Judge Spath

Reflections on my Previous Guantanamo Observation Trip

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

My Scheduled Trip to Monitor Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

I am scheduled to fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against Mr. Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Abdu Al-Nashiri. Mr. al Nashiri is facing war crimes charges as the alleged mastermind of the October 2000

USS Cole

Damage to the USS Cole.  Picture from CNN.

bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 sailors and wounding many more. I am a second-year student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and was nominated by our school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) and confirmed by the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions (OMC) for this monitoring role, from 11 to 18 November 2017.

Current Case Status

Mr. al Nashiri’s case is in a position no other Guantanamo case has been in before.

Several weeks ago, Mr. al Nashiri’s defense team consisted of Navy Lieutenant Alaric Piette, Ms. Rosa Eliades, Ms. Mary Spears, and Mr. Rick Kammen. Since Mr. al Nashiri faces the death penalty, he has, “to the extent practicable”, the statutory right to have a “Learned Counsel” — or an attorney who is qualified to serve in capital cases. Mr. Kammen served as Mr. al Nashiri’s Learned Counsel since 2008.

On 11 October 2017, Brigadier General John Baker, chief defense counsel for the Military Commissions, released Mr. Kammen, Ms. Eliades, and Ms. Spears for what he described as “good cause” due to “lack of confidence in the confidentiality of their privileged conversations with [al Nashiri] at Guantanamo” according to the release memo singed by General Baker.

Judge Spath ordered Mr. Kammen, Ms. Eliades, and Ms. Spears to appear in court at Guantanamo on 30 October 2017, however the three attorneys did not board the plane to go down there. Judge Spath said the hearings will continue and that General Baker’s release of the three attorneys was “null and void.”

On 1 November 2017, Judge Spath held General Baker in contempt for “willfully refus[ing] to obey the commission’s order to testify” and for “willfully refus[ing] to obey the commission’s order to rescind [his] excusal of [Mr. Kammen, Ms. Eliades, and Ms. Spears].” On 3 November 2017, a Defense Department lawyer agreed to defer General Baker’s punishment, and General Baker was released from confinement to his quarters.

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BG Baker after being released from confinement to his quarters. Picture from Miami Herald.

 

Judge Spath has said that he intends on continuing with the hearings on “things that don’t relate to capital issues” through next week. It is still unclear whether the hearings will continue the week of 13 November 2017, when I am scheduled to be at Guantanamo.

Preliminary Thoughts                       

I am still hopeful I will have the opportunity to travel down to Guantanamo. I am currently scheduled to depart from Joint Base Andrews on 11 November. I am looking forward to attending, observing (and being observed), analyzing, critiquing, and reporting on the military commissions as a neutral stakeholder, and ultimately having this incredible potential opportunity that, unfortunately, not many people get.

 

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

Guantanamo USS Cole Case Day 2 — Hearings To Resume April

USS Cole on 1st deployment after 2000 suicide bomb killed 17 US sailors and wounded dozens more

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

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)

 

USS Cole Case Day 1 Wrap Up: Guantanamo Bay

From the ferry crossing Guantanamo Bay, the GTMO airport where we arrived in the background.

View from the ferry crossing Guantanamo Bay, the GTMO airport where we arrived in the background.

Touch Down at GTMO

The first day we arrived at Guantanamo Bay was sobering. This side of the island is beautiful, and everyone at the Base who met us is very friendly. We arrived, went through security and got on vans to head to the Ferry. It is a short ferry ride to Camp Justice, and we had interesting conversations with other observers and different people going to Guantanamo for different purposes unrelated to the pretrial hearings. Our luggage was waiting for us when we arrived. We have all been set up in two tents; one for the men and one for women.

On Sunday, we went for dinner at an Irish restaurant. The food was everything but Irish, but I cannot judge seeing as I ordered tilapia! I found it interesting that we could not all sit together as we had not made a reservation 24 hours in advance. Yesterday (Monday, the 2nd) we switched things u and went next door the Irish place, the Windjammer, which has the exact same menu as the Irish place. Sigh.

Guantanamo Bay Courtroom from the viewing gallery, behind  the thick, bulletproof glass.

Guantanamo Bay Courtroom from the viewing gallery, behind the thick, bulletproof glass. (Photo credit: CBS News. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Courtroom Tour

Day 1 at Gitmo started with a tour of the Court. We were not able to go inside the actual courtroom as they had already prepared it for the session. We sat in the gallery, which is behind glass windows that have TV monitors transmitting with a 40-second delay to allow for time to censure any classified information that may be said in court.

We talked about the trial process in Military Commissions, Convening authorities and their roles, especially in light of the Unlawful Influence motion that was set to be ruled on., how juries and selected,  and went over some court rules and structure.

Court Session Begins – Victims & Family Join

We reconvened at the court at 10:30 a.m. This time we were joined by Victims and Family who sat on the opposite end of the room. In the room, we had our NGO escorts as well as some military personnel to escort us if we needed to leave the room, or if we needed anything else. One of them was actually from Indiana. Always great to meet “fellow Hoosiers”. Our escorts have been wonderful the entire time, and drive us anywhere we wish to go, including to the court a few yards away sometimes.

We were given assigned seats even though the gallery was half-empty.

Courtroom sketch of al Nashiri by artist Janet Hamlin. Today in court he was wearing a similar white jumpsuit.

File courtroom sketch of al Nashiri by artist Janet Hamlin. Today in court he was wearing a similar white jumpsuit.

From where I was in the back row, I did not see the bring al Nashiri in, but I did see him during our “comfort break”. He was in a white jumpsuit and was chatting with his team, looking very calm. At 50 years old, he certainly looks a lot younger in my opinion

Judge’s Ruling on Unlawful Influence by Marine Major General Vaughn Ary (retired)

First order of business, Judge Spath delivered his ruling on the Unlawful Influence Motion (AE 332, Defense Motion to Dismiss for Unlawful Influence and Denial of Due Process for Failure to Provide an Independent Judiciary). The Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual addresses the relevant laws on Unlawful Influence on page 63.

