As a recent graduate of Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, I was nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against 5 alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 11 September 2022. My nomination was through the IU law school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) (and Program in International Human Rights Law), founded by Professor Edwards, with multiple missions, as follows:
“ i. To further teaching, research, and service related to U.S. Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other tribunals with similar jurisdiction, and ii. To facilitate [Indiana University] Affiliates to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish on U.S. Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other designated U.S. Military Commission viewing sites.” [https://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/human-rights/_docs/military-commission-project.pdf]
Five 9/11 Alleged Co-Conspirators
My travel to Guantanamo is set for the week of 17-24 September 2022 to monitor the 9/11 case. The five men being charged for their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks, which killed approximately 3,000 people and wounded thousands more , are:
They are charged with multiple crimes, including attacking civilians, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, murder in violation of the law of war, and hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft.
The defense argues that some of the crimes charged are not “war crimes” and are not properly chargeable at Guantanamo. The defense also argues that evidence from the F.B.I. interrogations is tainted by torture, and should be excluded. The five men involved in these hearings have been held at Guantanamo since 2006.
On 1 August 2022, I received an email from Professor George Edwards, Director of the Program in International Human Rights Law and its Military Commission Observation Project, informing me know that another IU McKinney Affiliate had cancelled their Guantanamo Bay travel for September 2022, and asking me if I were available and interested in travelling to Guantanamo in September.
I was excited to receive the email, and promptly replied stating that I was interested and available! By 3 August 2022, I completed and submitted the six government forms that the Pentagon requires of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) observers / monitors like myself.
On 7 August 2022, Professor Edwards sent me an e-mail stating that the Pentagon had confirmed my travel to Guantanamo from 17-24 September 2022.
This is the third time I have been nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay as part of the MCOP.
Second, I was re-nominated for travel, and travelled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in March 2022. Blog posts related to that nomination are here.
However, while I was at Guantanamo that week, no hearings were held, and I and other NGO representatives spent no time in the courtroom, except to receive a tour.
It was later reported that the hearings were cancelled because of, according to LawDragon, “Cheryl Bormann’s request to withdraw over a potential conflict created by an internal investigation into her “performance and conduct” as learned counsel for Walid bin Attash, one of the five defendants charged with planning or facilitating the 9/11 attacks.”
I graduated from Indiana University McKinney School of Law in May 2022 and sat for the Indiana bar exam in July 2022. I am waiting to receive the results.
I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and lived my entire life in Indiana until I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in January 2014, and moved to Moscow, Russian Federation, to teach English. I lived in Moscow from 2014-2017, met my soon-to-be wife in 2015, got married in 2016, and witnessed the birth of my daughter in 2016. Shortly after my daughter was born, in the summer of 2017, my wife and I moved to a small city in China where I worked as an English teacher for a Canadian international school.
In 2019, I returned to Indianapolis to attend law school. Having lived abroad for five years, I was naturally attracted to international law, and took several law classes touching on various aspects of international law. In the summer of 2021, I enrolled in Professor Anthony Green’s National Security Law class, and in the , I enrolled in his other course, Counterterrorism Law. These courses touched on many of the complex legal issues connected with Guantanamo Bay, such as whether the right to habeas corpus review applies to those held at Guantanamo, and sparked my interest in applying to be an observer with the Guantanamo Project founded by Professor George Edwards’ NGO (non-governmental organization), the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).
More on my first trip to Guantanamo
As mentioned, I traveled to Guantanamo in March of 2022.
This time, preparing has been easier, as I am familiar with the process.
Compared to the first two times I was nominated to travel to Guantanamo, I feel more confident in my mission. I also feel more comfortable with my familiarity with the pre-trial hearings I am scheduled to observe.
I plan to publish more blog posts as my planned travel approaches, and while I am in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I plan write about my experience, what is happening regarding the trial,
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I am a second year law school student at Indiana University McKinney School of law travelling to Guantanamo Bay to monitor pretrial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case against Mr. Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri for his alleged conspiring in, organizing, and planning of the USS Cole bombing off the coast of Yemen in 2000 which killed 17 U.S. Navy sailors and injured dozens more.
I was nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) – which is part of our Law School’s Program in International Human Rights Law [link to the PIHRL] for this mission, which requires me to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on Guantanamo proceedings. A more detailed explanation of the application process can also be found here.
This blog post is the second in a series of posts I plan to make with regards to my travel to Guantanamo Bay and duties as a monitor in the case against Ms. al Nashiri. In this post, I discuss my final steps in completing paperwork for the program and my experience getting to the Joint Base Andrews, which is the U.S. military base from which the plane to Guantanamo departs.
Pentagon Documents and Final Form Submissions
As I mentioned, monitors like myself must complete multiple forms – required by the Pentagon and IU Office of International Affairs. After the initial round of paperwork, detailed in my previous blog post (i.e. pre-departure clearance, student abroad forms, etc.), are completed, the Pentagon sends each monitor three different e-mails, numbered 1 of 3, 2 of 3, and 3 of 3. The email title will also include the hearings you are scheduled to attend as well as the dates of travel for your mission.
The Pentagon will send monitors and other NGO travelers attending the same hearings the same set of emails. Each email details different aspects of the trip ranging from general information about Guantanamo Bay to flight information. After receiving these three emails, I had all the necessary documents and information to travel to Guantanamo Bay.
The first email includes a tentative schedule for travel as well as some general information about Guantanamo Bay. I received this form on 7 July 2022. It also gives a list of forms that will be required for travel listed below:
Aircraft and Personnel Clearance (called APACS) (2 Copies in Color)
Health Screen Form (2 Blank Copies)
Joint Base Andrews Parking Form, if needed
Invitation Travel Order (ITO) (3 Copies)
Approved SECNAV 5512 NSGB Naval Base Access Form
The second email will include the ITO and 5512 form from the pentagon that has been officially stamped and cleared. I received this form on 28 July 2022. These are the versions of the form that must be presented for travel.
The third email includes the final versions of your APACS form, a copy of the health screening form, final trip details including flight information, and your parking permit (if you want to drive your own car to Andrews). I received this e-mail on 8 August 2022.
Since flight information from the Pentagon arrives only a few days before departure, the Office of International Affairs asks that monitors resubmit their final travel itinerary to include all flight information through the iAbroad portal (IU McKinney School of Law’s study abroad application webpage) as well as their final plans for travel to the Washington DC/Joint Base Andrews area.
The days before traveling to Guantanamo Bay can be hectic, especially if you are working full-time or otherwise busy during the day, so do not forget this final submission. I was caught up in preparing for getting to the Washington D.C. area, that I did not remember to do this until reviewing past monitors’ blog posts (on http://www.GitmoObserver.com)
IU Affiliated monitors must send a copy of the MCOP Guantanamo Checklist [What is this checklist?] that helps participates keep track of the different travel and program requirements. Monitors send the Guantanamo Checklist to Professor Edwards and Acting Director Professor Dunlap. The Guantanamo Checklist contains some items that cannot be completed until the monitor arrives at Guantanamo, and some items that cannot be completed until the monitor returns from Guantanamo. So, complete the Guantanamo Checklist as best as you can when due, and plan to resubmit it later, after you complete its tasks. For example, it is necessary to complete the Guantanamo Checklist as best as you can and submit it within 72 hours of departure from Joint Base Andrews to both Professor Edwards and Acting Deputy Director Professor Charles Dunlap.
Preparing for Travel to Guantanamo Bay
In preparation for travel, I sought advice from IU Affiliates who had previously traveled to Guantanamo Bay . Most of the individuals I spoke to have blog posts on this Gitmo Observer website, where they share their own unique experience with this process. Requirements for travel to Guantanamo Bay are constantly changing, but many of the core procedures appear to stay the same or are similar. These previous IU Affiliated monitors addressed my questions about travel from Joint Base Andrews, located outside of Washington DC, to Guantanamo Bay. They helped me with basic logistical questions to what I needed to pack for my trip. They helped in many other respects.
After speaking to previous and current travelers, I made my arrangements to drive from Indianapolis to Washington DC and stay at the Quality Inn immediately outside of the entrance to Joint Base Andrews. I had originally planned to stay with family in suburban Baltimore, but that would have required me to wake up at 3:30 or 4 AM on the flight departure day from Andrews, after driving for 10 hours from Indiana the previous day . I decided that being very close to Joint Base Andrews overnight was the right choice. I had originally planned to fly from Indianapolis to DC but decided that driving would be cheaper and easier. Thankfully, I purchased a fully refundable airplane ticket that went back on my credit card for the full amount.
I had to print several important travel documents sent in the three Pentagon emails before leaving Indianapolis. Along with the above documents, I had to bring all the typical information required for international flight (i.e. passport, COVID Vaccine Card). For travel, it was also required to present a negative PCR test taken within 72-hours before travel. This timeline is stressful for any travel, and it was no different this time.
My final travel itinerary was [was received?] around 1 PM on Tuesday, 2 August, only four days before my departure from Andrews. I scheduled my PCR Test within the 72-hour time frame as soon as I received my final travel [itinerary]. The flight from Andrews to Guantanamo was scheduled for 9:20 AM on Saturday, 6 August so I scheduled a PCR test at the CVS near my apartment at 10 AM Wednesday, 3 August (around 71 hours prior to departure? Not sure of the math here.]. I have had experience testing at this location and was confident that I would receive my test results within 72 hours.
I had a negative PCR test in hand by 1:30 PM the next day, Thursday, 4 August 2022. My best advice on this requirement is to be in touch with the pharmacy or location beforehand to clarify test result timelines. If you have experience getting tested at a specific pharmacy, go there. These tests can be expensive, but you should be able to get them for free or under $25.00 if you plan.
Packing for Guantanamo Bay
Packing for this a Guantanamo Bay monitoring trip requires a bit more attention to detail than your average trip. Aside from the forms listed above, you also need to pack for hot, humid weather with the potential for trips to the beach as well as clothing to wear in court. You are allowed to bring as much luggage as you can carry, but remember you need to carry it.
I decided to bring one larger bag to check, a small carry on, and a backpack. This is what I travel with regularly and I was comfortable walking for at least a mile with this amount. Everyone is different so what you bring is up to you as long as you have nice clothing for court. The two essential items I was told to bring were bug spray, apparently the mosquitos can be bad, and a beach towel. Monitors will have access to a towel for showering, but you might not want to use it after a shower if you took it to the beach. Thanks Madison Sanneman! Here is a link to her post.
Since this is a work trip, you will need to bring a laptop or tablet you feel comfortable using to type posts. You will also need a pen and pad of paper to take notes in court. They will not allow you to bring in any “smart” electronic devices, really anything with WIFI access. You should also bring any adaptors and chargers for your phone, watch, etc. I would recommend bringing chargers for anything you will need throughout the week as well as an adaptor for ethernet adaptor. There is free WIFI, but it is not always reliable. You can plug into the WIFI using ethernet, but newer laptops and tablets usually do not have this port. Guantanamo Bay uses standard American plugs, so no need to bring adaptors for this.
Driving from Indianapolis to Joint Base Andrews
The drive from Indianapolis to Joint Base Andrews should take about nine and a half hours. I left Indianapolis around 8:30 AM on 5 August 2022 and did not arrive at my hotel, the Quality Inn located immediately outside Joint Base Andrews, until nearly 9 PM – over 12 hours later. I drove through two major thunderstorms, one in Ohio and one in Maryland, that significantly slowed me down. I received a few important calls that I did not feel comfortable answering in the weather, so I also pulled over for those as well.
It was not an easy drive, but it was still preferable to flying. It gave me additional flexibility with travel times, and it was easier getting around DC with a car to get dinner. The Quality Inn is the most convenient location, but it isn’t in the most walkable area. For those that do not mind longer drives, I would recommend that you drive to Andrews from Indiana.
During my drive, I received a call from a representative of the Convening Authority, the official who oversees the miliary commission process, confirming which forms would be required for travel the following day. Fortunately, I had printed off and completed all the forms the day before as I mentioned above. They also shared with me the name and number of my NGO escort, a designated individual who guides NGOs through secure military sites, that I would be meeting the following morning at 6:15 at the Joint Base Andrews visitor center to guide me through security and get me to the air terminal on base.
The weeks leading up to my travel to Guantanamo Bay were hectic. Scheduling a PCR, double and triple checking forms, answering emails, packing, and working made for some very long days. All the planning will pay off tomorrow when I am in the air and one step closer to arriving in Guantanamo Bay.
Juris Doctor (J.D.) Candidate (2023)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
As I mentioned in my first two blog posts I am headed on a mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings in the case against Mr. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of being the mastermind behind the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen on 12 October 2000 that killed seventeen U.S. sailors and wounded dozens more. I am a student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and the previous posts describe the law school’s Guantanamo project, founded by Professor George Edwards, that nominated me for travel.
My last blog post described my travel from Indiana to the Washington, DC area yesterday, and arriving at the hotel last night across the street from Joint Base Andrews, where the flight departs for Guantanamo.
This blog picks up at Joint Base Andrews and describes the flight to Guantanamo. My next post discusses my arrival at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and my first night there.
Joint Base Andrews
After arriving in the Washington, DC area yesterday afternoon (Friday, 22 July 2022), I slept at the Quality Inn across the street from the Joint Base Andrews Visitor Control Center and got up at 5:30 AM on the morning of 23rd July 2022 to walk over to the Visitor’s Center.
At 6:00 AM on the morning of 23rd July, I checked out of the Quality Inn and took the 7-minute walk to the Visitor’s Center.
Ms. Yumna Rizvi was already waiting outside the Visitor’s Center. We introduced ourselves and I learned that she works for The Center for Victims of Torture, and that she would be traveling to Guantanamo as an “observer” or “monitor” – in the same role as my mission. This is her first time to Guantanamo Bay (and mine as well). She had just gotten off the phone with our assigned Office of Military Commission (OMC) escort and told me that our escort was on her way to the Visitor’s Center to pick us up.
I had learned that throughout our mission to Guantanamo, at Guantanamo, and on the return flight from Guantanamo, we would be in the company of assigned “OMC escorts”. I will talk more about escorts in future blogs.
When our escort arrived, we learned that a third observer was driving himself on to base and would meet us at the Andrews airfield, and a fourth scheduled observer had cancelled their trip and would not be joining us.
Yumna and I boarded the escort’s van, and drove through our first checkpoint – the Main Gate to enter Andrews. We showed ID, and we carried on to the air terminal.
We met Tom, the third observer, in the parking lot at the air terminal and we all walked into a smallish nondescript building that turned out to be the air terminal. Most buildings that I saw on base at Andrews and at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay were rectangular, covered in beige or grey toned siding of (possibly) corrugated steel, and did not have features that would help distinguish one building from the next except for the presence of small signs labeling certain buildings.
Immediately upon entering and turning a corner we were stopped by a simple security checkpoint with a conveyor belt and x-ray machine for our luggage, and a walk-through metal detector. Immediately after the security checkpoint we walked up to a long counter in the same room, similar to the airline counters located in civilian airports, where military officials checked our passports, proof of negative Covid PCR test, Invitational Travel Orders (ITO), the Aircraft and Personnel Automated Clearance System (APACS) and the SECNAV form 5512-1. We were all checked in by approximately 7:15 AM and were shown to a small room off of the main room. The smaller room – which appeared to be like a private airport lounge — had couches and chairs, a television and DVD collection.
