Know Before You Go Guide

Bound for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: Reporting from Andrews Air Force Base

Reporting from Andrews Air Force Base

I am a recent graduate of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) representing the IU McKinney Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).  This morning I am traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor U.S. military commissions against an alleged high-level member of al Qaeda who is charged with several war crimes.

The MCOP, which was founded by Professor George E. Edwards, routinely sends IU McKinney students, faculty, staff, and graduates to Guantanamo to serve as non-governmental organization (NGO) Observers, through a Pentagon initiative in line with the U.S. government’s stated objective of transparency in the war crimes proceedings occurring at Guantanamo.  Indiana’s NGO Observers travel to Guantanamo with a mission to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on the commissions.  I write to you now from Andrews Air Force Base while waiting to board my military flight to Guantanamo in furtherance of this mission.

I am joined at Andrews by three other NGO Observers representing different organizations.  This is a relatively small group of Observers, as Guantanamo NGO Observer groups can sometimes consist of ten or more individuals.  While we wait, we are studying two manuals, prepared by Professor Edwards, related to our mission:

(a)  Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual – Excerpts (which describes the U.S. Military Commissions, what a fair trial should look like at Guantanamo, the applicable law, and other related materials); and

(b) Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay (which describes a pragmatic approach to NGO Observation, the Roles and Responsibilities of NGO Observers, the Dos and Don’ts at Guantanamo, the beaches, the restaurants, the theaters, and various other amenities available at Guantanamo when court is not in session).

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NGO Observers reviewing copies of the “Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual – Excerpts.

Beyond this, we have been introduced to two escorts who are to serve as our primary liaisons and guides during our stay at Guantanamo.  Our escorts have identified various rules to be followed while at Guantanamo (including photography limitations, security badge requirements, and the need to inform each other of our activities and whereabouts during our stay).  They also explained that serving as an NGO Observer at Guantanamo would be an exercise of flexibility and patience, as rules and schedules are often subject to change (see “Reduced Hearing Schedule” heading below).

Nashwan al Tamir / Abd Hadi al Iraqi

I will be observing the case against Nashwan al-Tamir (what he declares to be his true name), or Abd al Hadi al Iraqi (the name the prosecution used in the charges; hereinafter “Nashwan / Hadi”).  Nashwan / 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.  Nashwan / Hadi was captured in Turkey in late 2006 and was soon turned over to U.S. intelligence.  He subsequently spent 170 days in secret CIA custody before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2007, where he has been the subject of proceedings since 2014.  He is described as a “high-value detainee” by U.S. officials, and was proclaimed by the Bush administration to be among Osama bin Laden’s “most experienced paramilitary leaders”.

Reduced Hearing Schedule

In the days preceding my scheduled flight to Guantanamo, I received an email from the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) Convening Authority informing me that the hearings for this coming week in the Nashwan / Hadi case had been reduced from a full week of hearings (24 – 28 September 2018) to a single hearing day (24 September 2018).  I was not entirely surprised by this news.  Guantanamo hearing schedules tend to change with little notice, perhaps especially in the case against Tamir / Hadi, given the reported fragile state of his health.  Indeed, during my past nomination, the hearings I was scheduled to observe were cancelled altogether.

The OMC initially suggested that because of the reduced hearing days, we would return from Guantanamo earlier than scheduled.  However, at Andrews our escorts informed us that we would remain at Guantanamo for the entire week – Sunday through Saturday – even though we would have hearings only on Monday morning.  Our escorts also told us that they are organizing non-court activities at Guantanamo, with more information to soon follow.

I am excited for the hearing, and to see how the rest of the week unfolds.

Conclusion

Please stay tuned for future updates; I plan to continue blogging throughout my stay at Guantanamo.

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Fellow NGO Observers and I holding our copies of the “Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay Guide” in preparation for our trip to Guantanamo.  I am second from the right.