The judge ruled that there was an appearance of Unlawful Influence by retired Marine Major General Vaughn Ary, the Convening Authority (CA) but that because he found Ary did not act in bad faith he did not allow the defense remedies of dismissing the case (See pg. 5896 Unofficial Unauthenticated Transcript, al Nashiri, A March 2015). He further ordered that the CA and his legal advisors be disqualified from taking any further action and making any further recommendations in the case. He called for the appointment of a new CA.

There will be no further evidentiary hearings this week, and several people have mentioned that we may wrap up the sessions as early as today (Tuesday).

The judge mentioned that a ruling on a Motion 205 would be out soon, but that he had denied 205 BB (a motion to reargue) and 205 EE (a motion to supplement additional pleadings). I later learned during a briefing with General Martins that these were defense motions to seal some of al Nashiri’s medical records for privacy reasons.

More Motions

At the 1300hrs (1:00 p.m.) session, the court heard spirited arguments from both the defense and prosecution on the following motions:

  • AE 331 A – Government Motion To Amend the Docketing Order (February 2015 Hearing) To Allow The Government To Determine The Manner In Which It Presents Its Evidence Relating To The Admissibility Of Government-Noticed Hearsay And Evidence Identified In AE 207;
  • AE 319J – Defense Motion to Continue Further Hearings on the Government’s Motion to Admit Hearsay Until the Court of Military Commissions Review Renders a Final Judgment on Appeal;
  • AE 256D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 256C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5);
  • AE 257D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 257C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5).

Meeting with Chief Prosecutor General Martins

The session ended at about 3:30 p.m. to the public, and continued to discuss a classified Motion 505 in chambers. We met about an hour (for about an hour) later with Army Brig. General Mark Martins, the Chief Prosecutor in the Office of Military Commissions.

We went over some of the hearsay rules under the Military Commissions Act relating to some of the motions discussed in the afternoon session, and answered our questions relating not just to the USS Cole.

Meeting Carol Rosenberg

Before this meeting however, I bumped into Ms. Carol Rosenberg, a notable reporter from the Miami Herald who is known as the Dean of the GTMO Press Corps and has been reporting on Guantanamo since 2002. She said she had read my tweet, and that she knew how to adjust the air conditioning in the tents! Who knew! She later came back and showed us how to do just that. We made very minimal adjustments so as not to let any rodents in or get the tent moist and moldy. Thanks to that, night 2 was a sleeping-bag-only affair.

Tuesday’s Court Schedule

Today (Tuesday) the court session begins at 9:00 am.

Avril Rua Pitt, Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Alleged Unlawful Influence Over Guantanamo Bay Judges

Judge Vance Spath presides over the al Nashiri case.  He is hearing arguments on whether Pentagon officials exercised "unlawful interference" over him. (Photo from Miami Herald)

Judge Vance Spath presides over the al Nashiri case. He is hearing arguments on whether Pentagon officials exercised “unlawful interference” over him. (Photo from Miami Herald)

In Monday afternoon’s court session in the Guantanamo case involving the alleged mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole suicide bombing case, the defense claimed that Pentagon officials were interfering with the judge’s independence, threatening to undermine the entire case. The judge, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, is conducting further inquiry before determining whether unlawful interference exists, and if it does, what the remedy should be.

The defendant, al Nashiri, was arraigned several years ago, and there have been many delays in this death penalty case. The officials stated in e-mails and other communications that they wanted the case to move more quickly, and one official signed an order commanding the judge to change from part-time to full-time on the case, and to physically relocate to Guantanamo Bay until the case was finished, which could be many months or years.

The defense argued that only the judge controls the pace of the trial, and it is “unlawful interference” for a non-judicial official to seek to interfere with a judge’s command of his courtroom.

Most participants commute to Guantanamo Bay

Virtually all participants in the Guantanamo Bay cases live in the U.S. mainland, and commute to Guantanamo Bay for hearings. This includes the defense and prosecution lawyers, the court staff, the press and the NGO Observers, and the interpreters. The judges in this and the other two active cases are the only ones ordered to move to Guantanamo Bay. The chief prosecutor, who is a Brigadier General Mark Martins, was not ordered to move to Guantanamo, and neither were other military officers assigned to work on the cases.

Vaughn Ary - https://www.linkedin.com/pub/vaughn-ary/3b/644/b7

Retired Major General Vaughn Ary

Stalled hearings

Judge Spath halted the hearings mid-afternoon after ordering the Pentagon official who made the order to testify about the order. That official, called the Convening Authority for the military commissions, is Retired Major General Vaughn A. Ary. Judge Spath said General Ary could fly to Guantanamo Bay to testify, or he could testify by video. His testimony is expected as early as tomorrow, Tuesday, 24 February 2015.

What is “unlawful interference” with the judge.

The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual discusses law related to “unlawful interference”, and the independence of judges, and identifies a checklist of questions to ask in seeking to determine whether judges’ independence has been compromised. Under international and domestic U.S. law, judges are required to be independent, and are required to appear to be independent. Outside, objective observers should be able to view a judge and his decisions and not be concerned about whether some outside, non-judicial entity is “pulling the strings” or exercising unlawful command authority over the judge.

All stakeholders in the Military Commissions have rights and interests. This includes not only the defense, which clearly has rights, but also includes the prosecution, the victims and their families, the media, NGO Observers, court personnel, security guards, and others. The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual outlines many of these rights and interests.

(George Edwards, Ft. Meade, 23 February 2015)