Yumna and I talked about our mutual interest in human rights, and Tom (who has been to Guantanamo Bay as an observer several times) told us about what to expect regarding food and housing (which I’ll write more about below).
NGOs / Monitors / Observers
Now is a good time to mention that the three of us “monitors” or “observers” are referred to by Guantanamo officials as “non-governmental organizations” or “NGOs”.
Each of the three of us represents a different, specific NGO. In my case, the NGO is the Program in International Human Rights Law (“PIHRL” pronounced “Pearl”) of Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and the PIHRL nominated me for this mission. The PIHRL created the “Military Commission Observation Project”, as the entity that would send observers to Guantanamo Bay (or a remote observation site at Fort Meade, Maryland) and compile the record of the observer experiences on the blog on the Gitmo Observer website. The MCOP also updates the Fair Trial and Know Before You Go manuals. You can learn more about MCOP on the Gitmo Observer website.
Though the term “NGO” refers to the group, Guantanamo officials frequently refer to the individual NGO representatives as NGOs. So, Guantanamo officials might say that the three of us individuals are NGOs, even though the term “NGO” refers to the specific non-governmental organization, and the individuals are representatives of the different NGOs.
Passing Time in the Terminal
As we (the NGOs) waited for our plane, we learned that Victims and Family Members (VFMs) would be traveling down to Guantanamo with us, along with Military Judge Lanny Acosta, the Prosecution team, the Defense team, media members (from the New York Times, Serial Podcast, and LawDragon), and linguists – interpreters and translators, intelligence officials, security officials, court reporters, and others. The three NGOs were requested to move from the small lounge to the larger main waiting area to give, we were told by air terminal personnel, the VFMs some privacy and comfort in that room.
VFMs are individuals that the Office of Military Commissions have identified as victims of the crimes that are charged, or family members of victims of the crimes that are charged. I was told that the group of VFMs traveling on this trip include both groups: individuals who were on the U.S.S. Cole when it was bombed and were injured (Victims); and family of people who were on the U.S.S. Cole when it was bombed and were injured or killed (Family Members).
In the main waiting room
While waiting by the windows in the main waiting room, the NGO escort handed each of the 3 NGOs a small briefing packet that provide a brief rundown of what is and is not allowed, mostly regarding photographs, upon approach to, landing in, and exploring around Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. It also reiterated ground rules that had been sent to observers in previous emails from the Pentagon, regarding watching out for the safety of iguanas (don’t run them over), prohibitions on drinking and driving, avoiding catching rides with strangers, requirements to wear seatbelts, and obeying traffic laws and speed limits.
We also learned that Vice President Kamala Harris was at the Andrews terminal about to board Air Force 2. We could see the plane outside the terminal window on the tarmac, but one of the escorts and military personnel at the air terminal instructed us not to take photographs.
At about 9:00 AM, a motorcade of police vehicles and black SUVs pulled up around Air Force 2, and I caught a brief glimpse of the Vice President walking up the stairs of Air Force 2, turning and waving toward the terminal, and boarding the plane. Tom, as well as other travelers standing around the windows in the terminal, told us that, in the past, travelers were allowed to stand outside and take pictures of Air Force 2 and wave to the Vice President and the President boarding Air Force One. But not on this day. This is one example of how policies may change from one trip to the next.
Meeting the Chief Defense Counsel
Tom and Yumna and I passed the time by people watching, with Tom identifying members of the Prosecution and Defense that he recognized from previous trips, as well as Dr. Sondra Crosby, whom Tom suggested may be testifying this coming week as a witness for the defense.
As we were sitting on the floor in the terminal next to the window looking out on the tarmac, a man in a black shirt with a Naval Station Guantanamo Bay patch came over, introduced himself as “JJ,” correctly identified us as “NGOs,” and asked us how and why we ended up there that day on our way to Guantanamo.
We each took turns telling him about our different programs and roles, and our personal interests in watching the proceedings of the Commission. Then we asked him about himself; it turns our that he is Brigadier General Jackie Thompson, Jr., who took over as Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions (OMC) in January 2022.
We were taken aback that a person of such high rank and essential role in the proceedings at OMC Guantanamo Bay would introduce himself so casually, take an interest in our roles as NGOs, and literally sit on the floor and chat with us about the Commission and his role. But that is exactly what he did.
Brigadier General Thompson spoke to us for fifteen to twenty minutes, answering our questions about his role (which he stated is more administrative than anything, helping the defense teams get access to the materials and resources they’ve requested), and his personal feelings about participating in the Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay, a place that he described in a way that brought the words “notorious” and “infamous,” to my mind, although I do not recall if he used those exact words. He shared with us that (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here) he was on the verge of taking a new role in a different capacity, after serving as Chief of the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service. He had previously expressed interest in the role as Chief Defense Counsel, Guantanamo Bay Military Commission and submitted his name for consideration but thought that after so much time had passed (I don’t remember how much time had passed), they had decided on taking a different route. He put in for a change in position to a new role, and his commanding officer said, “Hold on a minute, they want you out at Guantanamo Bay.” He was nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate and has been in the role since the beginning of the year.
Brigadier General Thompson came off as sincere and sympathetic to the experience of the prisoners that had been transferred through black sites and held at Guantanamo Bay. He stated that the United States moved the prisoners to Guantanamo Bay and resorted to “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” because we were scared, and, as I understood him, we have been dealing with the international fallout in our reputation stemming from those decisions ever since.
Brigadier General Thompson mentioned several books that he read in preparation for his assignment to Guantanamo Bay. Here are two that I recall him mentioning:
Brigadier General Thompson was approachable and kind to the three of us, and genuinely listened when we talked about our interests in human rights at Guantanamo Bay.
Before I went on this mission, I had developed the impression that prisoners held at Guantanamo could not receive a fair trial, because, for example, the U.S. government had extracted information from prisoners at black sites using torture such as waterboarding, and then the government was using that information in the criminal cases against the prisoners. I did not think it was fair, or legal, to use information derived from torture in criminal cases against defendants.
However, I came away from that brief conversation with Brig. Gen. Thompson impressed by him as a person, and with an inkling of a notion that maybe Guantanamo prisoners are involved in a more balanced process than I had anticipated. I was determined to keep an open mind moving forward.
The Flight to Guantanamo
At approximately 10:00 AM, military personnel called the room to attention and began directing everyone to line up at the door of the terminal that leads to the tarmac (where Air Force 2 had just left) with their boarding passes in hand.
We were instructed not to photograph the boarding pass, which was a blue and red laminated card about the length of a standard bookmark, with information on our flight and destination handwritten in marker on fillable spaces on the front.
NGOs and the media were told to be first in line, in front of all the passengers.
We filed out, handing the boarding pass over on the way to the door, and boarded a bus.
Two busses total took everyone from the Judge, Brigadier General Thompson, Prosecution Team, Defense Team, NGOs, Media, VFMs, and interpreters, security, intelligence, etc. on a short trip down the air strip to a waiting Omni Airlines charter plane.
NGOs and Media were instructed to file on to the plane first, as we were assigned the last five rows.
It was a large plane – a widebody with two aisles, in a 2 – 3 – 2 configuration.
The plane had enough room for each passenger to have a row (two seats on the window sides of the plane, three seats in the middle row) to themselves.
Each seat had a TV screen in the back of the seat in front, where during the flight one could choose to watch from a selection of movies or TV shows. I halfheartedly watched a couple episodes of “The Office” and spent the remaining time reading a book I brought along, watching the map feature on the TV screen showing where we were in our flight path, and trying to sleep.
About an hour into the flight, the flight attendants served beverages and a meal. I asked for a vegetarian meal, which turned out to be tortellini, broccoli, a bread roll, and a cookie. I was starving by that time, having only had an apple and a cereal bar for breakfast at 5:45 AM that morning, so I ate all the food I was served on the plane.
The flight was staffed by a civilian crew that went through the same safety protocol routine that you would receive on any airline flying in the United States. The total flight time was 3 hours, and we landed at Guantanamo Bay right on schedule at approximately 1:20 PM.
My next blog will cover my first day and a half at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.
J.D. Candidate 2025
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a nominee of the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which is part of Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law. (Read more about the MCOP here).
I am a student at IU McKinney Law, and I am eligible to be nominated for Guantanamo travel, as are all IU McKinney students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) – because the Pentagon granted special “Observer” status to this IU McKinney Program.
Here you can read more about me, IU McKinney Professor George Edwards who founded this Guantanamo project, how I came to be involved in the Guantanamo project, the selection / nomination process, all the paper I had to fill out to participate, and the hearings I am scheduled to monitor at Guantanamo the week of 23 – 30 July 2022 (against Mr. al Nashiri, who allegedly plotted the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen).
Meeting with the Director and Acting Deputy Director
On 28 June 2022, Professor Edwards and MCOP Acting Deputy Director Professor Charles Dunlap held a zoom meeting with me and several other people scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay in the month of August. During that meeting, the Directors stressed the importance of complying with requirements of the “Guantanamo Agreement Checklist” that was provided to me and the other travelers by Professor Edwards. The Checklist requires filling out paperwork on time, communicating with the Directors in a timely manner, responding to emails, informing the Indiana University Office of International Affairs of our travel plans, getting health insurance for foreign travel, immediately informing the Directors of any correspondence coming from the Pentagon, and many other requirements.
My first blog post
MCOP travelers to Guantanamo post about their experiences on a blog on this website: Gitmo Observer – www.GitmoObserver.com. We post about the selection and nomination process, preparing for travel to Guantanamo Bay, experiences during the hearings, and impressions after returning to the United States.
Professor Edwards asked me to share my initial draft blog post with his edits and comments with the August travelers via email so that they could have an idea of what an informative first post could look like. After the meeting, I sent the blog post with the edits to the other travelers.
On 30th June 2022, I received an invite from WordPress to post to the blog on GitomoObserver.com. The next day, 1st July, I posted to the blog for the first time.
Booking my flight from Indiana to DC
The first round of paperwork I received from the Pentagon informed that travelers to Guantanamo Bay will leave from Joint Base Andrews near Washington, DC.
I began tracking flights from Indianapolis International Airport to Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC the first week of July in preparation for leaving the last week of 23-30 July 2022. On 5th July, I sent a prospective flight itinerary to the Project Director, Professor Edwards, which is required according to the Guantanamo Agreement Checklist. That same day, Professor Edwards approved the prospective itinerary, and I purchased the flight, round trip. I planned my flights to arrive in Washington, DC early on 22nd July, the day before my scheduled departure from Joint Base Andrews on 23rd July, and to return to Indianapolis from DC on 31st July, the day after returning to DC from Guantanamo Bay. I inquired to Professors Edwards and Dunlap regarding a potential scholarship to help cover the costs of flights and travel to and from Washington, DC, as that expense had in the past been the responsibility of the individual observers. I was informed that the parameters of the scholarship are still in development, and that I would be informed of the scholarship’s availability when that information is available.
Forms for the Indiana University Office of International Affairs
Having confirmed my flight itinerary to Washington, DC and back to Indianapolis, I uploaded a PDF screen shot of the itinerary including times, airline (American Airlines in my case), and flight numbers to the iAbroad system. iAbroad is the system that the Indiana University Office of International Affairs uses to send and compile necessary paperwork and forms required for students to travel internationally. By that time, I had already completed an initial set of forms that I had submitted through iAbroad, which were sent to me in the days immediately following the day I informed the Office of International Affairs that I would be participating in the MCOP at Guantanamo Bay.
After the first set of forms is complete, iAbroad sends a second set of forms. The flight itinerary was the last requirement in the second set of documents iAbroad requires. However, I waited to submit that last section of the documents because I did not yet have confirmation of the flights from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay and back. I did not want to submit the section with incomplete information, but when I checked iAbroad the following week (11 July), my forms were all submitted and the itinerary section was no longer available to edit. This concerned me, as I hadn’t included information about the flights to and from Guantanamo Bay.
On 14th July, I drove to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) campus, which is where IU McKinney is located, for two reasons; to pick up a physical copy of the GeoBlue Insurance Card that I was informed the first week of July would be waiting for me at the Study Abroad Office, and to talk to someone at the Study Abroad Office or the Office of International Affairs about my problems uploading Guantanamo flight information to iAbroad. I received my copy of the GeoBlue Insurance (it isn’t necessary to have the physical card but given the option I felt safer having it with me) and met with Ms. Stephanie Leslie from the Office of International Affairs. She confirmed that my Washington, DC flight information had been properly uploaded and asked me to email her the information that I currently had about the Guantanamo Bay flights. I emailed her the flight estimates that were included in the first email from the Pentagon back in May and told her that I would keep her updated with future information as it comes my way. Ms. Leslie said that would be fine. She asked if I was ready and prepared with everything else, and I told her that I was except for the requirement to have a PCR covid test within 72 hours of arrival at Joint Base Andrews. She suggested I ask the University if they were still conducting covid tests. More on trying to get a PCR Covid test below.
Correspondence with Previous Travelers
On Wednesday 23rd July I went to the IU McKinney School of Law to meet with Ms. Madison Sanneman, who works for the Law School and recently traveled to Guantanamo (read her blog posts here). I have had an email correspondence going with Madison since early June; she has been an amazingly helpful resource in my preparations for Guantanamo. I met with her that Wednesday to go over some last-minute questions I had about the facilities at Guantanamo, proper clothes to bring, anything I may be overlooking, what to pack, what the court proceedings were like, what the food was like, and her overall impressions of the trip. Again, Madison provided me with wonderful information that sincerely helped relieve some of the stress and anxiety I was feeling about the trip.
During June and July 2022, I also had an ongoing text correspondence with Mr. Collier O’Connor (read his blog posts here). I had initially reached out to Collier to thank him for his detailed posts on the Gitmo Observer blog, and followed up with several questions as the weeks went on. He always replied to me in a timely fashion and with helpful information.
It is a requirement of the Guantanamo Agreement Checklist to contact previous travelers. Aside from that requirement, I would highly suggest that it is essential to correspond with and meet in person if possible previous travelers in order to have a smooth and complete preparation for travel to Guantanamo Bay.
Getting a Covid PCR Test
The Pentagon requires a negative PCR covid test to be presented at Joint Base Andrews before boarding the plane to Guantanamo Bay. The test must have been administered within 72 hours of boarding the plane. On Wednesday the 20th July, I received the final instructions from the Pentagon including flight details stating that we would be departing Joint Base Andrews bound for Guantanamo Bay at approximately 10:20 AM Saturday 23rd July and as the Covid test results needed to be printed and brought with, I would need the results well before that time.
Although Indiana University had been administering covid-19 tests to students for free during the pandemic, it turns out that Indiana University was (and is) no longer administering Covid tests to students. I do not know when they stopped, or why. However, I had to look outside school to find a testing facility. I scheduled to take a test at CVS Pharmacy in Indianapolis (the Beech Grove location) which said on its website that PCR test results are typically returned within 1-2 days of testing.
I was very worried about taking a Covid test and then having the Guantanamo flight leave later than I was anticipating, so I made the decision to get tested closer to my date of departure to be sure that my test would be within 72 hours of boarding the plane. That was a mistake. I got my Covid test at CVS Pharmacy on Thursday 21st July at 11:50 AM, approximately 46 hours before I was scheduled to board the plane bound for Guantanamo Bay at Joint Base Andrews, Saturday 23rd July at 10:00 AM.
