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.
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.
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.
The MCOP has developed a special coin for distribution. I will have a few coins available during this observation.
Sheila Willard (J.D. Candidate, ’18)
NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
The Gitmo Observer has updated 4 draft documents useful for anyone interested in the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba U.S. Military Commissions, and for anyone traveling to Guantanamo Bay for hearings or other purposes.
Each document is in a preliminary draft stage, with further research, writing and editing underway. Nevertheless, the Gitmo Observer hopes that these materials are helpful.
The documents, which are available for free download below, are:
Lists the international and domestic law applied at the Guantanamo military commissions, explains the law, and identifies how the law affects Guantanamo stakeholders, such as the defense, prosecution, victims and victims’ families, witnesses, U.S. military who guard the detainees, the media, and other stakeholders. Explores rights and interests of all stakeholders, not just rights of the defense.
Contains a useful Glossary for military and legal terms, and for items associated with Guantanamo Bay.
Contains important law documents related to the proceedings, such as the charge sheets (indictments) of the 3 major pending cases, and excerpts from binding human rights and humanitarian law treaties (e.g., Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Civil & Political Rights Covenant, Race Convention), the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Supreme Court cases, the Military Commissions Act, Presidential Executive Orders, and military commission jurisprudence.
A selection of important sections of the Full Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual. Provides background information on the military commissions, descriptions of the 3 active Guantanamo Bay hearings, list of previously convicted detainees, the status of current detainees, a schematic of the courtroom (identifying principal courtroom actors), and a Glossary of military and legal terms, and for items associated with Guantanamo Bay.
A guide for anyone traveling to Guantanamo Bay for military commission hearings, client visits, media trips, or other purposes. Contains substantial information geared towards non-governmental organization representatives traveling to observe Guantanamo hearings, but much of the information is useful for any traveler. Contains information about lodging, Guantanamo Bay restaurants, evening / weekend adult entertainment (bars), water activities (beaches, boating, swimming), outdoor activities (hiking, golf, tennis, etc), other sports (bowling, pool), movie theaters, gyms, religious activities (services, fellowships), and more.
If you have any comments or suggestions for our four documents, please feel free to let us know at GitmoObserver@yahoo.com.
We have received very positive, constructive feedback in the past, and we look forward to further input from you!
Click this link for the full Manual — over 500 pages. Below you can download the Manual Excerpts!
If you’re going to Guantanamo Bay in January 2017, you might be interested in our new Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts that offers insights into:
what the right to a fair trial is and how a fair trial should look
how to assess whether a fair trial is being afforded to all Guantanamo stakeholders
roles & responsibilities of independent Observers sent to monitor Guantanamo hearings
background info on Guantanamo the military commissions
a schematic of the courtroom (so you can know who is who)
and a 76 page “Know Before You Go To Guantanamo” insert that will tell you what to expect on your flight to Cuba, the ferry ride across Guantanamo Bay from the landing strip to your Quonset Hut accommodations, base security, food (which can be quite good!), beach, boating, and of course the courtroom, the hearings, and briefings by the prosecution and defense.
In the past, the Gitmo Observer (of Indiana University McKinney School of Law) distributed Manual Excerpts to Observers after we arrived at Andrews Air Force on the morning of our flight to Cuba (or distributed at Ft. Meade, Maryland, for Observers monitoring live by secure video-link from Cuba). Observers said they wish they had had it earlier.
So, we started to e-mail the Manual Excerpts to Observers as soon as we were sent e-mail addresses of Observers scheduled to travel, and we would receive those e-mails 3 – 6 days before the scheduled departure. Observers said that they wish they had it even earlier than that, that 3 – 6 days in advance wasn’t enough time.
So now we are posting the Manual Excerpts on this site, for access by anyone interested, whether or note traveling to Guantanamo Bay (or Ft. Meade or elsewhere), but especially for those traveling to Guantanamo Bay to monitor 3 weeks of January 2017 hearings. Ideally, about 40 independent observers would travel to Gitmo this month, to fill all the slots allocated to observers.
