Know Before You Go to Guantanamo

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

Travel to Guantanamo Bay to Monitor War Crimes Hearings Against Nashwan al Tamir / Hadi al Iraqi

Nominated for Travel

I am a recent graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) seeking to begin a career in public interest law, and I am participating in IU McKinney’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) as an NGO Observer.

Abd Hadi al Iraqi (Nashwan al Tamir)

Nashwan al Tamir / Abd Hadi al Iraqi (2014 photo by the International Committee of the Red Cross)

With the Pentagon’s approval, I am now scheduled to attend, observe, be observed, analyze, critique, and report on military commission hearings at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station (GTMO) in the case against Nashwan al-Tamir (what he declares to be his true name), or Abd al Hadi al Iraqi (as he is being charged by the prosecution; hereinafter “Tamir / Hadi”).  I am scheduled to observe hearings in the case against Tamir / Hadi between 22 September 2018 and 29 September 2018.

Tamir / 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.  Tamir / Hadi was captured in Turkey in late 2006 and was soon after turned over to U.S. intelligence.  He subsequently spent 170 days in secret CIA custody before being transferred to GTMO in 2007, where he has been the subject of criminal proceedings since 2014.  He is one of seventeen men U.S. officials have described as a “high-value detainee” currently being held at GTMO, and was proclaimed by the Bush administration to be among Osama bin Laden’s “most experienced paramilitary leaders”.  Tamir / Hadi faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for his alleged crimes.

Previous Nomination

I was previously nominated to observe proceedings against Tamir / Hadi in April 2018.  However, approximately one week prior to my scheduled travel date, I received an email from the U.S. Office of Military Commissions declaring that these hearings were cancelled.  I never received an official communication stating the reason for this cancellation, nor have I located definitive information regarding this cancellation elsewhere.  Thus, I cannot conclusively state the reason for it one way or another at this time.

Notably, however, Tamir / Hadi’s severe chronic back pain, which caused him to undergo a series of four spinal surgeries in 2017, has compelled cancellations and other adjustments within Tamir / Hadi’s hearing schedule in past instances.  Indeed, Tamir has apparently undergone a fifth spinal surgery as late as May 2018, which also resulted in hearing cancelations.  With this in mind, I have opted to keep my September schedule largely flexible so I may possibly attend alternative hearings in the event of further cancelations.

Background and Interest in Observing

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Me speaking during the Program in International Human Rights Law 20th Anniversary in December 2017.

I became interested in the MCOP through my past engagements with IU McKinney’s exceptional Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.  During the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to support human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) spanning across three continents as a PIHRL Intern.  I worked with NGOs in Poland, Uganda, and Mongolia on a broad range of public interest and human rights work.

With the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland, I generated research presented in amici curiae briefs in the European Court of Human Rights.  With the Community Transformation Foundation Network in Uganda, I conducted field interviews with survivors of intimate partner violence to supplement ongoing impact reports.  With the LGBT Centre in Mongolia, I helped train over 100 police officers to better understand Mongolia’s newly-established hate crime laws and to better support survivors of hate crimes.

It is through these tremendous experiences that I developed a deeper appreciation for international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law.  This appreciation immediately attracted me to the MCOP, as the crux of its mission is to ensure the U.S. Government follows its enduring mandate to respect fair trial rights and other internationally-recognized human rights for all stakeholders during GTMO proceedings.

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Me in the Ulaanbaatar City Public Library in August 2017 presenting and facilitating discussion on “A Guide to U.S. Master of Laws (LL.M.) & Other U.S. Law Degree Programs for Students from Mongolia”, as prepared by Professor George E. Edwards.

Preparing to Observe

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Me reviewing the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume I) in preparation for travel to GTMO during my previous nomination.

To prepare myself to travel to GTMO as an NGO Observer, I continue to review several relevant documents authored by Professor George E. Edwards with contributions from other IU McKinney affiliates.  First among these are the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume I) and the Appendices to Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (Volume II).  These Manuals identify the internationally-recognized rights which apply to fair trials in the U.S. Military Commission context.  They also detail the roles and objectives of NGO Observers in this context, and thus continue to be invaluable resources during my preparations.

Next among these documents is the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay Guide.  The Guide further details the roles of NGO Observers at GTMO, and seeks to assist Observers with all manner of logistics as they prepare to travel and observe hearings.  Information regarding how to travel to GTMO, how to stay healthy while at GTMO, and even where to eat while at GTMO are all included in the Guide.  Not only has this Guide been informative, it has also offered me great peace of mind.