However, the test at CVS was self-administered and they do not send the tests straight to the lab – I was instructed to place the test in a drop box on the side of the CVS building to be picked up at a later point in time. The pharmacy tech at the window told me that test results are typically returned within 2-4 days. That made me very anxious, as that time frame would mean there was a strong possibility that I would not get my covid test results back until I was already scheduled to be on a plane to Guantanamo.
I scrambled to try and get another PCR covid test that would get me results at a quicker time. I tried Methodist Hospital, but they, and all IU medical facilities, would not administer a Covid PCR test for travel without an order from a doctor. I called my doctor’s office, but they would not end up getting back to me until Friday July 22nd (with the very unhelpful information that the doctor would not provide an order for a PCR test for travel purposes). I found a private lab facility, GenePace, that would administer a PCR test and guarantee the results by 6:00 PM the next day (which would be Friday the 22nd, giving me enough time to get the results printed to take to Joint Base Andrews on Saturday the 23rd). The test cost $119.00 and I had to drive to Carmel to get it. It was not a pleasant experience. Now that Federal funds for Covid testing seemed to have dried up, it is apparently difficult to get a PCR test with quick results for travel without paying for them or waiting on a pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens.
In hindsight, I should have asked previous travelers when the best time to get tested was, or I should have voiced my concerns to Professor Edwards or Professor Dunlap about a possible delay in the flight schedule from Joint Base Andrews and what that would mean for the 72 hour testing window. Future travelers should ask questions of the Directors or previous travelers if they have concerns.
For the record, my $119 GenePace test was emailed to me with a timestamp at 5:05 PM on Friday 22nd July, and my free CVS test (they may charge $25 to my insurance company, but I am not sure yet) in an e-mail time-stamped 9:19 PM on Friday 22nd July.
Packing and Building my Binder
After running around trying to get Covid tested for a large part of my Thursday, I started to pack my bags. I received a phone call the afternoon of Thursday the 21st July from a Pentagon official. She said it was her job that day to contact travelers bound for Guantanamo on our flight 2 days later to make sure they have everything in order. She also provided me with contact information for the person that would pick me up from the Visitor Center at Joint Base Andrews when I arrived at 6:00 a.m. Saturday. I confirmed that I had all of the documents that I needed except for the pending Covid test result. I thanked her for the information.
My wife gave me a ride to Indianapolis International Airport early in the morning on Friday 22nd July; I arrived at approximately 4:05 AM for my American Airlines flight scheduled to leave at 6:22 a.m. I passed through security, and reached my gate by approximately 4:35 AM, even with TSA pulling me to the side, making me go through the body scanner, and patting me down. I boarded the plane for DC at 5:55 AM, and we took off on schedule at 6:22 AM, arriving in DC at 8:00 AM. We had to wait for an open gate until about 8:15 AM.
I downloaded the DC Metro SmarTrip card to my Apple Wallet and loaded it with $10.00. My iPhone actually prompted me to do this when I stepped off the plane and turned off airplane mode on my phone. I did not know if downloading that app was a useful or appropriate thing to do, so I simply googled if I could use SmarTrip on Apple Wallet to use the Metro, and the answer was definitively “yes.” With the app downloaded, you can just load money directly from a checking account and tap your phone on the pad to open the fare gates to get to the train platforms.
Google Maps told me which lines to take. I posted on this blog a map of the lines.
The D.C. Metro is very simple to use, and there are plenty of people around and security guards and signage to point you in the right direction if you get confused. I took the Metro to L’Enfant Plaza, which is near the center of DC where all of the Metro lines intersect, then walked 7 minutes to a location I had booked to hold my luggage for a small fee for the day. I booked it through Vertoe.com, and it cost a little over $7.00 to have my bag securely held while I explored DC for the day.
After dropping off my bag at approximately 9:45 AM, I walked around the outside of the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court, and through the US Botanical Gardens and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden and explored inside the National Museum of Natural History. The Gardens and the Museum are free to enter and are located near the National Mall.
I also wandered around adjoining neighborhoods talking to my wife on the phone and searching out food. I ate at a delicious hole in the wall called Burrito Brothers at around 12:00 PM. I spent the remainder of my afternoon walking around the National Mall, visiting the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Reflecting Pool.
Around 3:30 PM I took the Metro from the Smithsonian station to L’Enfant Plaza, then walked back to the location where my luggage was being held and picked up my bag. I then walked back to L’Enfant Plaza and took the train to the farthest south station, the Branch Ave. Station. From there I ordered a Lyft to take me the rest of the way to my hotel, which is directly across the street from the Joint Base Andrews Visitor Center. It was about a 10-minute Lyft ride and cost $22.79, including tip. I checked into the hotel at approximately 4:00 PM.
A Short Stay at the Hotel
I received my PCR covid test back in an e-mail from GenePace time-stamped 5:05 PM. My Covid test results came back negative. I asked the hotel front desk clerk to please print three copies of the results for me, and she did. After that I walked to a Hispanic Grocery store called La Colonia and bought some food for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. I got plenty to eat for just over $9.00.
I chose to stay at the Quality Inn across the street from the base because I did not want to have to deal with the stress of relying on a taxi/Uber/Lyft early in the morning and risk being late to meet the escort. The room cost $118. The website says breakfast is complimentary, but the dining room has been closed since Covid. The room was nice and clean with a desk and free Wi-Fi. The reviews on Google for the Quality Inn are not great, but I have no complaints. The front desk staff was very courteous and helpful.
Getting to Joint Base Andrews in the morning
Tomorrow, I will plan to walk over to Joint Base Andrews to arrive at the visitors center by 6:30 AM to be picked up by my escort. Google maps shows that it will only be a 7 minute walk from the front desk of the Quality Inn where I’m staying to the front door of the Visitors Center.
My next blog post will cover checking in at Joint Base Andrews, the flight to Guantanamo, and my first day at Guantanamo Bay.
J.D. Candidate 2025
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from 30 July to 6 August 2022 to monitor pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case of US v. al Nashiri. Mr. al Nashiri is charged with crimes associated with the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, killing and wounding dozens of U.S. sailors.
My mission at Guantanamo is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on these hearings.
You can read more about my nomination to this program here.
Final Preparation for my Mission in Guantanamo Bay
As I mentioned, before, I was required to fulfill many requirements to confirm my travel to Guantanamo.
The MCOP sent me a “Guantanamo Checklist” as a guide to the process of preparing for my mission. Among other things, I needed to make travel arrangements to and from Washington D.C. because the plane to Guantanamo leaves from and returns to Joint Base Andrews, just outside Washington, gather and organize all the forms required by the Pentagon, and schedule a PCR test.
Scheduling a PCR Test and Getting Test Results
All observers traveling to Guantanamo must take a PCR covid test within 72 hours of departure, and the results must be negative. I researched where to get the PCR done, how long it would take to get results, and whether the test was the correct test. Rapid tests are not acceptable. I scheduled my test through CVS Pharmacy for Wednesday, 27 July 2022 at 1:30 p.m. eastern time. My test would comply within the 72-hour timeframe and was administered about 69 hours before my scheduled departure of Saturday at 10:0 a.m. I made the test booking online on Wednesday, 20 July 2022 about a week prior to my test date. I called and spoke to a CVS representative after booking my test and she assured me my results would come within 24-48 hours after taking it – so the results would be back by 1:30 on 29 July. On 28 July 2022, at around 6:00 p.m., my negative results were emailed to me, about 30 hours after taking the test, and 39 hours before the scheduled departure time on Saturday. With the negative PCR test result in hand, I was ready to travel to Guantanamo on 30 July 2022.
Organizing All the Forms and Paperwork Required by the Pentagon
Before I left Northwest Indiana on at 10:00 a.m. on 29 July 2022, I tripled checked that I had all the necessary paperwork packed.
The Pentagon requires that several copies of documents and forms of identification be available as a hardcopy before you arrive at Joint Base Andrews, whichis a military base located in Maryland, and it is the location where I am scheduled to board the plane to Guantanamo. I had created a Guantanamo binder to hold my important documents. In that binder was my passport, state I.D., covid vaccination card, copies of my negative PCR covid test result, three copies of my invitational travel order (ITO), two copies of my SECNAV 5512, two copies of the U.S. government health declaration form, and three copies of my approved country and theater clearance, also known as APACS. I previously filled out the SECNAV 5512 form and returned it to the Pentagon, and now I have the Pentagon-approved copy in my binder.
After confirming I had all the documents and the correct number of copies for each, I organized my identification and paperwork in folders inside my binder so I could easily access everything when I arrived at Joint Base Andrews on Saturday morning.
Traveling to Washington D.C.
Because I was living and working in Northwest Indiana this summer, I decided to fly out of Chicago, Illinois to Washington. One of the requirements on the MCOP checklist is to share my proposed travel itinerary with Professor Edwards and the Acting Deputy Director, Professor Dunlap, before booking my flight. After they reviewed my flight information and felt comfortable with the days and times, I was able to purchase my flights about two weeks prior before my departure date.
I flew from Chicago Midway on 29 July 2022 to Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. I experienced some minor flight delays, and I arrived in D.C. in the early evening, about 4:15 p.m., an hour later than my original scheduled arrival. It is crucial to be aware of any flight delays to ensure you make it to Washington in plenty of time to make it to Joint Base Andrews by your scheduled arrival time.
Luckily, my close friend, Sara, lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and I was able to stay with her the night before my departure to Guantanamo Bay. She and her new puppy, Indy, picked me up from the D.C. airport and showed me to their new apartment. Because she lives in Virginia and I live in Indianapolis, it has been a few months since I last saw Sara. We had lots to discuss, and I took the time to explain my Guantanamo mission to her and how important it was. We had Chipotle for dinner and enjoyed a walk around the National Mall. It was a beautiful night in the nation’s capital. We returned to her apartment, where I checked my email and ensured everything was in place for tomorrow. She lives twenty minutes from Joint Base Andrews. We plan on leaving promptly at 5:30 a.m. to ensure I arrive at the base by 6:00 a.m.
Heading to Joint Base Andrews
I arrived at the Visitors Center of Joint Base Andrews right at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, 30 July 2022 and was greeted by my escort. Escorts serve as guides to the NGOs while they are at Joint Base Andrews, on the plane, and at Guantanamo. The escort and I waited for the other NGOs to arrive before we departed from the Visitor Center at 6:15 a.m. The first email I received from the Pentagon listed that five NGOs would be traveling to Guantanamo at the same time as me. These individuals would be representing other organizations and projects. Only four ended up arriving. There were three women: one representing Georgetown Law, another with Judicial Watch, and one with University of Miami School of Law. There was also man sent by Pacific Council. The escort then drove all of us into the base and dropped us at the airport terminal at 6:30 a.m.
The terminal was very similar to the airports I have been to. There is a security line, bags are put through an x-ray scanner, and all personnel must walk through a metal detector. I went through security and was escorted to the ticket agent, where they checked my ITO, APACS, negative covid test, and passport. The agent approved my travel and handed me my boarding pass. At this point, it was only 7:00 a.m., and my flight was not scheduled to leave until 10:00 a.m.
I was initial informed that rapid covid tests would be administered to all travelers at the terminal, however, no one to my knowledge received a test.
Our escort took us into a small room in the terminal. It had a few couches where the other NGOs, our escort and I sat for the next two and a half hours. We spent that time to get to know one another and discuss our various missions. I gave each NGO their own copy of the “Know Before You Go to Gitmo” and the “Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Excerpts.” These manuals were created by the Military Commission Observation Project and are provided to NGO observers to help them prepare for their travel to Guantanamo and serve as a guide in fulfilling their mission. It was my duty as a representative of the MCOP to ensure that each NGO observer had a copy for their benefit.
During our time at the terminal, I met Ronald Flesvig, the Director of Public Affairs for the Office of Military Commissions. He introduced himself to all the NGOs and welcomed any questions we had before our departure. He talked candidly about his experience at Guantanamo. The conversation was informative and enlightening. He shared with us what to expect when inside the courtroom, how the defendant would be dressed, and some of the logistics of operating a Military Commission.
At 9:30 a.m., right before we boarded the plane, the escort informed me that the hearings concerning al Nashiri scheduled for Monday 1 August 2022 and Tuesday 2 August 2022 had been cancelled due to what he described as a small covid outbreak. The other NGOs and I are hopeful that the proceedings scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday will still continue. We were also informed no member of the media would be flying down to the island on our flight, meaning the public will have a limited information on what happens in court this week.
Finally, at 9:35 a.m. it was time to board the plane. I was escorted to a shuttle bus where I was driven across the tarmac to a set of tall steps that lead you to the door of plane. NGOs are asked to sit in the back, so that is where I was headed. I chose a window seat and had the entire row to myself. The pilot stated that only 35 people were on my flight.
The plane departed from Joint Base Andrews shortly after 10:00 a.m. The flight to Guantanamo Bay was three and a half hours. I spent the flight reviewing my copies of the “Know Before You Go to Gitmo” and “Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Excerpts” manuals, organizing my notes, and even managed to sneak in a quick nap. At 1:00 p.m. the pilot announced we were beginning out descent. I packed up my materials and prepared for landing.
My next blog post will discuss my experience arriving at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
J.D. Candidate (2024)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from 30 July to 6 August 2022 to monitor pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commission case of US v. Al Nashiri. Mr. Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri is the alleged mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing off the coast of Yemen on 12 October 2000. That attack killed 17 U.S. Navy sailors and injured dozens more.
I became aware of the opportunity to travel to Guantanamo Bay in the 2022 spring. I was a first-year law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law. Professor George Edwards, the Director of the Program in International Human Rights Law (“PIHRL”, pronounced “Pearl”) at IU McKinney, sent a series of emails to students explaining that the Pentagon had granted the PIHRL “Non-Governmental Organization Observer Status” (“NGO Observer Status”), and that status permitted the PIHRL to send students, faculty, staff, and graduates to Guantanamo. Professor Edwards had created the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), as part of the PIHRL. Each Guantanamo email I saw in my inbox sparked my interest, and finally I decided to apply. After waiting, an interview, and more waiting, I was told that the MCOP had nominated me to the Pentagon for this Guantanamo mission.
I am a second-year law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and I expect to graduate with my Juris Doctorate in May 2024.
Before law school, I studied journalism, political science, and international studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. I received my degree in 2018 and began working as a marketing specialist in the hospitality industry.
I am also a founding member and director of The Molley Lanham Foundation Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. I founded the organization in honor of my late sister, who was murdered in 2019. Our goal is to provide a healing space to survivors of homicide.
My passion for the law stems from wanting to honor my sister. From my tragedy, I learned the best way to be an advocate for change and a fighter for justice is to get out there and do something about it. I am dedicated to providing meaningful legal work that will positively influence the community I serve.
I submitted my application to be an NGO Observer through the Military Commission Observation Project’s online forum in June 2022. Shortly after, I received an email from Professor George Edwards inviting me to interview for the mission via Zoom. I eagerly accepted his invitation. We discussed a few topics in our short meeting including: my first year of law school and some of the habits I created in this new learning environment and the importance of this mission and how the goal was to monitor as an independent and objective observer.
A couple of weeks later, I was humbled to see my nomination in my email inbox. I took a moment to stop and reflect on the journey I was about to embark on – I would be traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an NGO Observer with the duty to fulfill an important mission.