The Defense Department has stated that it favors strong and robust transparency. Having full complements of Observers for each hearing week would help promote transparency, human rights, and the rule of law for all military commission stakeholders (with stakeholders including the defense, the prosecution, victims and their families, witnesses, the media, observers, observer escorts / minders, the public, the U.S. soldiers and others who operate the detention facilities, the military commission court staff, and others).
9/11 lead defendant Khalid Shaik Mohammad, in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom. (Sketch by Janet Hamlin)
Today’s hearings in the 9/11 case started on time in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom.
Defendants KSM, Ramzi bin al Shibh, and Ali Abdul Axis Ali (aka Ammar al Baluchi or “Triple A” or “AAA”) were present when I walked into the Gallery. The other two defendants chose not to appear, which is not uncommon.
The Gallery is a small room with soundproof clear glass through which NGO Observers, Victim’s Family Members, Media, and other visitors are able to watch the hearings. The Gallery has several televisions that show the hearings, with audio on a 40 second delay. We can see what is happening live through the Gallery glass, and 40 seconds later see what we just saw on the TV. It is only through the TV that we can hear what happened in the courtroom, 40 seconds after it actually happened. The purpose of the delay is to prevent the release of classified/confidential information.
There is a curtain in the Gallery separating separating the media and Non Governmental Organization (“NGO”) observers from the victims and victims’ families. The curtain is usually not in use. I have already written about the selection and approval process which allowed me to attend these hearings as an NGO observer. Victims and Victims’ family are chosen based on a lottery system.
The day’s hearing touched on three sets of motions:
AE 018: The hearings on these motions deal with how certain information is treated and released to either the parties or nonparty actors. I believe there were a total of 13 AE 018 motions on the docket for the week’s hearings.
AE 422: The 422 motion was filed by the Government. The Government seeks the deposition of family members of the victims of September 11, 2001 during public pre-trial hearings scheduled for 4-14 October 2016.
AE 133: This motion was filed by the Defense. It is an Emergency Motion to Remove Sustained Barrier to Attorney-Client Communication and Prohibit any Electronic Monitoring and Recording of Attorney-Client Communication in any Location, including Commission Proceedings, Holding Cells, and Meeting Facilities and to Abate Proceedings.
I will not discuss each motion that falls under AE 018, but generally they deal with how communications and information can be released, how those communications are reviewed by the various security processes, and the format and timeliness of prosecution’s discovery responses. There are processes in place for the how various communications are to be reviewed and delivered, however the processes continue to evolve as the litigation continues. The discussions on these motions appear to be good examples of the types of issues that have delayed the 9/11 trial. A few of the specific AE 018 motions are:
AE 018 BB: Government Emergency Motion for Interim Order and Clarification that the Commission’s Order in AE 018U Does Not Create a Means for Non-Privileged Communications to Circumvent the Joint Task Force Mail System.
AE 018EE: Defense Motion to Compel Discovery Responsive to Mr. Mohammad’s Request for Discovery Dated 14 March 2014. (emphasis added)
AE 018 KK: Defense Motion to Invalidate Non-Legal Mai Restrictions Unrelated to Legitimate Penological Interests.
AE 018MM: Defense Motion to Compel Reasonable Privilege Review Team Hours of Operation.
This motion was filed by the prosecution to conduct depositions of certain witnesses. Specifically, the prosecution seeks to depose 10 victims’ family members during the October 2016 hearing. The prosecution wants the depositions conducted in open session at Guantanamo Bay, during the October 2016 hearing. The prosecution cited ages and health concerns, the uncertain posture of the case, and the logistical difficulties for potential witnesses to travel during the actual trial.
The defense generally agreed with the need for depositions but expressed expected concerns about holding the depositions in open court and the proposed dates. The defense teams were not all on the same page with respect to the deposition issue, but some of the arguments expressed by the defense were:
public hearing will taint potential panel members (jury)
there is no need to preserve the testimony because there are so many witnesses
the age and health of potential witnesses is not a factor
there is no need to have the depositions in open court if the evidence may never be admitted
if the prosecution wants to preserve evidence for the elderly and those in poor health, bringing them to Guantanamo Bay would be counterproductive
it does not make sense to have public depositions so close to the election
there is a difference between having the victims’ voice heard and presented vs. creating a public spectacle
This is an ongoing motion dealing with allegations that the government has been trying to pierce the attorney – client privilege. The defense is concerned that they are subject to monitoring which prevents frank exchanges between the attorney and the client. The motion stems from the finding of microphones in fire detectors in rooms that were used for attorney/client meetings.