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

Arrival at Guantanamo Bay’s “Camp Justice”

Camp Justice Tents

Tents where we live at Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Justice.

[By Paul Logan. Posted by G. Edwards]

We made it

After a long day of traveling yesterday (Sunday, January 28), we arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba’s, “Camp Justice,” which is a “tent city” where I and other representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will live for the next week.  We are here to monitor U.S. military commission hearings against Hadi al Iraqi (also known as Nashwan al Tamir), who is accused of perpetrating war crimes in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the early 2000s. I am representing the Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and traveled here with five observers from other NGOs: Zoe Weinberg (National Institute of Military Justice – NIMJ); Sarah Ruckriegle of Georgetown Law School; Kelly Mitchell (American Bar Association); Eric Helms (Human Rights First); and retired New York State Judge Kevin McKay (City Bar of New York).

Our flight to Guantanamo

We had an early start, as our “show time” at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington was at 6 a.m., for a flight scheduled for 10:20 a.m., which actually took off shortly after 11.   We observers were told to sit together in three rows near the back of the chartered National Airlines plane.  Others on the plane were seated in groups in different sections, including the judge and his staff (in the very front of the plane), employees of the Office of Military Commissions staff, defense lawyers, prosecutors, staffs of the prosecution and defense, court reporters, translators and interpreters, security officials, and Guantanamo Bay Press Corps Dean Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald.  While victim’s and victim’s family members and panel or jury members are sometimes on these flights, I understand none of these were on our flight today.   Also on this flight were defense lawyers who came down to visit their clients who are prisoners who are not involved with the Hadi / Nashwan al Tamir case we came to monitor.

national airwaysWhile there were some rough patches, it was generally an uneventful and uncrowded flight.  The 757 can fit about 120 passengers, and there were a little over 80 on board, so each of us had three seats.   I finished reading my copy of Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay, and began to draft this blog postThe manual, produced by Indiana’s Professor George Edwards, offers many suggestions on things to do when not involved in Military Commission activities, as well as how we can prepare substantively for our Gitmo mission.  We had a very nice view of some islands out of my side of the plane, which I at first supposed to be the Bahamas, but because we were still a ways from Cuba, may have been the outer banks of North Carolina.

It was cool and rainy in Washington this morning and was sunny and beautiful here at Gitmo when we arrived after our 3-hour flight. After taxiing on the short airstrip on the leeward side of Guantanamo Bay, Naval Station authorities checked documents of the passengers. After we went through security, we met one of our escorts who will transport us around “the island,” as those here refer to the base, and boarded a ferry to cross from the across Guantanamo Bay from the leeward to the windward side of Gitmo (as the Naval Station is sometimes called).

Reaching Camp Justice

We NGOs were transported to our homes for the next week — tents in “Camp Justice”. We then made our first trip to the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC) to receive our badges that we have to wear when we go to court.  The ELC complex contains Courtroom II in which cases are heard against high value detainees (HVDs), as well as judges’ chambers, trailers for the defense and prosecution, court offices, witness trailers, and holding areas for the detainees.  We received a tutorial on not taking any photographs of any part of the ELC, and not bringing electronic devices to Court.

Evening

As our evening escort drove us to dinner, he received a phone call notifying him that the hearings set for today (Monday the 29th) will be closed to observers, presumably because classified information will be discussed.  We all knew that there was a possibility of closed hearings, but we were disappointed that hearings on the first day would be closed, as we are anxious to do what one of the things we came here to do — observe the proceedings. We all understand that sitting in the courtroom is only one of the things that NGOs do.  Our NGO mission has 6 parts to it: We are here to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on all we experience, both inside and outside the courtroom. We look forward to talking with prosecutors, defense counsel, Office of Military Commission officials, Carol Rosenberg, and others whose experiences will enlighten us and help us to do our jobs as monitors.