As an NGO monitor, my mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on the al-Nashiri hearings. I must do this through the lens of an independent and objective observer.
Preparing for my Scheduled Travel to Guantanamo: Details, Documents, and More Documents
I began preparing for this mission shortly after learning of my nomination. Nominees must read “Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay Guide” and the “Guantanamo Fair Travel Manual.” I started my research there and became familiar with this mission’s many details. I also read other NGO Observers’ blog posts shared on the Gitmo Observer. The Gitmo Observer is Military Commission Observation Project of Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law website. Observers share their experiences with the program and their time while at Guantanamo.
Additionally, Nominees must fill out many forms when preparing to travel to Guantanamo Bay. As a law student, I must comply with the requirements instructed by the Pentagon, the Program in International Human Rights Law / MCOP, Indiana University (e.g. the Office of International Affairs), and Indiana University McKinney School of Law.
First, I had to notify the Office of International Affairs that I had been nominated for this mission. After the Office of International Affairs has confirmed my nomination, I must complete two sets of requirements. The first set confirms my eligibility to travel and study abroad while the second gathers various health and safety information.
Second, the Pentagon requires six forms to confirm my travel. The forms explain the rules and procedures that are expected to be followed while on base and collect various demographic and personal data from the nominee. The forms are as follows:
the Hold Harmless Agreement;
the NGO Ground Rules for Observation of Military Commissioners;
the Invitational Traveler Worksheet;
the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Access Pass;
the NGO Representative Procedures for Observation of Military Commissions; and
the NGO Observer Bio.
This step was more complicated than it might seem. The forms require an abundant amount of detail and must be filled out accurately in order to be accepted by the Pentagon. The other nominees and I discussed our questions and concerns to help each other fulfill this step.
Then, I sent the forms to Professor Edwards and the Project’s Acting Deputy Director Charles Dunlap for a final review. I have completed these forms and have submitted all six to the Pentagon.
Third, the Program in International Human Rights Law has its own requirements for NGO Observers to complete. I received the Military Commission Observation Project Checklist to guide my progress in meeting all requirements and will continue to update the checklist as I complete the tasks.
My scheduled departure date is fast approaching. I take great pride in fulfilling this mission and look forward to sharing this experience with others.
J.D. Candidate (2024)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
The United States is prosecuting Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mr. Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri for allegedly conspiring in, organizing, and planning the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. The attack killed 17 U.S. Navy sailors and injured dozens more.
The Program in International Human Rights Law (“PIHRL”, pronounced “Pearl) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) sends students, faculty, staff, and graduate affiliates to Guantanamo Bay to monitor U.S. military commission hearings, such as that in which Mr. al-Nashiri stands charged. The mission for the monitors is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on Guantanamo proceedings. Monitors serve as a window into these proceedings that are not easily accessible to the general public.
As a student at IU McKinney School of Law, I had seen notices about IU students and other affiliates traveling to Guantanamo and thought that I might like to go there as well. But, with my schedule, the timing never quite worked. When the request for applications came through earlier this summer, I jumped at the opportunity. I finally submitted an application.
Professor George Edwards, the Director of PIHRL, contacted me shortly after for a Zoom interview. After several rounds of interviews and a few adjustments to the statement of interest I originally submitted, I was nominated by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) – which is part of the IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law – to travel to Guantanamo in August 2022 to monitor hearings in Mr. al-Nashiri’s case. I am now scheduled to travel to Guantanamo from 6 to 13August 2022 to monitor pre-trial hearings in his case. I plan to continue to post blog entries like this detailing my experiences between now and my scheduled departure, as well as during and after the mission.
In the following sections of this blog post, I offer a quick bio and a recap of the long process between my interviews with Professor Edwards and fulfilling my pre-trip requirements to date.
I am a second-year law student at IU McKinney School of Law in the part-time program. I started law school in 2020 and expect to graduate with my Juris Doctor degree in December 2023. I plan to pursue a career in criminal defense after graduation. I work as a law clerk and certified legal intern at the Indiana State Public Defender’s Office representing clients in post-conviction relief cases. I plan to serve as a certified legal intern with the Health and Human Rights Clinic at IU McKinney beginning in August 2022 representing clients in eviction proceedings.
After I graduated from Kenyon College in 2014, I worked in college admissions and pursued my passion of cycling. I worked for bike shops around the country as a master mechanic and promoted access to cycling for youth in the Indianapolis area.
I am glad I was able to gain experiences that helped me clarify my goals before enrolling at IU McKinney School of Law. I realized that the best path for me to help my community was to obtain a law degree. While law school has been a difficult, I consider it a privilege and the reset I needed to pursue my commitment to criminal justice. Law school has led me to a job at the Indiana State Public Defender’s office that I love, and I now also have the opportunity of a lifetime to monitor proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.
I submitted my application to be an NGO Observer through the Military Commission Observation Project’s online forum in June 2022. Soon, after, Professor George Edwards invited me to interview for the mission via Zoom. During the interview, Professor Edwards asked about my interest in the program. We discussed the various requirements of the program and potential dates for travel. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the dates we discussed in the first interview. After that first conversation, I assumed I would not hear back.
A couple of weeks later, I attended a second interview. Again, Professor Edwards and I discussed similar topics. On my second interview, I was asked to give a more detailed response to my fit with the program, and I was asked more detailed questions about my academic background. Shortly after our discussion, I resubmitted my application, supplementing my “statement of interest”, and adding a current resume. Within a few days, I was offered a spot to travel to Guantanamo Bay as a monitor. I am honored to be a part of this program and look forward to playing my role as an objective monitor of court proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.
Process After Nomination: When the Work Starts
After your nomination, you must begin preparing immediately for this opportunity. The requirements and steps that must be taken are shared via e-mail. The first set of emails come in slowly. But, do not relax. The requirements, at times, feel overwhelming.
Nominees must read “Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay Guide,” “Guantanamo Fair Trial Manual,” and previous observers’ blog posts on the Gitmo Observer. Nominees must comply with the requirements set by the Pentagon, the Program in International Human Rights Law / MCOP, Indiana University (e.g. the Office of International Affairs), and Indiana University McKinney School of Law. There are many forms that you must complete. And, the forms can be difficult to complete. Nominees are offered a template of past form submissions to guide them through the process. These forms are then reviewed by Professor Edwards prior to submission to the Pentagon. Between the forms from the Pentagon and the PIHRL there are hours of forms to fill out.
The first set of forms to complete are sent to you by the Pentagon. They are as follows:
the Hold Harmless Agreement;
the NGO Ground Rules for Observation of Military Commissioners;
the Invitational Traveler Worksheet;
the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Access Pass;
the NGO Representative Procedures for Observation of Military Commissions;
the NGO Observer Bio; and
the Foreign National/Dual Citizen form, if required.
Although it is not a requirement for each form, I signed each by hand with blue ink, rather than with an e-signature. This ensures compliance and reduces the chance of having to revise your forms. If you are a dual citizen, there is an additional form that requires a substantial amount of information (i.e. previous 5 years of employment, addresses, social media presence, etc.). The Foreign National/Dual Citizen form is by far the most involved form.
After completing these forms, I sent them to Professor Edwards and the Project’s Acting Deputy Director Charles Dunlap for a final review. After this internal review process, you email them to the Pentagon for final clearance which comes as late as 3-4 days before you leave.
IU Office of International Affairs Forms
I had to notify the Indiana University Office of International Affairs (OIA) of the nomination for this mission. After the Office of International Affairs confirmed my nomination, I had to fulfill two sets of OIA requirements . The first set confirms eligibility to travel and study abroad while the second gathers various health and safety information. These forms are much easier than those required by the US Government, but they still require attention. Some forms must be dropped off at the Law School in person. During the summer, these hours are not always convenient for those working full time.
At this point, I have completed all the IU OIA forms that I can. I am still waiting for the finalization of flight information to submit my last form and drop off hard copies to the OIA to complete these requirements.
Support of Previous Guantanamo Monitors and Other Nominees
Fortunately, you are not alone in this process. The program provides contact information for current and past participants to help answer questions about the process. The forms are overwhelming at times. Communication with past and present monitors helps reduce the stress.
The Military Commission Observation Project also provides a checklist that guides participants through the process and gives them a clear set of tasks to complete. The checklist has over 50 items so start early.
The nomination process and subsequent duties should not be taken lightly. The process is time intensive, but do not be deterred. The NGO observer program is a once in a lifetime opportunity to give back to the American justice system, and to try to help ensure that all Guantanamo stakeholders are afforded all the rights to which they are entitled.
Juris Doctor (J.D.) Candidate (2023)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
In less than one month, I am scheduled to fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings in the case against Mr. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is charged with war crimes associated with the bombing of the USS Cole off the Coast of Yemen on October 12, 2000, that killed and wounded dozens of U.S. sailors (more on Mr. al-Nashiri in future blog posts).
I am expected to be in Guantanamo from 23-30 July 2022, traveling from Indianapolis to the Washington, D.C. area, where the plane to Guantanamo departs from Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base).
This blog post covers my experiences learning about, applying for, and notice of nomination to travel to Guantanamo Bay.
Learning about Guantanamo Bay and the Indiana University McKinney School of Law Military Commission Observation Project
In the 2021 summer, I met Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David through the Indiana Conference on Legal Education Opportunity (ICLEO) Fellowship. ICLEO is a scholarship program for incoming minority or educationally disadvantaged Indiana law school students who wish to practice law in Indiana. ICLEO includes a six-week summer session, where participants take introductory classes with law school professors (we took contracts, property, legal writing, and criminal procedure), and meet with Indiana lawyers, Federal Judges, and Indiana Supreme Court Justices.
Justice David, who is set to retire from the Supreme Court this year, avidly supported our ICLEO class. He has had an extensive and impressive career as an attorney, Judge, Justice, and military officer. In the military, Justice David served as Chief Defense Counsel at Guantanamo Bay. He spoke to me and my fellow ICLEO’s about the importance of a constitutionally guaranteed defense and encouraged us throughout the summer to use law school as a chance to step out of our comfort zones and experience as much as we can. One experience that IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law offers is the chance to be an observer through the Military Commission Observation Project, which is part of the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL). As soon as Justice David told us of this opportunity, I knew I wanted to apply.
I am a 1L at Indiana University McKinney School of Law. I was born and raised on the near eastside of Indianapolis, and have lived in the Chicago suburbs, Jennerstown, PA, and Knoxville, TN. I’m married to another current IU student, and we live in the Fountain Square neighborhood of Indy.
My upbringing taught me to put others before myself whenever possible. During high school and shortly after high school graduation in 2009, I was drawn to human rights issues, especially those concerning incarcerated people, refugees, and immigrants. In 2017, I obtained a bachelor’s degree in Philanthropic Studies from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). I served a year with AmeriCorps in their Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program at the John Boner Neighborhood Center on the near eastside of Indianapolis, a neighborhood with high rates of formerly incarcerated individuals, unemployment, food insecurity, and violent crime. With AmeriCorps, I worked as the Communications Coordinator for the IndyEast Promise Zone, a federal program started under the Obama Administration to increase public and private investment in struggling areas throughout the United States.
After my year of service with AmeriCorps, I got a job as a case manager with Marion County Community Corrections in 2018. I wanted to be close to people in the criminal justice system, to find out what their wants and needs were. In 2019 I became the case manager overseeing people finishing out prison terms at a work release facility.
In 2020 I joined the Court Team of Marion County Community Corrections and spent my days in Marion County Superior Courts making recommendations during hearings on violations of Community Corrections. Violations are the result of failing to abide by Community Corrections rules, which are set out in a contract and rulebook signed by everyone sentenced to either home detention or work release. Violations also result from new arrests or absconding from home detention or the work release facility. At hearings on violations, the Court wants to know what the nature of the violation was, how much time the individual has served on the program (home detention/work release), how much time they have remaining in their sentence, and what Community Corrections thinks the appropriate result of the violation should be (a short jail sanction, revocation to prison, immediate return to community corrections with new conditions, or some other solution tailored to the individual’s situation). While working at Community Corrections, I became aware of shortcomings of our local criminal justice system, as well as the socioeconomic and addiction struggles of much of the incarcerated population. But more than anything, it taught me that every individual human must be treated with dignity and respect if there is ever going to be a chance of changing the behavior of incarcerated people from criminal thoughts and behavioral patterns to thoughts and patterns that are socially acceptable. My experiences in the courtroom in particular showed me that lawyers have the power to make a difference in the lives of the people for whom they advocate.
In 2020, I began studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), prepared my application materials for law school, gathered letters of recommendation, and applied to the Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) program at McKinney School of Law. I was notified of early acceptance to the J.D. program in November of 2020.
I chose law school as a path to change our systems of governance in a way that alleviates suffering and uplifts society.
Application and nomination for Guantanamo travel
Professor George Edwards is the Director of the Program in International Human Rights Law at McKinney School of Law. In the fall of 2021, Professor Edwards sent an email to the student body providing information about the Military Commission Observation Project at Guantanamo Bay with a link to the application website and I applied. In my application, I wrote about the importance of transparency at Guantanamo Bay to encourage faith in our democratic system of law and justice across the United States and the world. I was determined to do my part to shed light on the system, and to show the good and the bad, the things that work and the things that need to be improved upon.
Professor Edwards reached out in May 2022 asking if I was still interested in traveling to Guantanamo Bay. I couldn’t believe it! And of course, I was still interested.
Professor Edwards and I met briefly over Zoom for a face-to-face interview where Professor Edwards stressed the importance of the mission and the observer role to be unbiased and open-minded. I assured him that I could be that kind of observer. Shortly thereafter, I received confirmation from Professor Edwards that our Law School’s Military Commission Observation Project had nominated me to the Pentagon to travel to Guantanamo the week of 23-30 July 2022 for the al-Nashiri hearings regarding the bombing of the USS Cole. The preparations had begun. I learned that there were multiple other clearances that needed to occur, and that there would be significant paperwork to complete for different entities.
Professor Edwards provided me with an 18-page “Guantanamo Checklist Agreement” that is required to be turned in periodically up to the date of departure to Guantanamo Bay. The checklist is a comprehensive list of tasks that must be completed to have a successful trip to Guantanamo Bay. The checklist is divided into five sections, plus an annex:
Continuing Obligations of Observers – Before, During, and After Travel
Confirmation Stage – Obligations of Travelers as Travel is Being Confirmed
Pre-Departure – Obligations of Travelers Immediately Before Departing
During Travel – Observers’ Obligations While Traveling
The Annex provides annotated copies of the paperwork from the Pentagon that each traveler will receive that must be filled out and returned.
The checklist has sections to date and initial next to each task so that the prospective traveler can stay accountable and on schedule regarding the various obligations.
One day after Professor Edwards told me that I had been nominated to the Pentagon, the Pentagon sent me an email that confirmed my in-person observation status at Guantanamo Bay, and included the names of the other participants in the month of July 2022. The email also included information about COVID-19 requirements, a tentative flight schedule (flying out of Joint Base Andrews 23 July, flying out of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay 30 July), and guidance on how to properly fill out and return the six documents attached to the email. I received the paperwork on 19 May, and the deadline for returning the paperwork was 26 May.
