MCOP Advisory Council

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

Afghan money changer pleads for release from Guantanamo Bay

Haji Wali Mohammed, an Afghan money changer, seeks release from Guantanamo Bay

Haji Wali Mohammed, an Afghan money changer, seeks release from Guantanamo Bay

This morning an Afghan who traded currency with the Taliban formally asked the U.S. to release him from Guantanamo Bay after over 14 years of imprisonment.

Haji Wali Mohammad, who is referred to as “Wali Mohammed” or “Mr. Mohammed” by his U.S. Government personal representative and his private counsel, hopes that the PRB will find that he is not a threat to US national security, and that the U.S. Government will thus release him from Guantanamo Bay. A detainee may either be repatriated to his home country, or resettled to a third country.

There seems to be agreement across the board that Wali Mohammed operated a currency exchange business and conducted financial transactions in the 1990s, when the government of Afghanistan was under Taliban control, and that some of the transactions involved Taliban members or Taliban controlled entities, and there seems to be agreement that transactions with certain entities occurred before, during and after the Taliban was in control.

The U.S. government noted:

We assess with moderate confidence that AF-560 conducted financial transactions for Usama Bin Ladin in 1998 and 1999, either directly or through his ties to the Taliban, and was probably motivated by financial gain. We note identifying details for AF-560 have been corroborated, but there has been minimal reporting on AF-560’s transactions completed on behalf of Bin Ladin. Efforts to link AF-560 to Bin Ladin are complicated by several factors, including incomplete reporting, multiple individuals with AF-560’s name-Haji Wali Mohammad, and lack of post-capture reflections. AF-560 was captured on 24 January 2002.

The U.S. government continued:

AF-560 during his detention has never made statements clearly endorsing or supporting al·Qa’ida or other extremist ideology, but probably has a pragmatic view of the role the Taliban held in Afghanistan. He most likely judged that it was prudent to work with, rather than against, the Taliban Government in the 1990s. During his detention, AF-560 appears to have formed a more liberal view of politics in Afghanistan and has said the Taliban will have to change if they want to remain viable in the country, including changing their policy on women’s rights and education.

Countering, the Wali Mohammed’s private counsel contended:

Wali Mohammed’s business was currency exchange. He bought and sold currency in Pakistan and the UAE with the aim of capitalizing on differences in exchange rates. As he has freely admitted, in late 1997 and early 1998, he entered into a partnership to pursue such a currency arbitrage with the Central Bank of Afghanistan -then under the control of the Taliban government. As Wali Mohammed has said, and as an expert on his behalf confirmed ,such partnerships were commonplace before, during, and after the Taliban regime. Wali Mohammed described, and the expert confirms, the sudden and significant volatility in the value of the Pakistani rupee in 1998.

The result was a catastrophic loss -roughly a half-million of the $1.5 million the Central Bank had invested. After the Taliban government learned of the loss, investigators fired the head of the Central Bank, threatened Wali Mohammed with prison, actually imprisoned his cousin, and forced the entire loss on him – in violation of the terms of the deal. This is not the kind of treatment one would expect of someone who was part of or of any importance to the Taliban.

The disastrous failure of the Central Bank transaction also makes it implausible that Wali Mohammed conducted financial transactions for Osama Bin Ladin thereafter -leaving aside that Mr. Mohammed speaks little Arabic and bin Ladin spoke no Pashto. Two intelligence experts on behalf of Mr. Mohammed -one, the former Director of Human Intelligence Collection for the DIA; and the other, a former DIA intelligence analyst, identities expert, and, after the 9/11 attacks, a CIA contractor and charter member of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the National Counter Terrorism Center, and the Advanced Analytics Team -have shown, consistent with the Detainee Profile, that the identification of Mr. Mohammed is problematic .Even the late Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, reportedly carried a passport bearing the name “Wali Mohammed.”

This Periodic Review Board (PRB) was ordered pursuant to a 2-11 Executive Order for Guantanamo detainees.