Beyond these materials, I have continued reviewing publicly accessible GTMO case information through the U.S. Military Commission website – www.mc.mil – to better familiarize myself with the substantive proceedings in the case against Tamir / Hadi, and to better understand the procedural context of Military Commissions in general.  Among the most notable progressions in the Tamir / Hadi case since my first nomination is the detailing of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael D. Libretto as the new presiding judge over proceedings, who replaced the previously detailed Marine Colonel Peter S. Rubin on 13 June 2018.

Since my first nomination, I have also closely monitored posts authored by journalist Carol Rosenberg which are available on the Miami Herald, as well as subsequent blog posts by other MCOP Representatives which are available on the GITMO Observer.  As past MCOP Representatives have pointed out, Ms. Rosenberg provides comprehensive reports on GTMO proceedings, which serve as excellent supplements to the GTMO case information I described above.

I remain hopeful and excited that the hearings I am scheduled to attend will not cancel as they did during my prior nomination, and I remain eager to fulfil my important role as an NGO Observer.

As always, please stay tuned for future posts.

Jacob Irven, J.D ‘18.

NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

My Nomination to Observe War Court Proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Nomination

I am a third-year law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and have participated in the law school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) as an NGO Observer since October 2016.  The MCOP is part of the law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

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.

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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.

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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.

NGO Coins

The MCOP has developed a special coin for distribution.  I will have a few coins available during this observation.

Guantanamo20Coins20-20Final20-20March202018

 

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

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

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

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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.

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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

Second Observation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in the case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, et al.

I have been nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law and confirmed by the Pentagon to attend the military commission hearings in the case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks. I will be observing from the military commission court at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from 14 October until 21 October 2017.

Previous observations and nomination

 This will be my third observation in the 9/11 proceedings. My first observation was at Ft. Meade, Maryland, where I observed hearings in the same case as this observation, against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, et al., via CCTV in October 2016. My second observation was in January 2017 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where I had the chance to observe the hearings in the case against Hadi al Iraqi, an alleged high-ranking member of al Qaeda.

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Speaking with Professor George Edwards at Ft. Meade, Maryland before leaving back to Indiana after observing a pre-trial hearing via CCTV.

I was initially nominated to observe earlier this month at Guantanamo in the case against Hadi al Iraqi, but the hearings were canceled due to Hadi’s health and an urgent medical issue. The Miami Herald reported that Hadi had been referred for neck surgery after a period of time of known health issues. Hadi also had lower back surgery in early September 2017 that he is recovering from.

Paperwork

In order to observe through the MCOP, there are various levels of forms to be submitted to both the Program Director, and the Pentagon.

  1. Pentagon Requirements 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. As an observer going through an Indiana University program, the forms must go through the appropriate channels in order to be approved by the university prior to sending to the Pentagon. Note to future observers: this will take time. Be sure you submit your paperwork immediately to avoid potential delays.

Once I received the stamped approved documents from IU, I forwarded these requirements to my Pentagon contact. The Pentagon contact will complete their formal review process, and will email confirmation if everything is in order. This may take a few days.

  1. MCOP Requirements The MCOP document procedure is more simple than the Pentagon procedure. In order to participate through the MCOP, the observer must timely submit any and all Pentagon-related communication to the Program Director. He will facilitate the initial document review, IU review, and final review prior to submitting anything to the Pentagon. This will help in avoiding potential delay if any information is missing from the forms.

The MCOP requires for the participant to submit blog posts to this blog as a program requirements, an MCOP checklist to be completed by the observer, and proof of health insurance for the observer going abroad or even observing domestically.

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The female NGO tent that will be “home” for the next week at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Preparation: The Gameplan

To prepare for my observation, I am re-reading the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo guidebook, since it has been a few months since my last observation. I need to prepare appropriate clothing to take with me on the weeklong trip, which includes professional clothing for events and hearings, and casual clothing for downtime. The observer is also What to Expectresponsible for booking her own travel to and from Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C., and any overnight accommodations that are necessary on the night before arrival into D.C. and the day of return from Guantanamo. My university-sponsored foreign health insurance is in place and my itinerary is scheduled.

This week is fall break for my law school, but I still have assignments and a mid-term exam to prepare for and complete in the next couple of days prior to leaving for D.C. on Friday morning.

 

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

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

Are you going to Guantanamo? New Manual Excerpts for NGO Observers & Others

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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).

Here are the Excerpts! Please let us know if you have any suggestions for improving our Excerpts, our full Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (over 500 pages in 2 volumes!) and our Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Guide (76 pages). Send to GitmoObserver@yahoo.com

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!