The paperwork included:
Hold Harmless Agreement
Traveler worksheet, with personal information and emergency contact
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Access/ID card
Rules for Non-Governmental Observers
A short biography form
The Pentagon paperwork involved some fillable pdfs, one word document, multiple pdfs that had to be printed out and signed, and some paperwork that had to have a verified e-signature. I relied heavily on a fellow traveler to help me figure out how to e-sign the documents properly, as well as how to upload each document that I had printed and signed as a PDF to be sent back to Professor Edwards before sending them on to the Pentagon. It is a requirement on the checklist that all communication from the Pentagon be sent to Professor Edwards before responding to the Pentagon.
Paperwork from Indiana University
The checklist requires participants to inform the Indiana University Study Abroad Office of our upcoming travel. I emailed the Study Abroad Office and was directed to create an account on the university’s iAbroad system. iAbroad compiles all of the paperwork that students need to fill out to travel abroad through the University. There are two rounds of paperwork that need to be filled out for the trip to Guantanamo Bay. The first round of paperwork was to be filled out and returned as soon as possible, while the second round of paperwork was more comprehensive. All of the forms on iAbroad are electronic. One form links to the State Department website where the participant is asked to fill in information about the upcoming trip, provide one form of contact information, and select the nearest U.S. Embassy. When that form is complete, the participant must take a screenshot of the confirmation page and upload it to the appropriate form on iAbroad. Several forms ask the participant to review State Department materials on the destination country (Cuba) so that the participant knows the risks involved in traveling outside of the US. As of 28 June 2022, my first round of paperwork for iAbroad is complete, and all forms on the second round of paperwork are marked complete except for the “Travel Planning and Itinerary” form, which asks for information that I do not yet have, like specific information about the flights.
I feel excited, anxious, nervous, and proud. I want the trip to be successful, to learn more about the Military Commission, and to be a good observer and representative of McKinney. I am dedicated to fulfilling the observers’ mission: to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on the military commission hearings. We are meant to be objective, independent, impartial, and non-aligned with any stakeholder group. I will share my experiences along the way in this blog.
J.D. Candidate 2025
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
In one week, on 3 June 2022, I am scheduled to fly from Indianapolis to Washington D.C., and fly the next day from Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base) to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On Friday, I plan to stay at a Maryland hotel near Andrews, and Uber to the base and be ready to check in at 6 a.m., Saturday for the 10:00 a.m. flight.
My destination is Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB), and my mission is to monitor a U.S. military commission pre-trial hearing in the case against Nashwan al-Tamir / Hadi al-Iraqi, who is charged with war crimes allegedly perpetrated in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 and 2004. For clarification, the prosecution refers to the defendant as “Hadi al Iraqi” while defendant has stated that his name is “Nashwan al Tamir”. Hereinafter, I will refer to him as “Mr. Nashwan / Mr. Hadi”.
It was reported in the New York Times that Mr. Nashwan / Mr. Tamir was picked up in Turkey in 2006 and held by the C.I.A., before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2007. He was arraigned at Guantanamo in 2014 and charged with the following war crimes: denying quarter; attacking protected property; using treachery or perfidy; and attempted use of treachery or perfidy. Proceedings in his case have been reportedly delayed multiple times due to his declining health. He underwent five surgeries for a pre-existing spinal disease.
Our nine clinics include the Appellate Clinic, Child Advocacy Law Clinic, Civil Practice Clinic, Criminal Defense Clinic, Health and Human Rights Clinic, Immigration Clinic, Intellectual Property Clinic, Re-Entry Clinic, and the Wrongful Conviction Clinic.
The clinics provide students the opportunity to work on real cases for real people under the supervision of clinical faculty. I support the work of the students and faculty, including but not limited to corresponding with clients, handling inquiries, and providing other administrative support. To date, I have been able to attend two expungement hearings, a full day of housing court, and two “second chance” outreach days, and I watched an appeals trial. I believe my experience at Guantanamo Bay will be vastly different from the hearings I have experienced considering I have not yet witnessed a criminal hearing.
I have a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Purdue University. I had an opportunity to intern with Purdue Marketing and Media for a year. While I was an intern, I developed an interest in writing. I worked as an editorial intern and wrote hundreds of articles and press releases. I became interested in the legal field after taking a course on Constitutional Law when I was a Purdue student. I see this experience — being able to blog and attend the hearings— as an opportunity to combine my interests of law and writing.
I recently learned that I am the first staff member of IU McKinney School of Law to be nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings. The dozens of other IU Affiliates who have been nominated for Guantanamo travel have been faculty, students, and graduates. I’m honored to be the first staff member to be nominated and hope that my experience sparks an interest in other staff members.
My Mission for this Guantanamo Bay trip
My mission has been laid out for me as an NGO observer affiliate. NGO stands for “non-governmental organization”. The NGO I am affiliated with is the Military Commissions Monitoring Project (MCMP), which is part of the Program in International Human Rights Law of the IU McKinney School of Law. The Pentagon granted the Program in International Human Rights Law the status of “Observer”, and that Program in turn created the MCMP, which nominates IU McKinney faculty, staff, students and graduates to travel to Guantanamo to “observe” or “monitor” hearings. IU McKinney affiliates also travel to Ft. Meade, Maryland where Guantanamo hearings are broadcast live from the Guantanamo courtroom into a secure room at Ft. Meade via CCTV. They also travel to other installations where Guantanamo hearings occur, mostly via CCTV, but at times live, and include sites such as Ft. Devin, the Washington Naval Yard, Andrews, and the Pentagon.
As a representative of our IU McKinney NGO, my mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report my observations. I plan to be independent, objective, neutral, unbiased, and open-minded. It is my responsibility to be an impartial observer for myself, the other stakeholders of the proceedings, including future observers.
From the Beginning
I became aware of the MCMP, like many others at IU McKinney, through the emails sent out by Professor Edwards, the Law School’s Guantanamo Program Director. The emails are sent out monthly to law students, faculty, and staff to seek individuals interested in traveling to Guantanamo Bay and the other sites. Professor Edwards is also the Founding Faculty Director of the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) and has been involved with Guantanamo since 2003. The opportunity sounded like a once in a lifetime experience, but I did not think I would be selected as a new hire, having joined the law school only 6 months earlier. I pushed the idea of applying away until my supervisor forwarded the same email to me. In it, she encouraged me to apply. I took her encouragement as a sign and submitted an application.
The next day, I interviewed with Professor Edwards. The following week, I received the news that I was nominated by the MCMP to travel to Guantanamo to monitor these pre-trial hearings.
The next steps were to complete paperwork for the Pentagon, Indiana University, and the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL).
The paperwork for the Pentagon included 6 forms: a Hold Harmless Agreement, an acknowledgment of the NGO Ground Rules for Observation of Military Commissions, an Invitational Traveler Worksheet, a form requesting temporary access to NSGB, an acknowledgment of NGO Representative procedures for observation of military commissions, and a bio about myself.
I began communicating with other IU affiliates scheduled to travel in June, and we helped one another in completing the forms.
The Fair Trial Manual gives an overview of the history of Guantanamo Bay, presents the rights of the detainees and all stakeholders, and provides precedents for why the detainees should be given a fair trial. The Know Before You Go Manual provides useful information from dress codes in the courtroom to fun activities for travelers when they aren’t observing or preparing for the hearings.
Travelers are also provided a “Guantanamo Checklist” which lists what to do before, during, and after travel. The Checklist is an approximately 30-page document that comprehensively lists requirements for all participants. It also includes samples of how to complete the paperwork for the Pentagon.
Another great resource is the blog posts on the Gitmo Observer. Thanks to previous travelers’ blogs, I read that plans can change frequently regarding the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay. Travelers must remain flexible and be attentive to communication incoming from the Program Director and the Pentagon.
Booking my flight to DC
I booked my flight to D.C. two weeks ago. The day after I booked my flight, I received notice from the Pentagon that the military judge who presides over the case I am scheduled to monitor ruled that the pre-trial hearings my proposed week at Guantanamo will be “closed”, meaning that for the entire week I would be at Guantanamo, all the hearing sessions would relate to classified matters, and NGO representatives (like myself) would not be able to attend. Thus, there was a possibility that I could travel to Guantanamo for the week, and not have an opportunity to sit in on any courtroom hearings.
The Pentagon sent me an e-mail asking me if I still wanted to go to Guantanamo, given the judge’s ruling about the hearings. I learned that there is still the possibility the “closed” hearings will be “opened”, so I decided to continue to travel. Also, I learned that there are many aspects of monitoring / observing that take place outside the hearings, for example, briefings by U.S. military commission lawyers.
My next blog post
My next blog posting is expected to include any updates I receive from the Pentagon this last week before the scheduled travel, my journey from Indianapolis to DC, and my arrival at Andrews.
NGO Monitor / Observer, Military Commission Monitoring Project (MCMP)
I was just finishing my first year of law school at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, when I learned that Indiana University McKinney Professor George Edwards was looking for a Research Assistant, focusing on an area long of interest to me — international human rights law.
I applied and he hired me to work for the law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law.
While researching Professor Edwards, I read about his efforts in Guantanamo Bay of the last two decades. I found this interesting, for many reasons.
I told Professor Edwards about my interests in Guantanamo. I learned that the Program in International Human Rights Law had been selected by the Pentagon to be a “non-governmental organization” (NGO) with “Observer Status”, and could thus send IU McKinney students, faculty, staff and graduates to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings.
He sent me an online link to apply to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings. I immediately “registered” at the link for Guantanamo travel for the 2022 summer.
I waited in anticipation, hoping I would be chosen to go.
About a week ago, I woke up to an email from Professor Edwards asking to talk with me about Guantanamo, in what turned out to be an “interview”. We talked about a number of topics, including the incredibly in-depth process I would have to go through if I were nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay.
Not long after, I was informed by Professor Edwards that I had been nominated to travel to Guantanamo to monitor hearings in the case against five alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks, with the lead defendant being Khalid Shaik Mohammad.
Then, I received my first message from the Pentagon, accepting the Program in International Human Rights Law nomination of me, and providing me with a lengthy list requirements for me to meet before flying to Guantanamo.
Among the requirements were to complete six documents, related to travel, security, liability release, and behavior.
My proposed travel date to Guantanamo is in June 2022.
As mentioned, I am just now finishing my first year of law school. As of now, I hope to pursue my interest in international human rights law after graduation, along the same lines as what Professor Edwards does in his work. My interest started when my family adopted my sister in China in 2006. During my youth, I learn more about where she came from and the violations against human rights there. My first advanced degree was from Indiana State University, where I studied legal studies and a minor in political science. Law school was not my initial plan; I was a nursing major first. After my first year in nursing, I decided it wasn’t for me and began to pursue a certificate in paralegal studies, later deciding to go to law school.
Regarding Guantanamo Bay travel, my mission – indeed the mission of all observers / monitors from IU McKinney School of Law — is: to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on the military commission hearings. We are meant to be objective, independent, impartial, and non-aligned with any stakeholder group.
As mentioned, the Pentagon sends six complex documents to complete. I will explain those documents in a future blog post.
In addition, I have to complete many documents through the Indiana University Office of International Affairs.
Furthermore, I understand that I have to complete some documents for the Program in International Human Rights Law. One of the most important documents is the Guantanamo Checklist which includes tasks to be done before the trip, during, and after. Among these tasks are items such as booking your ticket to D.C. and arranging travel to the Joint Base Andrews, which is where I am leaving from to go to Cuba.
I am also required to read the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and the Know Before You Go. Both of these required readings are essential in ensuring I am a successful observer in my trip to observe the trial. Also, part of my obligations as an IU McKinney monitor is to help revise these two manuals.
My next blog posting will deal with documents and other steps I have to take, including making arrangements to travel to Joint Base Andrews for the flight to Guantanamo. Also, as a Research Assistant for the Program in International Human Rights Law, and have been working with the Program’s Military Commission Observation Project’s Advisory Council, I may be able to report on some aspects of the Guantanamo Project from an inside perspective.
I am very excited for this journey and the experience and knowledge I will hope to obtain as a Research Assistant, and as a person nominated for this very important mission.
J.D. Candidate (2024)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
This morning, I woke up at 6:00 o’clock, double-checked my packing list, and left for the Indianapolis, Indiana airport, heading to Washington, DC, where tomorrow morning I am scheduled to board a plane to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The law school where I am enrolled – Indiana University McKinney School of Law – is sending me to Guantánamo to monitor hearings in a U.S. military commission case against a man named Hadi al Iraqi // Nashwan al Tamir, who is charged with being a high-ranking member of al Qaeda Iraq and liaison with the Taliban, and is accused of being responsible for deadly attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 and 2004.
I arrived at the airport around 8:00 AM to discover that my flight had been delayed a couple of hours. To burn some time, I perused the airport kiosks and grabbed some refreshments at Sun King Restaurant and Brewery. And, I began writing this blog, which is for the Gitmo Observer, the website of my school’s Military Commission Observation Project, which sends students, faculty, staff, and graduates on these missions.
While sitting at the bar eating my avocado toast, I met a really interesting woman from Indiana who was very fascinated by my journey. We talked for around forty-five minutes, and I was surprised at how little she knew about Guantánamo Bay.
Since I learned some weeks ago that my school nominated me to go to Guantánamo, and the Pentagon cleared me for travel, I have mentioned this trip to many people. In general, it has surprised me that people often respond with, “oh, what happened at Guantánamo Bay again?” or “is Guantánamo still open?“ or, “I thought that President Obama closed that place.”
Have many people forgotten about Guantánamo Bay?
I know that the Guantánamo prison was opened about 3 months after the 9/11 attacks, and that was over 20 years ago. Much has transpired since then to occupy the minds of people, including, recently, the global pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and so much more. But, what about the 38 men being held in Guantánamo now , some of them for almost 20 years, most without charges? Some men have been charged, and in fact 2 have been found guilty of charges. But, many of the 38 men at Guantánamo have been cleared for transfer from Guantánamo, but transfer arrangements have not been made. In a future blog post, I can provide more details about the 38 prisoners still at Guantánamo. I will note for now that I mentioned to my new Indianapolis airport friend that the word alleged makes a tremendous difference when speaking about people who have been charged with a crime, and that many people at Guantánamo had not been charged.
Staying in Regular Contact With the Program Director While Traveling
After my morning snack and chat, I checked my emails one last time before boarding the plane. On this particular day of travel, it was very important to consistently check my emails from my law school’s Guantánamo Program Director, Professor George Edwards, who along with our school, has been involved with Guantanamo since 2003, and who founded the project that is sending me to Guantánamo.
Professor Edwards has insisted that I (and other law school travelers) stay in regular contact with him and the Program. Part of the reason is that I am traveling outside the continental U.S. on an Indiana University program, and IU wants to know the whereabouts of its students on such trips. Part is because he wants to help ensure that all is running as smoothly as possible on my journey. He is on the other end of the phone and fax in case there are issues. For example, last week, the Indiana University traveler was told at the last minute that her week of Guantánamo hearings was canceled, and that cut her Indiana to DC trip short, triggering a range of actions that needed to be taken. I have been trying to stay in touch with Professor Edwards, while also trying to be present in this travel experience, which is a challenge, for many reasons.
Retrieving Important Items . . .
I touched down at Washington National Airport and took a Lyft to my hotel, the TownePlace Marriott near Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base), which is where the plane is scheduled to depart from tomorrow. I took a well-needed rest.