I suggest reading the AE 133 motions on the military commission website. The discovery of these microphones is documented.
The prosecution stated that while the recording capabilities were present, they were not used during attorney/client meetings. The prosecution stated that while the microphones were used for other law enforcement purposes in the past, they have not been used to monitor attorney/client meetings related to these trials.
My Personal Observations
One issue that stood out for me was the AE 018MM Motion. This motion was filed by the defense to compel the Privilege Review Team (“PRT”) to have reasonable hours of operation. The Privilege Review Team, among other duties, reviews all documents that are taken to a detainee, including any notes attorneys may bring to an attorney client meeting. If the PRT is not operating, then the team of attorneys cannot take any notes into the meeting. Counsel for Hawsawi told the Judge that the PRT was not “open” on the Saturday and Sunday before Monday’s (Memorial Day) hearing, so they had to meet with their client without being able to bring any notes. To me, this sounds outrageous. How is it possible that a team of attorneys who are only able to see their client during very limited hours, after chartering a military flight that flies infrequently, are not able to bring in notes to a client a day before the hearing just because staff of the Period Review Team did not want to work?
I was initially “convinced” by the defense arguments. However, the prosecution presented a different side to the story.
The prosecution argued that PRT staff are like any other employees and it is not unreasonable for them to have the weekend off, especially a holiday weekend. Additionally, the prosecution stated that the PRT is available as long as appointments are made in advance. Prosecution also stated that it is not uncommon for the defense team to not show up to scheduled appointments. After the prosecution presented their argument I was less outraged, and more confused.
I noticed this sway in many of the arguments I have seen in my limited experience with the Military Commission: the movant pulls on emotional strings and presents facts that help their case, the opposing party presents facts in a way that appear to be unemotional and paint a fuller picture. In the end, I am happy I don’t have the burden of having to make a decision. Having only been at Guantanamo Bay for a few days, and only being able to see what I am allowed to see, I find it very difficult to have a strong opinion one way or the other. It is difficult to gather unbiased information because of the emotions and passions tied to the subject matter. Information I receive could be driven by agendas that I do or do not understand. I have made an effort to keep a neutral point of view in order to allow me to gather as much information as possible before I start to lose impartiality.
The hearing on AE 422 was understandably emotional. The curtain separating the media and NGOs from the victims’ family members was drawn shut. The parties argued about the prosecution’s motion to depose, in public court, family members of the 9/11 victims. One particular testimony would revolve around a telephone conversation occurring as a plane hijacking was taking place, just before United 175 flew into the South Tower. The arguments went into additional details, which I will not do here, but the hearing’s transcript is available on the website of the Military Commission.
KSM was also emotional. He, without the Judge’s permission, expressed his feelings regarding the proceedings. I could not make out everything that was said but part of it dealt with the fact that his attorney is an American person and is representing American interest, which is not neutral. Judge Pohl responded with, “one more word and you’re leaving”. Later, Mr. Nevin (Lead Counsel for KSM) explained that his client was upset because an objection was overruled and that a lack of an interpreter prevented the defendant from understanding the meaning of “deposition”.
On Wednesday the Commission held hearings open to NGOs, Media, and Victims’ of Family Members in the morning session; the Commission held closed session in the afternoon. I will write about these later, but I need to get some rest before the hearings tomorrow. The hearings tomorrow are scheduled to include two witnesses. Both of the witnesses are high value detainees who have not been charged with a crime. They will testify during the hearing on AE 152 which is the Emergency Motion for Show Cause Why the Government, JTF Camp Commander and JTF Guard Force Members Should Not Be Held in Contempt. The motion’s allegation is that Mr. Bin al Shibh continues to be subjected to external sounds and vibrations while detained. Hassan Guleed is expected to testify at 10 in the morning and Abu Zubaydah is expected to testify at the start of the afternoon session.
