Sheila Willard

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.

IMG_5578

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.

IMG_1852

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

My second observation of war court proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

The Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law nominated me, and the Pentagon confirmed me, to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings in the case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks.

This was my fourth scheduled trip as part of Indiana’s project, and my second trip to Guantanamo. I was originally scheduled to observe at the beginning of October in the case against Hadi al Iraqi, an alleged high-ranking member of al Qaeda, but as reported by Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald, the hearings were canceled due to a medical issue experienced by Hadi.

Breaking news concerning the case U.S. v. al Nashiri

A couple of days before we arrived at Guantanamo, we heard news that 3 members of the defense counsel for Mr. al Nashiri, who is charged in a separate death penalty case, were released from their defense roles by Brigadier General Baker, chief defense counsel. Mr. al Nashiri is accused of orchestrating the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in late 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors.

The three members of the defense, including learned counsel Mr. Rick Kammen, quit earlier this month over a “secret ethical issue” that the defense claimed compromised attorney-client privacy. A learned counsel is an attorney with experience in capital cases, and whose representation and presence is a requirement for these proceedings. Today, judge Air Force Col. Vance Spath scheduled a contempt hearing to be held tomorrow Wednesday after the three members of the defense refused to appear at war court. Read more at the Miami Herald.

Arrival at Guantanamo

We arrived at Guantanamo on Saturday, 14 October and were immediately escorted to our lodgings where we quickly unpacked and began to settle in. That afternoon, our

IMG_5589

Standing at the Camp Justice sign a few hours after arriving at Gitmo.

escort drove us to the Navy Exchange where we were able to stock up on snacks for the week, since our dining options are limited mostly to the galley (cafeteria food) or fast food (Subway, McDonald’s, Starbucks). We obtained our security badges and were instructed to wear any time we were home at Camp Justice.

 

Monday, 16 October

We entered the courtroom and were assigned seats in the gallery, which is separated from the courtroom by thick glass. There is a 40-second sound delay for the purposes of national security, where the judge is able to cut the feed to the gallery and the CCTV in case of accidental or otherwise classified discussion.

The hearings began promptly today with the defense counsel advising Judge Pohl that there were motions in the works to address the issue of possibly compromised meeting spaces after the developments concerning Mr. Kammen and the al Nashiri case came to light prior to the week’s hearings. Judge Pohl said he wasn’t certain that Brigadier General Baker has the authority to disband the trial team.

The defense also raised the issue of claims of lack of resources by the Joint Task Force (JTF) that directly affect the meetings between counsel and defendant. The Joint Task Force is in charge of the operations at Guantanamo, including detainee operation logistics and detainee transfer/supervision. Since the typical meeting spaces will likely be investigated after the developments in the al Nashiri case, the question concerned where the next most adequate space to meet with the defendants will be.

The defense raised a discovery issue — their ongoing request for Brady material. Brady refers to the case Brady v. Maryland, where the court held that the prosecution must turn over any evidence favorable to the defendant, or, exculpatory evidence (also known as “Brady material”). The Government responded that the defense has been provided with any material they (the Government) deemed relevant, and that the defense can request more discovery. The defense argued that the purpose of discovery is not to have to hunt for evidence. The Government referred to a “voluminous discovery” request by the defense, and said that the Government has no obligation to “spoon-feed” discovery to the defense.

The unofficial transcripts for Monday’s hearings may be found here.

Court recessed for lunch at around 1:00PM and the rest of the session was closed to observers.

Tuesday, 17 October

There was no court today, so the NGOs took the day to sightsee, relax, and catch up on work.

Wednesday, 18 October

The day began with news of government-seized attorney-client privileged material

The hearings resumed Wednesday morning, and started with the news that the JTF had seized the defendants’ laptops which the defense counsel argued contained attorney-client privileged material. Judge Pohl asked the Government to explain why the JTF seized the material. The Government stated that they were working on filing a response to what had occurred that morning and why.

The first motion was picked up from Monday at the end of the session concerning an issue of metadata that was brought by the defense. The defense argued that the prosecution turned over photographic evidence with all metadata stripped off. Metadata is the information that attaches to a digital photograph, including location, date, and time of the photograph, and depending on the sophistication of the equipment used, could even reveal the name of the person who took the photograph. The defense argued that such information is important to their case. The Government responded that the metadata was not relevant, and that the Government will seek to classify the information if the Judge orders that the government turn over metadata to the defense.

The defense also raised a motion to compel the Government to release information regarding certain torture sites, including information on the confinement buildings. The defense sought any architectural drawings, contracts, agreements, etc. pertaining to the buildings. The defense argued that prison architecture can typically reveal a lot about the conditions under which the detainees were held. The actual sites were destroyed or decommissioned, and the defense argued this information may help draw the picture of the conditions under which the defendants were held while at black sites around the world.