Then, I walked to the Comfort Inn Joint Base Andrews down the road where three packages were waiting for my retrieval. Why were there three packages at the Comfort Inn waiting for me? Last week, Professor Edwards arranged for 3 packages to be delivered to the Comfort Inn to be picked up by last week’s scheduled Guantánamo monitor from Indiana, Ms. Anna Samland (whose posts are here). Her trip was canceled, so the packages remained.
The packages contained an iPhone, a SIM card, and plastic stands for NGO coins.
I understand that though Indiana University has been sending monitors to Guantánamo for years, the IU program has never had a phone dedicated to it that its monitors can use while they are on their Guantánamo missions. Professor Edwards purchased such a phone for us to us, and I am carrying it to Guantánamo for the first time. It is an iPhone X.
The SIM card is from T-Mobile, which I am told is the only U.S. service provider that operates at Guantánamo. I am supposed to insert the SIM card into the iPhone, and it should work – not only here, but at Guantánamo.
“NGO” stands for “non-governmental organization”. The IU Program in International Human Rights Law is the “NGO” that the Pentagon designated to have “observer” (or “monitor”) status, permitting us to send people to Guantánamo. Professor Edwards designed a “Guantánamo NGO Challenge Coin”, that anyone interested can acquire. This coins spells out the NGO Observer mission – to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on Guantánamo proceedings. That is my mission, and that is why, for example, I am writing these blog posts!
I am delighted that I will be the first person to use the new Gitmo Observer / IU Guantánamo iPhone!
Getting Dinner and Phone Call with NGO Organizer
I walked back to my hotel, which was just a ten-minute walk from the Comfort Inn where the packages were located.
I realized I was very hungry, so I decided to splurge and venture out into DC to have dinner at a nice restaurant. I hired a Lyft to take me to a lovely farm-to-table restaurant just off of Pennsylvania Avenue. On the drive downtown (which took about 30 minutes and cost $50), I received a phone call from an NGO organizer from the Pentagon who told me whom I was to meet at the Joint Base Andrews Visitor Center the next morning. She was very clear in her instructions. We chatted for a bit on the phone after realizing we both had ties to Pennsylvania. I appreciated the time she took to brief me on my upcoming journey and ensure I would be prepared for travel from Joint Base Andrews to Guantánamo in the morning.
I was enlivened by the night, so I decided to walk to the Lincoln Memorial after dinner. Lincoln is one of my favorite leaders in US history, and I have studied his life journey in a number of contexts. I especially enjoyed this part of the evening; time slowed from my solitude. I walked through the Constitution Gardens towards the Memorial, and the clouds mixed with the lights to create a purple and black haze of light mixed with darkness. The Memorial area is breathtakingly beautiful, especially at night.
I took a few pictures and thought about my upcoming journey. I rested in front of the water that sits between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. As I sat there, I thought about two abstract concepts: image and perfectionism. Many believe that The United States seeks to preserve this image of perfectionism and exemplary status among other sovereign nations. However, I wonder if the concept of perfectionism is perhaps nonexistent whenever social interaction and intangible human consciousness play a role, as is the case in any government or political system. Maybe this is why we create art and memorials – to remind ourselves that “perfect” is only attainable in the tangible and physical? And even within our personal observation of perfection, there is always a duality. The Monument’s reflection is rippled on the water.
I returned to my hotel by Lyft. I finished up this draft blog post and sent Professor Edwards a link so he could have a look at it before it goes live.
My next post is expected to be from Andrews in the morning.
J.D. Candidate (2022)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
As I was scrolling through my e-mail messages one cold afternoon in January 2022, I noticed an email announcing the opportunity to travel to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba to observe the 9/11 pre-trial hearings through a program at the law school where I am enrolled – Indiana University McKinney School of Law.
I submitted an application through the law school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which is part of the school’s Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL). Not long after that, I was interviewed by the program director, and soon after I received a message from the program telling me that I had been selected to travel to monitor Guantánamo Bay pre-trial hearings in the case against a prisoner named Hadi // Tamir who has been charged with multiple war crimes in connection with his alleged role as commander of Taliban and Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.
And then, I received an e-mail from the Pentagon, attaching a number of documents that I was required to fill out – I discuss those below.
The Pentagon message confirmed that I would be scheduled to fly from Joint Base Andrews (outside of Washington, D.C.) to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, at the end of March 2022.
While Cuba might have beautiful beaches and warmer weather than Indianapolis where my law school is, my mission to Guantánamo is not about the weather.
The Guantánamo Bay prison opened in January of 2002 in the aftermath of September 11th. Since then, 780 men and boys were taken to Guantánamo, foreign soil leased from Cuba over a century ago, because they were suspected of war crimes and for other various reasons. Today, thirty-eight prisoners remain. I am scheduled to attend the hearings of one of these prisoners: Mr. Hadi // Tamir.
The man claims his birth name is Nashwan al Tamir, but the US government has charged him under the name Hadi al Iraqi. Mr. Hadi // Tamir was held in secret CIA custody in 2006 after he was captured in Turkey and kept in a secret location for 5 – 6 months. In April of 2007, Mr. Hadi // Tamir was transferred to Guantánamo Bay.
I am a third-year law student at IU McKinney pursuing my Juris Doctorate degree with concentration certificates in both International Law and Corporate Law.
After I pass the bar exam, I plan to work at the Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP law firm as an associate in the Indianapolis office. As of now, it appears that I will likely join the Employment Law practice group. I hope that traveling to Guantánamo will offer me insights into human rights issues that might aid me as I practice law at Faegre.
Before law school, I studied Mathematics and Education at Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College through the school partnership (known as the “bi-co”) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
After Bryn-Mawr, I taught for two years at Allen Academy, a small school in Bryan, Texas. During my experience teaching math in both urban Philadelphia and rural Texas, I developed a profound recognition of the individual human experience. Engaging with students that came from wildly different backgrounds and home environments inspired me to understand and acknowledge others’ perspectives and challenges. I began reading and studying theories of consciousness to better connect with my students, which led me towards my interest in international issues and human rights work.
After teaching for a few years, I decided to pursue my Juris Doctorate at Indiana University, McKinney School of Law.
During the 2020 summer, I took a course on International Law with Professor George Edwards. In International Law, we discussed topics ranging from humanitarian issues to constitutional questions of due process in extraterritorial regions and alleged torture when due process is ignored.
I learned about the Military Commission Observation Program through my connection with Professor Edwards and other students that traveled in the program before me. I am extremely honored to have been chosen as an observer and objective, civilian reporter of Mr. Hadi // Tamir’s pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo Bay. I am grateful to be at Indiana University McKinney School of Law where Professor George Edwards has crafted this tremendous learning opportunity for students and alumni through his honorable endeavors in human rights education.
My mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on the al-Nashiri hearings through an objective, fact-based perspective as an MCOP NGO observer.
I hope to provide a non-biased analysis of my observations and report my fact-based impressions to the rest of you on this blog.
Filling out many forms!
I have submitted all my forms and requisite materials to travel to Guantánamo. This mission required great preparation, from extensive reading of manuals to long checklists.
I have been required to submit documents to three entities:
For the Program in International Human Rights Law, I was required to submit the following two documents: (1) the Military Commission Observation Project acknowledgment and agreement form; and (2) the Military Commission Observation Project Agreement checklist. As I complete more items on the checklist, I am required to submit updated checklists to comply with the Program’s requirements.
For Indiana University, I was required to submit the following fifteen documents: (1) Cuba Travel Advisory Waiver, (2) Agreement and Release Form, (3) Proof of Covid-19 Vaccination, (4) Confirmation of Participation in the study abroad program, (5) Copy of my passport, (6) Travel planning and itinerary (travel itinerary was the last form I completed since travel arrangements came last in the process), (7) Visa information, (8) Emergency Contacts, (9) Emergency Plan, (9) Medical Information, (10) Traveler’s Health Form, (11) Insurance through the Study Abroad Office, (12) Trip Insurance, (13) Contact information while abroad, (14) Travel registration, and (15) Pre-departure requirements completion form
To officiate and confirm my travel with the government, I also submitted to the Pentagon the following six forms:
a Hold Harmless Agreement,
an acknowledgment of the NGO Ground Rules for Observation of Military Commissions,
an Invitational Traveler Worksheet to organize my journey from Joint Base Andrews to Guantánamo,
a Naval Station Guantánamo Bay temporary access card form,
an acknowledgment of the NGO Representative procedures for observation of military commissions; and
an NGO Observer bio, for a total of six forms.
I am also required to read the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo informational document. The extensive Manual describes the various stakeholders in the Guantánamo Bay Trials and provides further details on the legal issues involved. The Manual also provides an in-depth discussion on the importance of taking an objective position as an NGO observer. The Know Before You Go document provides over 100 pages of helpful information and anecdotes about traveling to Guantánamo Bay. Both are essential to read and understand before embarking on the mission.
The lengthy logistic process for witnessing the pre-trial hearings feels necessary when compared with the tremendous opportunity presented. Preparation is the key to understanding.
Excited for my journey. . .
My next blog will be published before I board the plane at Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base) bound for Guantánamo on 26 March 2022.
J.D. Candidate (2022)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
I arrived at Guantanamo Bay 3 days ago to monitor U.S. Military Commissions, but so far, the hearings have been delayed / postponed until Wednesday, 9 March. Because of the delays, the other 5 observers and I have been doing other things during the time that the pre-trial hearings would have been taking place.
This morning I woke up early to go on a run with two of the other NGO observers. The three of us ran about 2.25 miles around the Camp Justice area, along a beach-front road that goes by one of the most beautiful beaches at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Glass Beach (described later in this post).
After the run, I showered in the shower facilities provided at Camp Justice (photos from a previous blog post) and then ate breakfast with the other 5 observers at the Galley. Because there were no pre-trial hearings today, the other 5 NGO observers and I, with the help of our escorts, planned the following itinerary for the day:
A “windshield tour” (driving tour) of Guantanamo Bay. Our escort drove us down the main roads of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and drove us through some of the different housing neighborhoods. I did not photograph the houses during this driving tour.
A visit to the local radio station (Radio GTMO, described more later in this blog post)
Snorkeling at Glass Beach (described more later in this blog post),
A Question and Answer session with members of the al Baluchi (“AAA” aka “Triple A”) defense team and with the Chief Defense Counsel (described more later in this blog post).
Radio GTMO is a radio station that broadcasts in English on the NSGB (Naval Station Guantanamo Bay). Radio GTMO was established in 1940 and is run by military personnel. The station houses one of the largest military collections of vinyl records. According to our tour guide, the vinyl collection is worth approximately $1 million and was acquired over the years that it has been in operation when special military base vinyl records were produced in order to create the library of music that the DJs were able to broadcast.
During the tour, the tour guide, a member of the military wearing civilian clothing (I did not ask which branch the guide served in) showed us 6 NGO observers the broadcast room (pictured), a small recording studio (not pictured), and the vinyl collection of Radio GTMO (pictured). At the end of the tour, we were taken to the souvenir section of the radio station, where a variety of T-Shirts, coffee mugs, and other small souvenirs are sold. I purchased a T-shirt for my son and a coffee mug for my wife, both of which contain the text “Rockin in Fidel’s Backyard.”
After our tour of Radio GTMO, our escort took us to get lunch. After lunch, our escort drove us 6 NGO observers to Glass Beach, one of the beaches at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Our escort told us that Glass Beach got its name because of the large amounts of beach glass that can be found there.
Us 6 NGO observers snorkeled at Glass Beach and saw some amazing fish, colorful rock formations, and coral. When I set off from Indianapolis last Friday, 4 March, I did not expect to spend today snorkeling. I thought I would be observing the pre-trial hearings that were originally scheduled to start today. It feels a bit strange to be in “vacation mode” today, but at least all of us NGO observers were able to schedule a meeting with members of the “AAA” defense team for later today.
When we finished snorkeling at Glass Beach, our escort took us back to Camp Justice where we showered and got ready for our on-the-record meeting with members of the “AAA” defense team at 4:00 PM.
Meeting the Defense
The “AAA” defense team had invited us 6 NGO observers to a barbeque dinner and informal meeting yesterday, Sunday, 6 March (described in a previous blog post). At the end of the dinner, we got contact information for one of the defense attorneys, and asked to schedule a more formal meeting to discuss some of the issues that are expected to be argued during the pre-trial hearings this week. Earlier today, a member of the defense team reached out to one of the other NGO observers to formally schedule a meeting today, 7 March 2022 at 4:00 PM.
The Q & A meeting with the defense team took place in the NGO Resource Center in Camp Justice. The meeting consisted of all six NGO observers asking questions, and six members of the defense (three military team members, and three civilians) answering our questions. Questions ranged from broad questions about the 9/11 case generally, to more specific questions about the motions on the docket for the upcoming pre-trial hearings. Below is a selection of the questions and answers that stood out the most to me.
Questions and answers have been paraphrased and are not direct quotes.
Q: What is the role of the Chief Defense Counsel?
A: The Chief Defense Counsel, now General Thompson, does not represent any specific client, but instead acts as a resource for each of the defense teams that represent each of the defendants at Guantanamo Bay being charged. The Chief Defense Counsel helps to manage resources and funds necessary for the effective defense of the defendants.
Q: Will the pre-trial hearings still begin on Wednesday, 9 March, 2022? (The hearings were originally scheduled to begin today, 7 March, 2022. However, on Friday, 4 March, I was informed that the hearings had been postponed until Wednesday, 9 March.)
A: The start of the pre-trial hearings is still somewhat in question. The judge has indicated that the pre-trial hearings will still begin on Wednesday. There is a possible scenario where judge McCall holds abridged hearings instead. Abridged hearings would mean that the hearings are only in session for a few hours that day, instead of having a full day of hearings, which could last around 8 hours.
Q: What is the difference between the Convening Authority and the Judge in the Military Commission trial?
A: The Convening Authority has a kind of governor and prosecutor authority combined together. The judge listens to the oral argument and has a similar authority to a judge in a US federal court. (I later went online to read more about the Convening Authority on the Office of Military Commissions website: https://www.mc.mil/aboutus/organizationoverview.aspx)
Q: What kind of treatment does the defense want Mr. al Baluchi to receive?
A: The defendant wants to receive medical treatment that is similar to the medical treatment given to individuals who have received Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). There is a treatment plan that the defense would like to be implemented by the treating doctor for the 9/11 defendants. However, this treatment plan has usually not been implemented by the doctor on-site.
Q: What is the defense argument about the “meaningful separation” between detention at the CIA black sites, and detention at Camp 7? What does the prosecution define as “meaningful separation?” (The 5 men were held in CIA black sites and subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. While at these black sites, these men made statements. In 2006, the 5 men were moved to Guantanamo. They were interrogated and made statements.)
A: The defense argues that the so-called Enhanced Interrogation (torture) of the defendants that began at the CIA black sites, in effect, continued once the defendants were transferred from the black sites to Guantanamo Bay. The defense argues that, taken as a whole, there was a continuing course of conduct in the interrogation of the defendants, such that the interrogation/torture of the defendants at the CIA black sites has tainted any confessions/admissions/statements made by the defendants after being transferred to Guantanamo Bay cannot be used in the trial, because the effect of the interrogation/torture was so extensive that the statements cannot be reliable and should be considered as coerced statements.
According to the defense, the prosecution defines “meaningful separation” as a change in time, place, and questioner. The prosecution thus argues that statements made by the defendants after they were transferred to Guantanamo Bay can be used in the trial because the statements were made in a different time, place, and with a different questioner than any statements from the CIA black sites.