Leontiy Korolev, J.D., Indiana University McKinney School of Law
Participant, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), Indiana University McKinney School of Law
I’m on the left, with Professor George Edwards who founded the Military Commission Observation Project at Indiana. This photo was taken in Washington, DC the day before my departure for Guantanamo.
I’m set this morning to go to Guantanamo Bay to monitor Military Commission hearings. On my plane, which leaves from Andrews Air Force Base, will be the judge, prosecution and defense lawyers, victims’ families, press, court reporters and interpreters, and other hearing observers. For 10 days we will be involved in pre-trial hearing in a case against alleged war criminal al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an alleged high-ranking al Qaeda member.
I graduated from Indiana’s law school over a decade ago, and I have worked as both a defense attorney and a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. I have worked with many categories of individuals emotionally vested in cases – criminal defendants scared for their future due to charges against them, detectives who sink their nights and days investigating a case, family members who grieve for a loved one, and fellow attorneys who spend sleepless nights worrying upcoming hearings. I hope this balanced lense will aid me in better understanding each Guantanamo Bay stakeholder’s point of view and lead to reporting that readers find helpful.
As an Observer, I will watch, listen, and ask questions about the rights of stakeholders in the al-Hadi al-Iraqi case. Obviously, one such stakeholder is the defendant who has significant rights and interests in the matter. Yet, so too do the families of victims. The press. NGO’s. Yes, even the prosecution. When evaluating the military commissions, it is important to consider not just the rights of any one stakeholder, regardless of who or what this stakeholder is, but rather, the analysis must be global in nature. Given that much has been written about the defendant’s rights, I will try to pay close attention to another stakeholder — the rights of the Guantanamo Bay prosecution — in an effort to contribute to a full discussion.
A helpful starting point is to ensure an understanding of the charges filed against a defendant.
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi
What are “Charges”?
Charges are the formal method that the government uses to accuse an individual (the defendant) with having committed a crime. The charges are not evidence and the filing of a charge does not mean that the defendant is guilty. Rather, it is the Government’s responsibility to prove at trial that the defendant is guilty. The Government filed fives charges against Hadi al-Iraqi.
Charges Against Hadi al Iraqi
Here is a brief explanation of the charges filed against the defendant.
In short, the Government alleges that Hadi al Iraqi ordered his combat forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan that when they engaged in combat, they were to take no prisoners, even if the opposing forces attempted to surrender.
Attacking Protected Property
Here, the Government alleges that the defendant attacked a military medical helicopter as it attempted to evacuate a U.S. military member from a battlefield and that the defendant knew the helicopter was a medical helicopter.
Using Treachery or Perfidy
The Government asserts that the defendant detonated explosives in a vehicles that killed and injured German, Canadian, British, and Estonian military personnel.
Attempted Use of Treachery or Perfidy
Hadi al-Iraqi is charged in this count with attempting to detonate explosives in a vehicle to kill or injure U.S. military members.
The Government contends that the defendant entered into an agreement with Usama bin Laden and others to commit terrorism, denying quarter, and murder (among other acts), and that he took at least one step to accomplish the purpose of the agreement.
I’m looking forward to monitoring the upcoming hearings. In applying my experiences, I hope to share a thoughtful analysis regarding my observations at Guantanamo Bay that contributes to the exploration of the rights of all stakeholders.
USS Cole on 1st deployment after 2000 suicide bomb killed 17 US sailors and wounded dozens more
Yesterday, Monday (March 2) was a very interesting day at the court dealing with Unlawful Influence and hearsay evidence in the al Nashiri case against the alleged mastermind of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing in Yemen. Judge Spath ruled that a pentagon official (General Ary, retired) had exercised the Unlawful Influence over the case, and disqualified Ary from acting as “Convening Authority”, who is the person who organizes resources for the Military Commission case. The USS Cole case no longer has a Convening Authority, and Judge Spath declared that there would be no further evidentiary hearings this week and that court will reconvene in first week of April 2015.