The Government responded that the defense could obtain this information from the defendants themselves, and that any information remaining on the black sites is classified “across the board”. The Government argued that while the information may be material to the defenses’ preparation, it is inapplicable to the case because the Government is not using building logistics in their case against the defendants.

The unofficial transcripts for Wednesday’s hearings may be found here.

The session ended late in the afternoon, at around 5PM. The gallery emptied at the close of session, but the NGO observers stayed behind to discuss the day’s events. During this time, we observed one of the four alleged war criminals rise and begin the Islamic Call to Prayer as the four other men stayed seated and continued discussion with their defense

5512GtmoPrayer

Photo by Janet Hamlin of the five defendants in the KSM case in 2012.  Source.

teams. Even though we had the thick glass separating us from where he was standing in the courtroom, we could still lightly hear the sound of the call. It was a surreal moment for the observers, and one I will never forget.

 

Thursday, 19 October

Today’s hearing was delayed by over an hour because of yesterday’s JTF seizure of the defendants’ laptops that contained attorney-client privileged material. The facts were somewhat unclear, but I believe that the laptops of four of the five defendants were seized as the defendants were on their way to court either the hearing or meeting with their counsel, and one of their materials was seized from the defendant’s cell. The Government noted that they will file notice with an explanation of why the seizure happened, and that the facts will justify the seizure.

This has been the third major seizure of attorney-client privileged material since this case started. The defense asked the judge for transparency in this process and the Government responded that they were filing a response as to what happened. Judge Pohl asked the Government to tell the courtroom what had happened, but the Government insisted that the judge would be interested in seeing the notice first.

The defense presented a list of over 100 potential witness. The defense mentioned the logistical issues that might arise with that high number of witnesses potentially coming to Guantanamo. This includes the issue of sufficient lodging, the threat to judicial independence if hearings are canceled and rescheduled, the fact that there is only one courtroom for all the current cases, scheduling conflicts for all parties involved, etc. The defense mentioned that resources are already an issue and affecting the military commission process.

Government invoked national security privilege during defense oral argument

Around half way through the defenses’ presentation on the proposed witness list, the Government quickly rose to address Judge Pohl and invoked the privilege of national security in regards to the presentation. From the observer standpoint, it seemed that the Government was invoking national security because of information found on the slides, which the judge confirmed with the defense had been sent through the appropriate review and declassification procedure prior to the hearing.

Judge Pohl issued a 10-minute recess so that the Government could figure out what the issue was. During the confusion, the obviously frustrated judge addressed the Government, “Now what do I do?”

The NGOs were allowed to remain in the gallery and we were able to observe the confusion in the courtroom.

Once court was reconvened, the Government requested more time. Judge Pohl inquired into what he deemed an arbitrary interruption to the proceedings and told the Government that there was no classified information in the presentation and therefore no reason to assert national security privilege. There was confusion because the Government did not continue to object to the defenses’ presentation, and the hearing was suddenly free to continue. Judge Pohl asked the Government if the defense was allowed to proceed, to which the Government replied that the defense may continue argument as planned.

The afternoon continued with oral argument on motions to compel the identities of witnesses who were only identified with pseudonyms, and also a motion to compel the location of black sites.

Towards the end of the day’s hearing, defense counsel brought up the seizure of the defendants’ laptops, seeking resolution. The defense claimed that there was no probable cause or even reasonable suspicion for the laptops to be seized. The Government’s position was that the laptops would not be returned and the Government would file more pleadings on the issue “in light of the circumstances described”.

Over 24 hours after the attorney-client privileged material was first seized by the JTF, Judge Pohl issued an order that the materials be secured with tamper-proof tape, and placed in a receptacle secured with the same.

The unofficial transcripts for Thursday’s hearings are not available.

Final thoughts

A lot of questions came up during our NGO discussions throughout the week, mostly surrounding the seizure of attorney-client privileged material, the Government invoking national security privilege on declassified material, and also about the judge’s role in the

IMG_5666

A look at the NGO Resource tent where the NGOs retreat to socialize and work after each hearing.

whole process. The defense seems to be strongly advocating for the interest of their clients, and going above and beyond in their duty to the rule of law and the constitutionally-bound process.

 

While I heard less from the government this week, it seems that they are ultimately interested in achieving justice, but hold a lot of control over the court (such as having the immediate ability to stop all discussion as happened at the hearing on Thursday, even though there was no classified material being discussed.)

My hope for these proceedings is that more Americans become interested and involved in something that a lot of people don’t even know is currently ongoing. Observation is difficult considering that the methods to watch these pre-trial hearings are severely limited, but there are great resources online from both media and NGO observers that members of the public may follow.