Q: What is the defense and prosecution argument about when hostilities began between the United States and Al Qaeda?
A: According to the defense, the prosecution argues that hostilities began in 1996 when Osama bin Laden released a statement declaring the United States an enemy.
Q: Why does defining when the beginning of hostilities was matter for this case?
A: According to the defense, this matters because whether or not there was an armed conflict at the time of the 9/11 attacks has an effect on whether or not a military commission is the appropriate place to try the defendants, as opposed to a civilian criminal court.
As I write up my thoughts from today, I am thinking about how many issues which, on the surface, appear simple, are still being argued in pre-trial hearings to the court. For example, the court has still not determined when hostilities began between the United States and Al Qaeda. And while the date when hostilities began may seem to be insignificant at first glance, this determination may in fact have a huge impact on the whole legitimacy of even using the Military Commissions as the proper venue for trying the defendants.
I am glad that I was able to meet with the defense team for “AAA.” However, I would like to meet with defense counsel for other defendants. I would also like to meet with the prosecution. The other NGO observers and I are working with our escort contacts to try to arrange more meetings this week. Hopefully we will be able to set up meetings with other defense teams and the prosecution.
J.D. Candidate, 2022
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
I arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, yesterday, Saturday, 5 March 2022, and last night was my first night sleeping in my home for the next week, the newly constructed tents in Guantanamo’s “Camp Justice”.
I am here to monitor pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commissions case against 5 men charged with planning the 9/11 attacks. And I will share more about that aspect of my mission later in this blog.
But first, I will share about my accommodations here at Guantanamo, and how I spent my Sunday –
There are four beds in my tent, that I shared with 1 other male NGO (non-governmental organization) observer.
We were told that these new tents replaced tents that NGOs and others had used for years, and that the old ones were not sturdy, not as comfortable, and were kept incredibly cold to keep out the local wildlife, mainly iguanas and banana rats. However, it seems as though the newly constructed tents are able to keep the animals out without having to keep the temperature uncomfortably cold. I am thankful for that.
My bed was comfortable, the temperature inside our tent was very comfortable (the thermostat is set at 70 degrees F.), and I slept well and woke up feeling refreshed after my long day of travel yesterday. (You can read about my travel from Joint Base Andrews, in Washington, D.C., to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba here).
(In a future post, I will include a more detailed description of the tents and more photos of them.)
The pre-trial hearings
Originally, thepre-trial hearings for 5 men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were scheduled to begin on Monday, 7 March 2022, at 9:00 a.m. However, we were told on Friday, before departing for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from Joint Base Andresw, that the hearing are currently scheduled to begin on Wednesday, 9 March 2022 at 9:00 AM. We were told that the delay was caused by additional ex parte hearings between the judge and legal counsel. We were not told of the substance of these ex parte meetings.
A little later in this blog I will share more about the substance of motions that the prosecution and defense are scheduled to argued before presiding Judge McCall.
Because the hearings are not scheduled to start until Wednesday, the 5 other NGO representatives and I do not feel as pressured to spend our Sunday preparing for court, so we set out at a more leisurely pace.
Sunday Morning in Guantanamo
This morning I woke up around 7:00 AM, having slept comfortably for about 7 hours. The tent I slept in was quite nice for a tent, and I slept well.
As I woke up and started getting ready for breakfast at the base Galley, I could not help but think of my proximity to the Courtroom 2 facility that is set up to hold the pre-trial hearings and trials for the 5 men accused of platting the 9/11 attacks. The fence surrounding the courtroom is very close to my tent – the Camp Justice flags are just next to the fence, and the tents are near the Camp Justice flags.
It was a strange feeling to be so close to this Courtroom and to wake up feeling so refreshed and excited. I almost feel as though my excitement is misplaced or inappropriate given the context in which I am here — to monitor one of the most significant legal proceedings in the history of the United States criminal justice system
The 5 other NGOs representatives and I had breakfast at the Galley. A photo of all of us at Andrews before our Guantanamo flight can be found here [link].
For breakfast I had a fresh, made-to-order omelet and a bowl of fruit. I also enjoyed a hot cup of coffee. Breakfast at the Galley is cheap, only $3.85.
After breakfast, our escort drove us to Girl Scout Beach, one of the beaches close to Camp Justice that is picturesque in a way that almost made me forget that I was not just on a Caribbean vacation. We all walked around the narrow, stony beach for a while, and then our escort drove us further down a deserted road to the Guantanamo Lighthouse Museum, not far from Girl Scout Beach.
Guantanamo Bay Lighthouse Museum
The Guantanamo Bay Lighthouse Museum is incredibly interesting. A Navy officer who served as a museum tour guide gave us a tour of the museum. The museum details the long history of the United States’ presence in Guantanamo Bay. Museum exhibits describe how at the end of the 19th century the United States helped Cuba rid the area of the Spanish, the 1903 lease between the United States and Cuba allowing the United States to establish a military presence, and the renewed lease in 1936 which reaffirmed the lease terms which forms the legal basis for allowing the United States to continue to operate Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.
After we toured the Lighthouse Museum, our escort drove us back to the Galley for lunch.
The other NGOs and I then went to the local dive shop to rent some gear to go snorkeling during later in the afternoon. We returned to Girl Scout Beach and snorkeled for a few hours, This was the first time I had ever snorkeled, and the variety of fish and coral I saw was incredible in Guantanamo Bay, just a few feet off the shore of the beach, in water that was only about 5-7 feet deep.
After we snorkeled, we returned to Camp Justice to get ready for our dinner and meeting with members of the defense team of one of the 5 accused 9/11 defendants. At that dinner, the other NGO representatives and I hoped to learn more about the issues and motions that are on the docket for this week’s pre-trial hearings.
Meeting the Defense Team for Mr. al Baluchi (“AAA”)
Around 6:00 PM, our escort drove us to an outdoor, covered campsite, overlooking one of the Guantanamo beaches — the location of the BBQ dinner meeting with the defense team. Apparently, during each week of hearings in the 9/11 case, the defense team for one of the defendants – Mr. Amir al Baluchi (also known as “AAA” or “Triple A”) – holds a BBQ for NGO and media representatives either the night that the plane arrives from Andrews, or the next night.
Tonight, the defense team had prepared a full meal for us, which included hamburgers, veggie burgers, several delicious salads and sides, and drinks.
We began with introductions – with the 6 of us NGO representatives meeting defense team lawyers, paralegals and others. They gave us a packet of documents briefly to explain the motions that are on the docket order for the next few weeks. The documents also contained a vocabulary list of words used in Military Commissions that we are likely to hear in the upcoming pre-trial hearings [I discovered that the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts contains a much more extensive vocabulary list – I had distributed copies of this Manual to all the NGOs while we were at Andrews yesterday.]
According to the packet and explanations from the defense, there are four types of motions that are on the docket to be discussed in the pre-trial hearings this week. These four main categories are:
1) “The CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program” (which I understand to be about the black sites);
2) “The circumstances and conditions of confinement after the high value detainee (HVD) transfer to Guantanamo in 2006”;
3) “Discovery regarding the existence of hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda”; and
4) “Form of discovery.”
Additionally, the packet listed two full pages of motions, with citations to the specific motion numbers, that are on the docket order and are planned to be discussed.
I have just arrived back from the meeting with the defense as I sit in my tent in Camp Justice and write my thoughts in my journal, which I will later type up and post as a blog post here (gitmoobserver.com). It was so interesting to hear directly from the defense attorneys who have been working on the 9/11 defense team for so many years. I am very excited to hear the arguments that will be made in the upcoming pre-trial hearings, especially the arguments regarding when the existence of hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda began.
J.D. Candidate (2022)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Travelling from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay (5 March 2022)
I woke up at 5:00 AM, today, Saturday, to make try to reach Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base) at 5:50 AM.
I am scheduled to fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, today, to monitor hearings in the U.S. Military Commission Hearings in the case against 5 men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. You can read more about my mission here and below.
For now, the sun has not risen, and I am set to meet a military escort at the Andrews Visitor Center, just outside the gate of the base. The escort had phoned me last night, telling me she would assist me and five other monitors (called “NGO observers” or “non-governmental organization observers”) to maneuver through procedures so we can all board the military flight to Guantanamo Bay. She had mentioned security passes, covid tests, and other procedures, which I will describe below.
Joint Base Andrews is approximately 35 minutes from my cousin’s house in Washington D.C., where I stayed last night, so we left at about 5:15 AM. I was tired, but I was excited.
Driving to Joint Base Andrews
During the drive, my cousin, who is a public defender in Baltimore, Maryland, told me a story to think about as I prepare for my mission to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on the hearings in Guantanamo Bay. My cousin recalled a story that was allegedly told by Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.
A man was visiting Italy on vacation and came upon three stone masons, their faces and clothes covered in dirt and dust.
The man walked up to the first stone mason and asked,
“What are you doing?”
The stone mason replied,
“I’m working for a living.”
The man then approached the second stone mason and asked him,
“What are you doing?”
The second stone mason took a second to think, and then replied,
“I’m cutting stones according to the blueprints that I receive, and making sure each cut is made exactly according to the instructions I am given.”
Finally, the man walked up to the third stone mason and asked,
“What are you doing?”
The third stone mason looked at the man, thinking for a moment, and replied,
“I am building a Cathedral.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the Joint Base Andrews Visitor Center, I was thinking about which stone mason I would be while observing at Guantanamo Bay, and which stone masons the other NGO observers I was about to meet would be too. (I will share more on that question that in future blog posts!)
At 5:53 AM, I hopped out of the car, took my bags from my cousin’s car, and said my thank yous and goodbyes to my cousin.
The 5 other NGO observers were already waiting outside the front door of the visitor center of Joint Base Andrews, along with our escort. I introduced myself to the other NGO observers and our escort. I told everybody that I was from Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and that our program had brought two books for each of the other observers to assist them in preparing for their own missions to observe the pre-trial hearings for the five alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I handed each NGO Representative:
Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts (only 152 pages, the full version is around 600 pages ); and
Know Before You Go to Guantanamo (130 pages,“This “Know Before You Go to Gitmo Guide” is primarily intended to provide helpful information for non-governmental organization (NGO) observers / monitors and others traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for U.S. Military Commission proceedings, but we hope it will be useful for anyone traveling to Guantanamo for purposes other than the commissions.” (p. 7, Know Before You Go))
(authored by Professor Edwards with contributions by dozens of Indiana students, faculty, staff and students who have traveled to Guantanamo through our Law School’s Military Commission Observation Project)
Pre-Flight Procedure at Joint Base Andrews
At 6:00 AM sharp, the doors to the Andrews Visitor Center were unlocked, and all six NGO observers entered.
We were required to fill out a short form in order to each receive a Visitor Request Pass”, which were each required the security guard as we were driventhrough the Joint Base Andrews main security gate.
There were only two individuals working to process our Visitor Request Passes. Each NGO observer was called up, one at a time, to have their photograph taken. We were required to show our original photo ID, confirm our social security number, and provide a copy of our Pentagon-issued travel orders.
I think that some of us thought we might receive a new document called a “Visitor Request Pass” or something like that. But, we were not.
Instead, when we left the Visitor Center and reached the main security gate to enter Joint Base Andrews, the security officer scanned the barcode on our photo ID, which then apparently brought up the Visitor Request Pass electronically, which allowed us to enter the base. So, we did not receive a new document.
(I was told later that this Visitor Request Pass process was new, and that we were the first group of NGOs to experience it. Previously, all the NGOs were permitted to be escorted on the Andrews base by someone, like our escort, who possessed an appropriate badge. Now, even if an escort has such a would-be appropriate badge, NGOs still have to go through the new Visitor Request Pass process.)
After we passed through security and entered the Andrews base,our escort drove all of the NGO observers to a large, almost empty parking lot, in front of a building that looked like a deserted Walmart. We all had to take a rapid Covid-19 test.
We walked around the back into the loading dock of the warehouse-like building, stood in a short line, and after our names were checked off a list were handed a Covid-19 rapid antigen testing kit. We were instructed to swab each nostril for 15 seconds, and then sit and wait 15 minutes for the test result.
My test was negative, as were the tests of all the other NGO observers.
The Air Terminal
The escort then drove us to the Andrews airport terminal. This is the same terminal that is used by Air Force I, Air Force II, and many other official U.S. aircraft. In fact, Vice President Harris is scheduled to land at Joint Base Andrews this upcoming Monday, 7 March.
We entered the main door of the air terminaland were greeted by a uniformed individual. The entrance was small, the size of a long, narrow hallway.
Before proceeding to security, we were required to fill out a Covid-19 health screening document that the Pentagon had emailed me yesterday and that I had printed off at the print shop yesterday and have our temperature taken. We also were required to show a negative Covid-19 test (it had to be a PCR test, and it was in addition to the rapid antigen test I took this morning at Andrews) that had been taken in the past 72 hours. After passing the health screening, we were directed to walk left down the hallway and proceed to security.
The baggage x-ray scanner was not working, so my carry-on bag was individually inspected. My checked luggage was not scanned or inspected at this point either. I was given a green tag to put on my checked luggage so that after the plane arrived in Guantanamo Bay, my bag could be identified as an NGO observer bag. Apparently green is the color for NGOs, with yellow and other colored tags for other groups, like the prosecution, defense, judges, and court administration.
I then stood in what seemed like a regular airline line to check my bag and get my boarding pass. At the check in desk, I had to show my passport, my APACS, and my Pentagon-issued travel orders.
The military personnel handed me a boarding pass that was reusable – it was a laminated document with the flight details handwritten using a dry-erase marker. It was not paper, and we could not keep them as souvenirs after we boarded the flight – we had to surrender them when we were leaving the terminal and moving to the tarmac.
Private waiting room
After all the NGO observers checked their bags and received boarding passes, we went to a private room in the terminal and waited for the 10:00 AM scheduled flight to start boarding.
While waiting, we were given a brief orientation of some of the ground rules that NGO observers are expected to follow, and of what to expect while in Guantanamo Bay. This time waiting for the flight was also the first real opportunity I had to start getting to know who the other NGO observers were.
The flight to Guantanamo left closer to 10:30 AM, and arrived approximately 3 hours later. I was exhausted from waking up so early and slept through most of the flight. I woke up as the plane began its descent, and saw the ocean below me, and the rolling hills along the coastline as the plane approached the runway for landing.
Even though I slept most of the flight, I made some interesting observations while on the plane. Different “groups” were boarded into different sections of the plane. The NGOs and the media (there were two journalists on the flight, Carol Rosenberg of the New York Times and John Ryan of Law Dragon) were seated in the back of the plane. In front of the NGOs and the media were the defense team. In front of the defense team were the prosecution. Finally, at the front of the plane were the victims’ of the 9/11 attacks family members.
Arrival in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
When I landed in Guantanamo Bay they deplaned in the usual manner, from front to back. After getting off the plane and walking towards the outdoor security gate adjacent to the runway, I was required to show my passport and Covid-19 vaccine card. I was not asked to show the other documents that I received from the Pentagon yesterday.
A yellow school bus came to pick us up and drove us about 3 minutes to a ferry, which took everybody from the airport part of the base across the actual Guantanamo Bay to the part of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay where I am staying.
