I was at Ft. Meade, Maryland today to monitor hearings in the Guantanamo Bay Military Commission case against an alleged high-ranking al Qaeda member, Hadi al Iraqi. Hadi faces war crimes charges in the court, located in a remote area of Cuba. The U.S. military broadcasts the hearings live to a Ft. Meade base movie theater (the Post Theater) via a secure video-link.
Indiana students at Ft. Meade
I was joined by two Indiana University McKinney School of Law students, both of whom have strong interests in human rights and international criminal law. They are both representatives of Indiana’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).
Ms. Hee Jong Choi is a rising third year student who is an intern in Indiana’s Program in International Human Rights Law. She has been working on North Korean human rights issues, while she was based in South Korea for the first half of the summer, and while based in Washington, DC at an NGO (HRNK – The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea) for the second half of the summer.
Mr. Tex Boonjue is a rising 2nd year Indiana student, who is working for the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) at the Washington, DC Naval Yard.
Defendant’s opportunity to speak today – Conflict of interest
Today’s hearings were notable, in that the defendant had an opportunity to speak more than defendants typically speak at military commission hearings. Typically, at the beginning of a hearing week, the military judge will ask the defendant whether the defendant understands his rights. The judge lists our numerous rights, and the defendant is given a chance to answer as to his understanding of those rights. Generally, after that, the lawyers do the rest of the talking, along with the judge.
Today, an issue was presented regarding the possibility that the lawyer who represented Hadi for a year may have a conflict of interest that could have a negative impact on Hadi. The judge asked Hadi series of questions, in open court on the record, and Hadi replied. Hadi and the judge entered into a discussion about these issues.
Hearings suspended, again
Ultimately, due to questions concerning the possible conflict, the judge suspended the hearings, indefinitely.
The hearings for July 2015 had been scheduled for two weeks, beginning Monday, 20 July. The night before, this conflict issue was raised in special conference, and the judge postponed the hearings until today, Wednesday the 22nd. Today, we had about 3 hours of court time, including the time that the defendant and the judge conversed, and including pauses and a long break.
The two weeks of hearings could be over as of lunch time today.
In the meantime, many dozens of people associated with the hearings boarded a plane this past Sunday at Andrews Air Force Base, bound for 2 weeks at Guantanamo Bay. The plane may be forced to return to Andrews more than a week early, with only 3 hours of court.
Who else was at Ft. Meade today?
Also in the Post Theater observing today’s hearings were 7 law student interns from the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of the Military Commissions, along with one of their supervisors, Major Chris Hartley (Army JAG, International Law Advisor). Two law student interns from the Human Rights First National Security section were present, as was another gentleman who did not identify himself. A DoD contractor was there to help ensure that no one brought cell phones into the Theater. And a technician and another administrator popped in from time to time to check up on things.
It was an early lunch day at Ft. Meade.
Greg Loyd, our Indiana McKinney representative who is in Guantanamo Bay this week, reported that there is plenty to keep him and observers busy down there, even with the hearings being suspended. He, and the rest of us, are spending time working on the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.
George Edwards – Ft. Meade, Maryland