What we did Monday when Court sessions were

Paul Logan - Radio Gitmo - with microphone

At Radio GTMO

closed

This morning our escorts took us to visit Radio GTMO, which operates three radio stations broadcast from the base.  I purchased a bobblehead of Fidel Castro displaying the radio stations call letters on it.  Thereafter, we took a look at Camp X-ray, where prisoners were first held here in 2002.  Some may recall the photos in the news of detainees

igauana

An Igauna at the beach

in orange jumpsuits held in primitive outdoor “cages” surrounded by chain link fence and barbed wire.  Several wooden guard towers ring the camp.  Camp X-Ray has been closed for some time.  We were informed that it has not been taken down as it is evidence in an ongoing case.

We then took the 2½ mile ridge line hike which has some dramatic vistas of the island, and saw a very large iguana.  After our hike, it was time for some R&R at Glass Beach, not far from Camp Justice.  We had another iguana visit on the beach.

paul logan - vista

A view from the Ridge. That’s Guantanamo Bay in the background. You can also see the part of Cuba over which the Cuban government exercises jurisdiction, outside the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay.

We are all looking forward to finally seeing the inside of Courtroom II tomorrow, and finally observing the proceedings against Hadi al-Iraqi / Nashwan al Tamir.

Paul Logan, JD ‘94

Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

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?!?

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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

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.

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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!

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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

What you may want to know before traveling to Guantanamo Bay’s war crimes court

omc-legal-signDid you receive a rare Pentagon invitation to travel to Guantanamo Bay for war crimes hearings?

If so, are you searching for info on how to prepare for a Guantanamo trip, what to pack, will your U.S. mobile phone work, what about internet access, how is flying on a military plane from Andrews Air Force Base different from flying civilian, do you need your passport, can you meet detainees and see the prisons camps, will you have the resources needed to accomplish your Guantanamo mission / goals?

Each new Guantanamo traveler has these and other questions, which are answered in this revised and expanded Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Guide (downloadable below).

In 24 Chapters (76 pages, 2 Appendices), the Guide speaks directly to non-governmental organization (NGO) observers, who play a specific, valuable role at Guantanamo Bay. The Guide anticipates new observers’ concerns, and addresses them methodically and comprehensively, and helps observers prepare for their missions. The Guide may be helpful for anyone traveling to Guantanamo hearings, including media, court staff, witnesses, foreign government representatives, etc.

The Guide notes that monitors (also to as “non-governmental organization observers” or “NGO observers”) have the responsibility to attend, observe, analyze, review and critique Guantanamo Bay Military Commission (war crimes) hearings. This requires substantive preparation before traveling to Guantanamo, full schedules on the ground there, and follow-up upon return to the U.S.

Monitors (and others) must eat, sleep and exercise at Guantanamo and the Guide informs about that, and about Guantanamo tourist attractions, souvenirs, and entertainment such as outdoor movies.

Here is the Guide:

Pentagon’s observation / monitoring program

The Pentagon has been permitting NGO observers to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor cases against men charged with heinous crimes concerning the 9/11 World Trade Center and Pentagon attack, the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen, and other incidents.

The monitors, who must be U.S. citizens, include representatives of human rights groups, lawyers, judges, law professors and law students, and the non-legal community members.

The Pentagon has stated that it invites monitors to promote transparency — for monitors to be the eyes and ears into Guantanamo to the outside world. Monitors attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the substance of the war crimes hearings themselves and on the process involved in the proceedings.

Monitors assess how transparent the proceedings are, and examine whether the monitors are given the access to the personnel, proceedings, resources they need to perform their assigned tasks.

Monitors tend to travel for one week at a time, departing the U.S. on a weekend and returning the following weekend, with hearing days scheduled Monday – Friday of that week.

We hope that the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay Guide is helpful to you as you prepare for your mission!
Good luck!
PS:  If you have any comments / suggestions / tips to be included in the next iteration of the Guide, please let us know in a comment below. Or, please send an e-mail to us at GitmoObserver@yahoo.com.
Thank you in advance!