Even then, I noticed that the daily transcripts that the military commissions posts on the webpage at www.mc.mil are not complete, with some days missing hours’ worth of transcripts, and some days, such as Thursday, 19 October, missing completely from the website. Without observer and media reporting, the public would likely not know what happens are Guantanamo war court.

 

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

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.

IMG_7040

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.

IMG_8178

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

Possible Return Trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from 30 September to 7 October 2017

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 30 September – 7 October 2017.  Hadi is an alleged senior member of al-Qaeda responsible for war crimes.

IMG_7036

My earlier monitoring at Ft. Meade and Guantanamo

This will be my third time to observe in the war crimes pre-trial hearings.  I traveled toFt. Meade, Maryland in October 2016 to observe the hearing in the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 4 other alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks, and to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in January 2017 to observe hearings in the case against Hadi, the same defendant in the upcoming hearings.

 

 

Possible hearing delay

As of last Thursday, 14 September, Carol Rosenberg reported in the Miami Herald that Hadi has been referred for neck surgery after a period of time of known health issues.  It was reported that he had lower back surgery earlier this month.  There is no official word yet from the Pentagon as to the status of the hearings slated to begin 2 October and run through 6 October.  The Miami Herald reported that Pentagon spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben said the hearings were still on (as of Friday, 15 October) and that any request for delay would only be considered in the event that the defense file the appropriate motion.

Current filings/where the case stands 

hadi

Guantánamo prisoner Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who says his true name is Nashwan al Tamir, poses for the International Committee of the Red Cross in a 2014 photo taken for his family, and provided by his attorneys.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article173566786.html#storylink=cpy

 

As of today, Monday 18 September, the defense filed a motion regarding Hadi’s current medical status to request an emergency motion to abate the proceedings until he is physically competent to stand trial, per the filing listing available on the Military Commissions website. The most recent motion regarding the emergency abatement was filed today and is still being processed under security review and not available to read by the public.  Once it has gone through the security review, the document will become available here.

Another hurricane?

The National Oceanic and Atomspheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that a category 5 hurricane is heading towards the Caribbean.  Hurricane Maria is a 160mph storm that recently made landfall on Dominica and is now headed towards Puerto Rico, which is officially on national alert after President Trump issued an emergency declaration for federal assistance for the territory.  If it continues on its current trajectory, it may narrowly miss Cuba as it veers north towards the Atlantic.

Preliminary thoughts

I am grateful to have the opportunity to travel to Guantanamo again to observe the Hadi hearings, but am aware that the hearings may be canceled and rescheduled to allow for a lengthy recovery period of the defendant.  I will continue to prepare for the hearings as if they were to go forward so that I am fully prepared in case I am able to travel next week to Guantanamo.

 

IMG_8180

Observers representing various organizations posing in front of our sleeping quarters in January 2017 at Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Sheila Willard, J.D. Candidate

Military Commission Observation Project

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

At Joint Base Andrews Flying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

img_8125

Sunrise over the snowy Joint Base Andrews Airstrip.

[Posted on behalf of S. Willard]

This morning (Sunday the 8th of January) I am traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to serve as an observer / monitor of criminal hearings in a U.S. military commission case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who is an alleged high ranking member of al Qaeda Iraq and liaison with the Taliban. The U.S. has charged with war crimes resulting in deaths.

I am an Indiana University McKinney School of Law student on mission representing the Indiana University Program on International Human Rights Law’s (PIHRL) Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP). As an observer / monitor, my role is to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the military commissions – both the substance and the process.

img_8123

My passport and Gitmo flight boarding pass.

I arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside of Washington, DC, at 5:00 a.m. for my flight to Cuba, which is supposed to depart at 8:00 a.m. I checked in for my flight, presenting my passport, my Military Orders, and my APACS (which I explain in an earlier blog). It looks like the flight is on schedule this morning.

I met my fellow NGO observers from different human rights groups (NGOs), and we are almost ready to board our plane to take off for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from Andrews Air Force Base (which is the home of Air Force 1). We were told that the travel will be about 3 hours and 15 minutes.

img_8120

My boarding pass for Gitmo, & my yellow Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts.

I have my boarding pass in hand (see the photo) and my yellow Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts copies of which I distributed to the other observers.

I took a few photos at Andrews this morning. I will post additional photos and substantive posts when I arrive at Guantanamo Bay. Because I am having trouble with wifi at Andrews, I am asking Professor Edwards (the Indiana program founding director) if he will post this Andrews Post for me.

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

(Posted by G. Edwards on behalf of S. Willard)

img_8127