End of March USS Cole Session
Judge Spath addressed the next set of hearings, which happen to be scheduled to fall on the Easter holidays (first week of April). This was initially scheduled to be for two weeks but will be a one-week hearing after the Unlawful Influence “debacle”. The judge stated that in order to show that there was no pressure on him, he would truncate this April session. There is a possibility that travel to Guantanamo may be delayed to allow people to celebrate Easter, with the hearings possibly beginning on Monday or Tuesday, and extend into Saturday.
Al Nashiri’s “grooming”
There were several motions heard today, and I mention them in a separate post. I will discuss one here, related to the defendant’s “grooming”.
Mr. Rick Kammen, who is al Nashiri’s “Learned Counsel”, brought to the attention of the court the issue of al Nashiri’s grooming. Mr. Kammen said the issue had still not been resolved and within the last 10 days, the policy had changed three times.
The prosecution said that the Joint Task Force – Guantanamo Bay (JTF-GTMO), which is responsible for the detention facilities, has endeavored to amend their Standard Operating Procedures to address this and the accused will have access to grooming before court and attorney-client meetings.
The judge added (emphasizing that this was not a ruling) that he expects that no prisoners will be in shackles in court if they don’t have to be, or in prison uniform before the members of the court, regardless of who the accused is.
It is not clear what falls into the category of “grooming”. It seems to deal with issues such as what clothes al Nashiri is able to wear to court, access to bathing facilities, haircuts, and the like. And, shackles in court also was mentioned in the context of this grooming discussion. I find myself wondering what exactly what “grooming” involves.
Whereas I am certain they must have very stringent rules on the Base, grooming to me seems a basic right, entrenched in the right to humane treatment as espoused in domestic and international law. The Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual considers the right to humane treatment and humane conditions of detention on page 114.
Furthermore, grooming ties in with the right to be presumed innocent, which is also covered in the Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual. The defendant’s physical appearance in the courtroom may affect the impressions of the jury, the press, the NGO Observers, the victims and their families, and others who may see the defendant. If he is dressed in “prison clothes”, appears to be unclean or unkempt, or is shackled at his hands and feet, an impression might be formed that is different than if he appeared clean and tidy wearing a 3-piece business suit.
Sunset at Girls Cout Beach, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
After hearings – The Beach & a Jamaican Dinner
The NGO Observers were taken on a short tour of several beaches on the island by a logistics specialist, Petty Officer Second Class Archie, and then had dinner at the Jerk House. I had authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken served by a Jamaican (I think), with Jamaican reggae music playing in the background. The only thing that could have made this better is if I had saved room for dessert.
Meeting with the Prosecution; Departure for GTMO
Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 4) we will meet with the prosecution team at 2:00 p.m. and the defense team at 4:30 p.m.
We will depart Guantanamo Bay for Andrews Air Force Base at 10 a.m. Thursday.
It certainly feels like we have been here longer than three days.
The next blog will be list more motions from today, and the blog after that will deal with the life of an NGO Observer at GTMO’s Camp Justice.
(Avril Rua Pitt, NGO Observer Lounge, Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Wednesday, 4 March 2015)
The main issue that was argued the last week of January was whether or not a female guard should be permitted to have contact with a detainee. Practical concerns were raised in regards to religion. With Islam, it is taboo to be touched by a female that a man is not related to or married to. Several witnesses were called, including the female guard at issue. Steps were taken to preserve her anonymity and there was no personally identifiable information that was given about her. She testified as to how her job required her to handle the detainee. Arguments were made that went to whether or not allowing females to touch detainees would hinder that females’ advancement in her career, whether or not the defendant’s religious views were being violated, whether or not suitable male replacements could easily be found, etc.
I think the real issue, that was never broached, is whether the commission actually has the jurisdiction to rule on this matter with regards to general handling while in custody down at Gitmo. This hinges on how broadly the court interprets the defense’s request for touching to cease. Defense tried to argue for all touching, period, to cease. The judge cannot rule on what happens outside of court related proceedings, and even then, how far does his authority reach? Does it apply to court related medical exams? Transfers from the detention facility to the court holding facilities prior to coming into the court room? Anything further is speculation and a ruling has not been handed down yet by the judge, but I will definitely be interested to see how this comes out.
(Margaret Baumgartner, Hadi al Iraqi Hearings, January 25-31, 2015)