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Scheduled to Fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Next Week

Pentagon approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin, depicting Mr. Nashwan / Mr. Hadi at his Guantanamo arraignment on 18 June 2014.

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. 

About Me

I work as a clinic assistant at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and I support nine live client clinics and four full-time faculty members. I joined the Law School in late 2021.

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.

Preparing for Travel

Front cover of the Manual.
Front cover of the Guide.

To prepare, I have been given a multitude of resources, including the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and the Know Before You Got to Guantanamo Bay: A Guide for Human Rights NGOs & Others Going to Gitmo to Attend U.S. Military Commissions or For Other Purposes.  

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.

Both the Manual and the Guide can be found on the Gitmo Observer website.

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

This is a photo of me…
I plan to post more photos of my journey to Guantanamo —  including at the airports in Indianapolis and DC, on the planes, the hotel, and of course at Andrews and Guantanamo.

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.

Madison Sanneman

Clinic Assistant

NGO Monitor / Observer, Military Commission Monitoring Project (MCMP)

Program in International Human Rights

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

My Mission to Monitor Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Introduction:

Erin Bradshaw pointing at the state of Indiana on a globe for her Indiana State University Graduation 2021

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.

About Me:

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.

My Mission:

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.

Preparation:

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.

Erin Bradshaw

J.D. Candidate (2024)

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Traveling to Washington DC and Onwards to Guantanamo Bay: Reflections

Indy Airport Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Colonel H. Weir Cook Terminal -  HOK
The Indianapolis International Airport

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.

Arriving in DC

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.

My room at the TownPlace Suites in Clinton, MD

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!

Picking up the packages (and grabbing a little caffeine boost!) from the Comfort Inn

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.

Nighttime Strolling

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.

The Washington Monument as seen from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

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.

Konstantina Kloufetos

J.D. Candidate (2022)

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)

Indiana University McKinney School of Law


The beginning of my journey to witness the U.S. Military Commission pre-trial hearings of Mr. Abdul Hadi al Iraqi // Nashwan al Tamir at Guantanamo Bay 

Introduction 

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. 

Background Facts

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. 

About Me

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. 

Bryn Mawr College

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. 

Attending the 2017 National Association of Independent Schools Student Diversity Leadership Conference (NAIS SDLC) in Anaheim, CA when I was a math teacher at Allen Academy

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

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: 

  1. PIHRL
  2. Indiana University
  3. the Pentagon.

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:

  1. a Hold Harmless Agreement,
  2. an acknowledgment of the NGO Ground Rules for Observation of Military Commissions,
  3. an Invitational Traveler Worksheet to organize my journey from Joint Base Andrews to Guantánamo,
  4. a Naval Station Guantánamo Bay temporary access card form,
  5. an acknowledgment of the NGO Representative procedures for observation of military commissions; and
  6. 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.  

Konstantina Kloufetos

J.D. Candidate (2022)

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Day 3 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Radio GTMO; Beach; Q & A With Defense of 9/11 Defendant “AAA” (Monday, 7 March 2022)

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

The outside of the Radio GTMO building.

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.

The vinyl record collection at Radio GTMO, estimated to be worth over $1 million.

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.”

The DJ at Radio GTMO is live on the air in the studio as the other NGOs and I receive a tour of the rest of the station.

Glass Beach

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.

Glass Beach is sandier than other beaches in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and green, brown, and clear beach glass can be found all over the beach.

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.

Inside the NGO Resource Center where our meeting with the “AAA” Defense Team took place earlier today. This tent has also been set up as a place for NGO observers to work. However, the other NGO observers and I mostly worked elsewhere because the wifi connection was not strong enough to reach the NGO Resource Center.

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.

The defense said that they disagree the prosecution, and that hostilities did not begin until 7 October 2001, when President George W. Bush announced the beginning of strikes against Al Qaeda camps (https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011007-8.html).

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.

End-of-Day Thoughts

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.

Collier O’Connor 

J.D. Candidate, 2022

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Day 2 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Relaxation; Fun; and Work Meeting with the Defense Team of “AAA” – Who is Charged with Helping Plot the 9/11 Attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center (Sunday, 6 March 2022)

Our tent had four beds, each in a “room” cordoned off, creating semi-privacy. This is a photo of one of the empty rooms in the tent where I am staying at Camp Justice.

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.)

This is another empty room in the tent where I am staying at Guantanamo’s Camp Justice.

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.

The air conditioning tubes, trash can, and fire extinguisher at the front of the tent where I am staying at Camp Justice.

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.

This sign at Girl Scout Beach showed the beach map and beach rules.
The stairs going down to Girl Scout Beach. The water in the photo is Guantanamo Bay.

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.

Me in front of the lighthouse at the Lighthouse Museum

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Collier O’Connor 

J.D. Candidate (2022)

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Travelling from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay (5 March 2022)

Travelling from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay (5 March 2022)

We 6 NGO observers are in front of the Joint Base Andrews Visitor Center, pre-dawn, holding the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay Guide

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.)

Covid testing

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.

My meal on the plane from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay

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

The tents in Camp Justice where the other NGO observers and I will be staying. We are being housed two to a tent.

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.

The new shower facilities in Camp Justice.

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.

Inside the laundry facilities at Camp Justice.

Camp Justice

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.

Dinner time

The Gold Hill Galley is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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

Inside the shower facilities at Camp Justice.

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.

Inside the restroom facilities at Camp Justice.

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.

Collier O’Connor 

J.D. Candidate (2022)

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law


Traveling from Indiana to Washington D.C. en route to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (4 March 2022)

Getting ready to check my bag at Indianapolis International Airport, for my flight from Indianapolis to Washington D.C. on 4 March 2022.

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

Walking towards security at Indianapolis International Airport on 4 March 2022.

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.

Train tracks and new apartment buildings in Washington D.C. along the walking path I took to print the final travel documents I was sent from the Pentagon before travelling to Guantanamo Bay.

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

Mural on the side of a building along the walking path I took to print the final travel documents I was sent from the Pentagon before travelling to Guantanamo Bay.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Collier O’Connor 

J.D. Candidate, 2022

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law


Reflections as I Prepare to Attend to the 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearings at Guantanamo Bay

Introduction  

I feel a cocktail of emotions as I prepare for my journey to Guantanamo Bay. On the one hand, I am ecstatic to visit a place that, at least in my mind, has long been shrouded in mystery. Yet, on the other hand, I am faced with the gravity of our mission to monitor legal proceedings of great contention and consequence.   

Jeff Johnson is an MCOP affiliate and a third-year law student

My trip is scheduled to begin on November 6 with a 10:00 AM departure from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. After a three-hour flight, I plan to arrive at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. My mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials about the pre-trial hearings of five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks. Most prominent among these men is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks.  

My Background  

I am currently a third-year student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and will graduate in December 2021. I was born in Munich, Germany, and spent the first few years of my life as an “army brat.” After living in Germany, