB process is a “discretionary administrative interagency process to review whether continued detention of particular individuals held at Guantanamo remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”   Per the Executive Order, PRBs are not intended to ascertain the legality of a prisoner’s detention. To the contrary, it has been stated, it decides whether continued detention is warranted given “important” interests.

Each detainee receives an “initial PRB” at which they have the option of appearing in their own behalf. If they are not released, every 6 months they have a “file review,” at which they are not entitled to appear, with decisions made based on their file. Per the Executive Order, every 3 years after that they have a “full review”, at which the detainee may again appear on his own behalf.

The Board itself consists of one representative each from the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

pentagonThe hearing will be held at Guantanamo Bay, but will be transmitted by CCTV to secure locations to permit review by participants and cleared persons who are not physically in the Guantanamo Bay hearing room. I plan to view from a secure room in the Pentagon.

Sharqawi’s PRB hearings

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 that the detainee developed ties to senior al-Qaida leaders such as Usama Bin Laden and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, associated with al-Qaida plotters and operatives including members of the USS Cole bombing and some of the 9111 hijackers, and probably provided logistical and financial support for al-Qaida operations to include facilitating the travel of fighters from Yemen. Further, the Board noted that the detainee’s statements and behavior while in detention indicate that he remains committed to engaging in violent acts against the United States, the difficulty in assessing his current mindset and credibility due to his decision to not participate in the hearing, and insufficient information presented to the Board regarding his plans if transferred and the support that he would have if transferred.

The Board appreciates that the detainee has engaged with his representatives to participate in the process. The Board looks forward to reviewing the detainee’s file in six months and encourages the detainee to fully participate in any future review.

Sharqawi was entitled to appear at his initial PRB last year and to speak on his own behalf. However, he did not appear, and the Board posted this notice on the PRB secretariat’s website:

“THE DETAINEE CHOSE NOT TO APPEAR BEFORE THE BOARD. THEREFORE, THE DETAINEE SESSION WAS NOT REQUIRED.”

  • File Review. Sharqawi had a PRB file review on 15 November 2016, and on 14 April 2016 the Board concluded:

MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD

SUBJECT: Periodic Review Board File Review  Sharqawi Abd u Ali al-Hajj (YM-1457)

On I November 2016, the PRB conducted a file review for Sharqawi Abd u Ali al-Hajj (YM- 1457) 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 14 April 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 i n accordance with section 3(c) of E.O. 13567. [emphasis added]

  • Full Review. It is Sharqawi’s full review that is scheduled for this Tuesday. It should be noted that PRBs do not assess the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and are not criminal proceedings. A determination will be made as to whether the detainee is a threat to the U.S. He is hoping that the U.S. will send him to a 3rd country – outside the U.S. but not Yemen – for resettlement. The U.S. is not now sending detainees back to Yemen for security reasons.

What will Sharqawi’s PRB be like?

I suspect that other representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) (including 2 students from Indiana University McKinney School of Law) will be present with me at the Pentagon on Tuesday, and possibly some media. This is the second PRB to be held under the Trump Administration, and the first of these, two weeks ago, attracted more NGOs and media than most earlier PRBs. The NGOs and media representatives will view from a secure room at the Pentagon.

Others present for the hearing will include members of the “Board” itself that conducts the PRBs. Presumably each of those representatives will watch remotely in his or her office in the DC area. Also likely to be present for the hearing are the Legal Advisor to the Board; the Case Administrator; a Hearing Clerk; and a Security Officer, though it is not clear where these individuals would be located at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.

 Statements to be made at the PRB

The initial part of the PRB will be unclassified, and that is the portion of the PRB I will observe. During that portion of the PRB, I will be sitting in a secure Pentagon viewing room watching the hearing live, which will be happening at Guantanamo Bay.

The Pentagon posted 3 statements to be read at Tuesday’s PRB’s public session:

  1. an Unclassified Summary prepared by the Government;
  2. a Statement by Sharqawi’s private outside lawyer; and
  3. a Statement by Sharqawi’s U.S. government-appointed non-lawyer “personal representative. The bodies of these three short statements are reproduced below.

The Unclassified Summary prepared by the U.S. Government to present at the PRB states, in full:

Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (YM-1457), a.k.a. Riyadh, is a career jihadist who acted as a prominent financial and travel facilitator for al -Qa’ida and was closely tied to several senior al -Qa’ida members, including Usama Bin Ladin and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024), although he has repeatedly denied being an al-Qa’ida member. During his detention at Guantanamo, Riyadh has been semicompliant with the guard force and, until late 2004, provided his interrogators with a wealth of information on his extremist activities and associations. Riyadh remains a steadfast supporter of extremist causes and groups, most likely continues to view America as his enemy, and has praised recent acts of terrorism. There are no indications that Riyadh’s Yemen-based family members have engaged in extremist activities, although connections to extremist networks could offer Riyadh a potential path to reengagement in Yemen.

The private counsel for submitted a statement that provides, in full:

Members of the Periodic Review Board:

Good morning.  My name is Pardiss Kebriaei, and I am Private Counsel for Sharqawi Al Hajj.

Thank you for the opportunity for Mr. Al Haij’s subsequent full review. We are encouraged that the Periodic Review Board has been continuing its work.  The board’s purpose of whether continued detention is still necessary is vital for men like Mr. Al Hajj, who has been held in U.S. custody for over 15 years.

I am currently a Senior Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented Guantanamo detainees since 2002, including dozens of men whom the United States, under the Bush and Obama administrations, has successfully repatriated or resettled.  I have represented detainees for nearly ten years.  I have represented Mr. Al Hajj since last year.

I’ll make a few brief points about the past, present and future with respect to Mr. Al Hajj.

With respect to the past: In Mr. Al Hajj’s habeas proceedings, the government’s case-in-chief relied on statements Mr. Al Hajj made during several interrogations in Bagram and Guantanamo in 2004.  To the extent the board is considering any of this information as part of this review, it should know that then-Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the D.C. District Court struck all of these statements as unreliable; he found that they were tainted by prior physical and psychological coercion Mr. Al Hajj experienced in prisons in Jordan and Kabul after his capture.  Mr. Al Hajj is here to answer your questions about his present views and conduct, and his future intentions, but this point about the past bears noting.

With respect to the present: Mr. Al Hajj is 43 years old today.  The impulses and views that led to his detention were by a young man in his 20s.  The government’s unclassified profile of Mr. Al Hajj states that he ”most likely continues to view America as his enemy.” That description is outdated.  Mr. Al Hajj’s detention has necessarily entailed interactions with Americans of different stripes over the years that have complicated and changed his view. Blanket statements no longer apply.

Moreover, Mr. Al Hajj’s health may be seriously compromised.  He reports bouts of jaundice and weakness which, according to independent physicians with whom his counsel have consulted, may indicate a potentially grave liver condition that should be investigated.  A medical expert opinion is included in Mr. Al Hajj’s detainee submission.  Far from having the desire or energy for any involvement in conflict, the hardship of the past 15 years makes him want to tum away.

Finally, with respect to the future: Mr. Al Hajj would accept resettlement in any safe country the government believes appropriate.  His family stands ready and able to provide financial and moral support for his reintegration wherever that may be, as they have stated in the detainee submission.  My organization, which has worked closely with envoys from the Defense and State Departments on detainee transfers in prior years, also stands ready to assist.

Sharqawi’s “personal representative”, who is a non-lawyer appointed by the U.S. military, submitted a statement that provides, in full:

Members of the board, thank for allowing Mr. Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj to have a second chance at hearing his case. I am his Personal Representative. He made the decision to not attend his first board because he did not feel confident sitting before the board without a Private Counsel. At that time, he still feared that the Board was a legal proceeding versus an administrative board and therefore, he did not want to attend without having his lawyer present.

But, since that time, he has attended every meeting with me and been very cordial. He is easy to get along with and is obviously a very intelligent person, who communicates well. He has worked well with both a female Personal Representative and Private Counsel.

Since Sharqawi has moved camps, he has worked to build his relationships with fellow detainees. During our conversations, he has indicated that since he has been here, he has learned to appreciate other people’s cultures which he had not before. He is actively participating in classes to prepare for life after Guantanamo and he speaks English quite well. His Private Counsel has been in contact with his family to confirm that they will support him after his departure from GTMO. He is open to repatriation anywhere and feels he is capable of working in other cultures since he has learned to work with other detainees in GTMO.

I appreciate your consideration of his case today as he answers your questions so you can decide if he still poses a threat to the U.S.

 Conclusion

So far as we can tell, Sharqawi’s PRB is still scheduled to go forward on Tuesday, 28 February 2017. That is, the Pentagon has not notified us that it will not go forward. If it does go forward, it seems likely that Sharqawi will attend, which he did not do for his initial PRB last year.

Please watch this space for an update post-PRB.

George Edwards

Founder, Periodic Review Board (PRB) Project

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

_______

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background and Experience

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

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

Back to the Storyline

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

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

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

To be specific; from the Pentagon:

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

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

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

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

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

ksm-picWhat Hearings will I monitor?

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

This is Actually Going to Happen?!?

img_7039-1

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

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

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

Duties and Responsibilities

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

FT Manual

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

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

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

Brent M. Pierce, J.D. ’10

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

At Joint Base Andrews Flying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

img_8125

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.

img_8123

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.

img_8120

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)

img_8127

Preparing for my mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

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

My earlier monitoring at Ft. Meade 

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

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-7-21-12-pm

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

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

My Guantanamo Bay travel nomination

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

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

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

My Background

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

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

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

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-7-39-21-pm

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

Paperwork

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

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

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

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

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

Preparation: The Game Plan

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

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

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

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

Sheila Willard (J.D. Candidate, ’18)

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law