Indiana McKinney involvement in this PRB

This morning’s PRB had no representation by the Periodic Review Board Project (PRBP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. To date, I am the sole individual from the PRBP monitoring PRBs on site, and I have attended several PRBs over the last several months. Postings about these PRBs can be found here.

We nominated Mr. Jeffrey Meding, a McKinney Juris Doctor graduate, to attend today’s hearings, but his request to attend and monitor has not been granted. We are in discussions with the Periodic Review Secretariat (www.prs.mil) further to seek permission for Mr. Meding to attend PRBs, and for others affiliated with our PRB project (PRBP) to attend, particularly when I am not able to attend.

As it happens, in any event, I did not receive my usual clearance from the Pentagon to attend today’s PRB, though I submitted my request to attend last week. Typically, a day or so before the PRB, the Pentagon sends cleared observers an e-mail with details about permissions, logistics, and rules. I did not receive such and e-mail yesterday before this morning’s (25th) scheduled PRB.

We look forward to clarity in the process, and full opportunities to cover PRBs, under one or more of the various categories of persons / entities permitted to observe PRBs – whether media, non-media NGO, non-media individual.

As I did not attend this morning’s hearings, at this point I do not know whether Wali Mohammed actually attended his PRB this morning, or indeed whether the PRB went forward as scheduled. I cannot comment on his apparent demeanor, his looks or clothing, his interaction or non-interaction with the others in the room, whether there were any technical or other difficulties, or anything else of note regarding this PRB. I cannot comment on the efficiency of our usual Pentagon escorts this morning, though it is likely that all went like clockwork, as is typical, from pickup at the Pentagon’s Visitor Center, through badge clearances, winding-hall walking, and escort to the Pentagon’s exit post-hearing.

But as for the PRB hearings themselves, reading the text of submitted documents before the hearings does not provide a full picture of the hearing. Reading transcripts post-hearings does not provide a full picture of the hearing. Reading news reports or postings by NGOs also does not offer a full picture of the hearing. Short of being present in the PRB room at Guantanamo Bay, the best place to observe PRB hearings is in the closed, secure conference room at the Pentagon. In that room, you can see and hear in a way that is more helpful than just reading.

Standing in front of Camp Justice.

Jeff Meding in front of GTMO’s Camp Justice.

Mr. Meding was the first Indiana University McKinney Affiliate to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on behalf of the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

Mr. Meding’s PRB participation on behalf of the McKinney Law School’s PBRP was approved by the MCOP Advisory Council. Furthermore, the Office of General Counsel of Indiana University cleared our Pentagon travelers for PRB purposes. We now await the Pentagon’s grant of permission for us to send IU McKinney Affiliates to observe PRBs at the Pentagon.

Again, we hope that we receive permission to have full representation at the PRBs that are being broadcast to the Pentagon, typically on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

My PRB posts

Many of my PRB postings can be found here:

https://gitmoobserver.com/blog/

Jeffrey Meding’s Guantanamo Bay posts

Following are some posts by Jeff Meding from his 2012 mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings on behalf of the Military Commission Observation Project of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law:

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/03/21/gtmo-impressions-jeff-meding-2/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/12/12-april-2014/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/14/14-april-2014-1st-day-of-hearings/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/15/15-april-2014-2nd-day-of-hearings/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/17/16-april-2014-hearing-adjourned-until-thursday/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/18/17-april-2014-final-day-of-hearings-selected-pics/

Additional PRB & PRBP Information

Additional information about PRBs can be found here:

https://gitmoobserver.com/blog/

Additional Information abour the Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board Project can be found at:

https://gitmoobserver.com/prbs/

 

PS:  The full U.S. government unclassified statement on Wali Mohammed is here:

 

The full Personal Representative Statement & Private Counsel Statement are here:

By George Edwards

Lawyers Korolev and Kubal Join Guantanamo Observer Advisory Council

Edwards, Korolev & Kubal Join MCOP Advisory Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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