Human Rights First

Lawyers Korolev and Kubal Join Guantanamo Observer Advisory Council

Edwards, Korolev & Kubal Join MCOP Advisory Council

Left to right: Professor Edwards (Gitmo Observer Founder); Mr. Leontiy Korolev; Mr. Matt Kubal. Korolev & Kubal are new members of the Gitmo Observer Advisory Council. Professor Edwards is an ex oficio member. The photo was taken in the International Human Rights Law Academic Center at Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

Two Indiana lawyers, Leontiy Korolev and Matt Kubal, were recently appointed as members of the Advisory Council of the U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), also known as the Gitmo Observer. The Project, which focuses on U.S. tribunals established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is housed at the Program in International Human Rights Law of Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

Professor George Edwards, who founded the project, said “our Gitmo Observer Advisory Council is a very important part of our overall Project, as it helps us carry out our mandates.”

Regarding the project missions, Professor Edwards said: “Our Military Commission Observation Project’s missions include sending our members to Guantanamo Ba, Cuba (Gitmo) to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on war crimes tribunals held there. Our Indiana University McKinney School of Law students, faculty, staff and graduates travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and play important roles related to rights and interests of all stakeholders in the process.”

The Advisory Council guides the Gitmo Observer in fulfilling the project’s responsibilities under the Pentagon’s Convening Authority grant of NGO Observation Status for the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commission hearings. The Advisory Council helps manage The Gitmo Observer site and related social media, screens and selects observers for travel to hearings at Guantanamo Bay & Ft. Meade, and develops resources to educate and train selected observers and others.

Professor Edwards, Mr. Korolev, and Mr. Kubal each recently traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor hearings. Edwards and Korolev each also recently traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor Guantanamo Bay hearings that were simultaneously video-cast by secure link from the Guantanamo Bay courtroom to the Post Theater at Ft. Meade.

In addition to work related to the Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions, Professor Edwards has also undertaken an examination of the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), through which assessments are made regarding whether specific detainees are subjected to justifiable continued detention when no charges have been or will be filed against them in a U.S. Military Commission.  More about PRBs can be found on the Pentagon’s Periodic Review Secretariat website, and at the Human Rights First website. Professor Edwards’ forthcoming book — The Guantanamo Bay Reader — also examines PRBs, as does the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.

Indiana law students and faculty at Ft. Meade’s Guantanamo hearings

Ft. Meade # 1 of 4

Right to left — Mr. Tex Boonjue, Ms. Hee Jong Choi, and me. We’re standing in front of the Post Theater at Ft. Meade.

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.

Fort Meade's Post Theater is screening Guantanamo Bay war crimes hearings during the day, and San Andreas in the evenings.

Fort Meade’s Post Theater is screening Guantanamo Bay war crimes hearings during the day, and San Andreas in the evenings.

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.

At the Ft. Meade Commissary today

At the Ft. Meade Commissary today

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

Hadi’s Guantanamo hearings delayed two days

We are 6 NGO Observers on this trip to Guantanamo Bay, along with our Military Commission escort. Next time we wont stand in the shade for our photos!)

We are 6 NGO Observers on this trip to Guantanamo Bay, along with our Military Commission escort. Next time we wont stand in the shade for our photos!)

The Hadi al Iraqi Guantanamo Bay hearings begin tomorrow (Wednesday, 22 July), two days late due to an issue that apparently arose on Sunday the 19th, our first day in Cuba.

I came to Cuba to observe these war crimes hearings, and though the hearings were postponed, I and the other Observers had a very full two days.

On Monday I went for a 4:00 a.m. run with a fellow Observer. We ran early to avoid the daylight heat and humidity. As required, we carried our base identification card and wore reflective gear.

We then met with the other Observers and our escorts for breakfast at the base dining hall. This gave us a chance to get to know each other and learn about the different non-governmental organizations we represent. At the dining hall we saw members from every branch of the U.S. armed forces. As for the food, well, it was pretty decent.

I'm sharing this tent with the two other male Observers. the 4 female Observers are sharing their own tent.

I’m sharing this tent with the two other male Observers. the 4 female Observers are sharing their own tent.

Who are the Guantanamo Observers this week?

I am representing the Military Commission Observation Project of the Indiana University IU McKinney School of Law (MCOP), founded by Professor George Edwards. Five other NGO’s sent representatives to attend this round of Hadi hearings. NGOs generally are tasked with attending, observing, analyzing, critiqueing and reporting on the military commission proceedings. Our Indiana project, which is also known a the “Gitmo Observer”, is specifically looking at the rights and interests of the full range of Guantanamo Bay military commission stakeholders, including, for example, the defendants, the prosecution, the victims and their families, the witnesses, the media, and the military personnel who guard the prisoners and run the detention facilities.

My 3rd of the men's tent.

My third of the men’s tent.

Our group of Observers consists of two attorneys, four law school students from four different law schools, and one representative from an NGO that focuses on human rights. The diverse backgrounds of this group will help provide different points of view from which to observe the proceedings and, thus, hopefully lead to a fuller review of the hearings.

Internet Access

After breakfast, I met with the other Observers for an informal discussion. We met outside near a particular restaurant so that several of the Observers could use the free wifi available at that particular location.

Internet access is quite an issue at the base. Internet access through a wired ethernet connection costs $150/week. This cost is prohibitive to some NGO’s and to some Observers. The Observers who cannot afford to pay for the wired connection must rely upon free wifi. This service, which is only available at select locations is both slow and unreliable due. This, in turn, runs the risk of limiting timely reporting from Observers.

The NGO Library

I then went to the NGO library to learn what resources were present to aid us in our observations. A number of NGO’s, including the Military Commission Observation Project through Indiana’s IU McKinney School of Law, stocked the library with helpful written material.

The MCOP most notably included two resources (1) a briefing book that includes the Manual for Military Commissions and (2) a copy of the 500 page Executive Summary from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

To understand the rights of stakeholders, it is important to understand the legal framework in which stakeholders exercise their rights. As such, the Manual for Military Commissions is a great resource as it sets forth how military commissions, such as the one handling the al-Hadi al-Iraqi case operate, both in and outside of court hearings. This includes, for example, discovery issues, trial rules, and sentencing procedures.

The second document will be helpful as the Hadi defense team has made numerous references to this study through many of its pleadings. This document is important as it is referenced by the defense in many of its pleadings.

Big Day Tomorrow

It is hard to believe that the hearings begin tomorrow. I’m excited about this opportunity to watch the hearings, analyze the proceedings, and then report to you.

I and other Observers have been using the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, that provides insights as to what we might wish to look for as we assess whether stakeholders are receiving a fair hearing.

Greg Loyd – Guantanamo Bay, Cuba