The first thing the other NGO observers and I did after departing the ferry was to get in a van, get driven to the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC), and have my photograph taken and have my ID badge produced.
Another escort then gave us a tour of the viewing gallery in Courtroom 2 where the pre-trial hearings I am scheduled to attend will be held.
No photography is allowed in Court 2, or the surrounding fenced-in area. The viewing gallery is in the rear of the courtroom, separated from the courtroom well (where judge, defense, prosecution, jury and other participants sit). The viewing gallery is separated from the courtroom well by what we were told is sound-proof glass.
In the viewing gallery there are TV monitor through which we can see what is happening in the courtroom right in front of us. There is a 40 second audio delay on the monitors, which our escort said allows the court to turn off the audio if classified information is spoken, to try to make sure that no classified information reaches people who do not have authorization to access the classified information. I have not yet experienced this, but I imagine it might be interesting to watch something happening in real time, be unable to hear it, and then 40 seconds later to watch the same thing on a TV monitor with sound. I will report more on this phenomenon later, after I have had a chance to sit in on a live hearing.
The escort explained that the six tables on the left of the courtroom are used by the defense, the guards sit on the far-left wall near the defense, and the prosecution uses the tables on the right of the courtroom. There are shackle bolts under each seat where the defendants sit, but the escort told us that the defendants are not shackled while in the courtroom.
After our tour of the courtroom, our NGO escort took all of the NGO observers to Camp Justice, where I will be staying this week, and showed us our tents, the new shower, restroom, and laundry facilities, and the NGO Resource Center. The “old” facilities are pictured in Know Before You Go. They are dramatically different, apparently. The new version of Know Before You Go will include photos of the new facilities.
In the evening, the five other NGO observers and I had dinner at the Guantanamo “Gold Hill Galley” (also known as “Iggy Cafe” — as pictured in this blog). This Galley is a cafeteria-style café on the base that serves inexpensive meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Galley — which I guess is kind of a “mess hall” of sorts — tends to have a lot of military personnel dining in it, in uniform. Posted on the wall as you enter the Galley is a set of regulations as to what you can wear or not wear in the galley, what you can and cannot carry into the galley, etc. There is a section in the galley set aside for military officers.
After dinner, I went back to Camp Justice to get ready for bed.
Final Thoughts On My First Day At Guantanamo
I am sitting in my bed in my tent in Camp Justice writing up what happened today, processing my thoughts and feelings, and getting ready for the upcoming week. It feels surreal being here right now, having the opportunity to see Guantanamo Bay, having the opportunity to meet with different stakeholders over the next week of the Guantanamo Bay trials. I am looking forward to watching the pre-trial hearings in the courtroom that I toured today. I wonder how the atmosphere of the courtroom will change when it is full of attorneys for the defense and prosecution, when the defendants will be sitting in front of the judge, when the other observers in the viewing gallery, including the VFMs – Victims and Family Members of Victims – some people in the courtroom could be people who were injured during the 9/11 attacks. Some people could be family members of victims who were injured or killed., watch as the attorneys argue their motions in front of the judge.
My last thought before calling it a night is of my first meeting with an important stakeholder tomorrow. The other NGO representatives and I are scheduled to go to a casual meeting with 1 of the 5 defense teamstomorrow night (Sunday, 6 March) At this meeting, I have been told that the defense team will give a short presentation on the motions that are on the docket to be argued, and help answer any initial questions we have about the motions on the docket, and really answer any general questions we might have about what to expect at the pre-trial hearings scheduled to begin this Wednesday, 9 March. The defense team members present will also provide a BBQ style meal for us at the meeting.
J.D. Candidate (2022)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Today is Friday, 4 March 2022, and I am traveling from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Washington, D.C. so that I can fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba tomorrow as an observer of the pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commissions that are scheduled to occur the week of 5-12 March 2022. The hearings are in the criminal case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and I am attending as a monitor from the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.
To the Indianapolis Airport
My brother drove me to the Indianapolis airport, where I arrived at approximately 9:45 AM. I immediately went to check in for my flight and check my bag. After checking my bag, at approximately 10:05 AM, I went to the terminal B security line where I went through the usual security protocols. I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast, so I stopped at Tinker Coffee Company and ordered an egg and sausage sandwich, and a hot cup of coffee. I boarded my flight, and departed on time, at 11:21 AM. One hour and thirty-eight minutes later, I touched down in Washington D.C.
Reading Carol Rosenberg’s Guantanamo Book
As I was in the air, I continued reading Carol Rosenberg’s book, Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon’s Alcatraz of the Caribbean. Carol Rosenberg has been reporting on the Guantanamo Bay cases since the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo Bay in January 2002. Reading her book has been a great primer on trying to orient myself around the long history of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, contains a great array of photographs of Guantanamo Bay, and discusses major issues such as information about the Camp Justice Court, hunger strikes by the prisoners, and even estimates of the costs of maintaining the facilities and keeping the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
My cousin, who lives in Washington D.C. and works as a public defender in Baltimore, Maryland, picked me up from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and drove me to his house, where I stayed tonight. I hadn’t seen my cousin in about six years, and we were able to catch up with each other while in the car.
When I arrived at my cousin’s house, at approximately 2:00pm, I got connected to wifi, and saw that I had received another email from the Pentagon. This email contained updated travel orders, Aircraft & Personnel Clearance (APACS), a reminder of important documents to bring to Joint Base Andrews (passport, vaccination card, blank health form required for Covid-19 protocols, APACS), and a reminder of the flight schedule from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay. While I was expecting to receive this set of documents from the Pentagon before my flight, I had been worried that the email which contained the documents would be sent too late and that I wouldn’t have easy access to a printer. Thankfully, this was not the case.
I needed to print the updated travel orders that were contained in this email, so my cousin and I looked online to find a print shop that would be able to print documents in color (the APACS document I received from the Pentagon was required to be in color). Once we found a print shop that was reasonably close, we scheduled a time to go and have my documents printed.
My cousin had to finish working before walking to the print shop, so I took this time to take out my copy of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts that I was given by the MCOP before departing Indianapolis, and reviewed some of the international law, domestic law, and information about what the right to a fair trail entails in the context of Guantanamo Bay.
The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual
The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual assists NGO observers prepare for Military Commission hearings. It provides background information on the stakeholders (the stakeholders include “defendants and defense counsel, the prosecution, victims and victims’ families, judges and judicial staff, fact and expert witnesses, the press, governments with detained citizens, governments whose citizens were injured by the alleged crimes, Guantanamo Bay detention facility staff (Joint Task Force – Guantanamo), and the general international and U.S. publics. Stakeholders also include Guantanamo Bay prisoners who have not been charged with any offenses, and are thus not considered “defendants”. involved in the hearings”), what a right to a fair trial means, a brief history of the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commissions, among other useful information. I would recommend anybody interested in what is happening at Guantanamo Bay, even those who will be unable to travel to Guantanamo. (You might also find Know Before You Go To Guantanamo interesting and helpful.)
The print shop
The print shop was approximately 1.5 miles from my cousin’s house in Washington, D.C, and there is a convenient walking path that we were able to take to get there. We left at approximately 4:30 PM. The walking path goes along one of the train lines, and there are painted murals, dog parks, and brand-new apartment buildings along the path.
Phone call from Guantanamo Bay escort
About half-way to the printing shop, at 5:09 PM, I received a phone call from an unknown phone number. I answered the phone and it was a woman, the escort designated to assist the NGO observers once we arrive outside Joint Base Andrews tomorrow morning. The escort told me that it had been confirmed that there will be a total of six NGO observers flying out of Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay tomorrow morning. She also told me that all the NGO observers were going to Guantanamo Bay for the first time. Finally, she told me that the pre-trial hearings that had originally been scheduled to begin on Monday, 7 March had been pushed back, and were currently scheduled to begin on Wednesday, 9 March.
I don’t ordinarily answer the phone when I receive a call from an unknown number, but because my flight to Guantanamo Bay was tomorrow, I suspected that the phone call may have been related to that travel.
Continuing to the print shop
I continued walking to the print shop, got my documents printed, and walked back with my cousin to his house around 6:00pm. My cousin and his wife cooked dinner, we talked about his work as a public defender,
I shared with him some information about my mission at Guantanamo, and we discussed just how long the pre-trial proceedings were taking, and how it feels almost unreal that the five alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks were first charged in 2008, and the trial is still in the pre-trial phase. Then, I went to bed, ready to wake up at 5:00 AM, so as to arrive at Joint Base Andrews at 5:50 AM to start the process of getting boarded on the flight to Guantanamo Bay.
As I sit in the second floor bedroom of my cousin’s house writing up everything I did today, I can’t help but think about the what is going on in Guantanamo Bay, why the pre-trial hearings have been rescheduled from Monday, to Wednesday, and things I will be able to blog about on Monday and Tuesday, the days that will now not include observing any pre-trial hearings. I will be taking extensive notes in my journal throughout my time in Guantanamo Bay, and will be turning those journal notes into additional blog posts to be posted here as well.
J.D. Candidate, 2022
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
My name is Collier O’Connor, and I am a student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. I have been nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings during the week of 5-12 March, 2022 through the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP). I was originally scheduled to attend and monitor hearings during the week of 8-15 January, 2022, but the hearings were cancelled and rescheduled several days before my planned departure.
The mission of the MCOP includes: “ i. To further teaching, research, and service related to U.S. Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other tribunals with similar jurisdiction, and ii. To facilitate [Indiana University] IU Affiliates to attend, observe, analyze, critique, and publish on U.S. Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other designated U.S. Military Commission viewing sites.” [https://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/human-rights/_docs/military-commission-project.pdf]
I was originally scheduled to attend and monitor pre-trial hearings during the week of 8-15 January, 2022, but the hearings were cancelled and rescheduled several days before my planned departure. The January pre-trial hearings were cancelled after a defense motion to cancel the January 2022 hearings, filed on 03 January, 2022, was granted (link to motion) in part by Matthew N. McCall Colonel, USAF, the presiding military judge. According to the motion, the cancellation was due to the increased risks of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
As I begin preparing for the upcoming pre-trial hearings, I am aware that the unpredictability of Covid-19 could cause further delays and/or cancellations. I discuss my thoughts and feelings of the cancellation in a previous blog post (link here).
It feels surreal that I have been afforded this unique opportunity to be acting as a gateway into the goings on at Guantanamo Bay. I feel a mixture of emotions (nervousness, excitement, wonder, disbelief, to name a few), as I get ready to go to Guantanamo Bay. I will be reporting more about my feelings, thoughts, and what I see on the ground in future blog posts. I will do my best to both lay down my experience in as objective a way as possible, and also try to analyze what I see using the guidance of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, my experience as a law student, and my experience as a human trying to make sense of the world.
Pre-Trial Hearings of Five 9/11 Alleged Conspirators
During the week of 5-12 March, I will be observing pre-trial hearings for the five 9/11 alleged conspirators being detained at Guantanamo Bay. The five men being charged for their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks are Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarek Bin ‘Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Ramzi Bin al Shibh, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi. According to the Office of Military Commissions website, “They are charged with committing the following offenses: conspiracy; attacking civilians; intentionally causing serious bodily injury; murder in violation of the law of war; hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft; and terrorism.”
The most recent pre-trial hearings, which took place in September 2021, involved questions of whether or not the presiding military judge, Matthew N. McCall, Colonel, USAF, should preside over the case. It was reported that the final day of the September 2021 pre-trial hearings was cut short “because of illness related to the coronavirus pandemic.”
I am in my third year at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and am scheduled to graduate in May 2022. I am from Indianapolis, IN, and lived my entire life in the state of Indiana until I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in January 2014. Upon graduation, I moved to Moscow, Russia, to teach English. I lived in Moscow from 2014-2017, met my soon-to-be wife in 2015, got married in 2016, and witnessed the birth of my daughter in 2016 too. Shortly after my daughter was born, in the summer of 2017, my wife and I decided to move to a small city in China where I worked as an English teacher for a Canadian international school.
In 2019, I decided to return to Indianapolis to attend law school. Having lived abroad for five years, I was naturally attracted to international law, and took several law classes touching on various aspects of international law. In the summer of 2021, I enrolled in Professor Anthony Green’s National Security Law class, and then in the fall of 2021, I enrolled in his other course, Counterterrorism Law. These courses touched on many of the complex issues involved in the Guantanamo Bay hearings, and sparked my interest in applying to be an observer with Professor George Edwards’ NGO.
I am preparing for my mission to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on the hearings in Guantanamo Bay by speaking with prior observers, reading the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Guide, and reading up on the detainees and the history of Cuba through a book that was given to me by my sister in anticipation of my travels.
My personal experience having lived abroad, along with my studies of Law of War and other international topics at IU McKinney will assist me in promoting the core mission of the Military Commission Observation Program (MCOP). I will attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on U.S. military commissions with the hope of furthering the transparency of the hearings taking place in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
I also cannot help but to reflect upon the cancelled hearings that I was scheduled to attend in January 2022. It is my hope that the surge of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 that led to the cancellation of the January hearings does not repeat itself, and the pre-trial hearings can continue, so that the trial can finally commence.
J.D. Candidate, 2022
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
I am a student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. I have been nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor pre-trial hearings during the week of 8-15 January, 2022 through the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP). I have been preparing to travel to Guantanamo Bay in order to observe the pre-trial hearings of the five 9/11 alleged co-conspirators. I have been reading about the five alleged co-conspirators and the history of Guantanamo on the Guantanamo Docket, published by the New York Times, reviewing motions and official documents of the hearings on the Office of Military Commissions Website, and obtaining the proper clearance and travel documents from the Pentagon that will allow be to travel as an NGO (non-governmental organization) observer.
On 04 January, 2022, as I was driving home from Tucson, Arizona, where I had spent the Christmas holiday with my family, I was notified that the pre-trial hearings for the five 9/11 alleged conspirators that had been scheduled for 08-22 January, 2022, had been cancelled, that all NGO travel to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay had been cancelled, and that updates on future hearings will be provided as updates become available.
The January pre-trial hearings were cancelled after a defense motion to cancel the January 2022 hearings, filed on 03 January, 2022, was granted (link to motion) in part by Matthew N. McCall Colonel, USAF, the presiding military judge. According to the motion, the cancellation was due to the increased risks of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The five men being charged for their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks are Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarek Bin ‘Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Ramzi Bin al Shibh, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi. All five men have been detained since 2006. Despite being detained at Guantanamo Bay for the last 16 years, the trial has not started yet. The last pre-trial hearings in this case were in September 2021. Before that, the last hearings had been in February 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic reportedly being largely responsible for the 19-month gap between hearing dates.
The week I was scheduled to attend pre-trial hearings is of particular significance, as 11 January 2022 marks the 20-year anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantanamo.
The five men whose pre-trial hearings I was scheduled to attend have each been held at Guantanamo since 2006. Even though these five men have been held for 16 years, their trial has still not yet began.
At this time, the pre-trial hearings for the five 9/11 defendants have not been rescheduled yet.
I was disappointed when I received the email stating that the hearings that I had been preparing to observe had been cancelled. I had spent a considerable amount of time reading about Guantanamo Bay and learning about the elements of a fair trial, and how those elements apply to the Guantanamo cases, and the sources of law for a fair trial (see the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual for more information). I hope that the pre-trial hearings can be rescheduled soon.
J.D. Candidate, 2022
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)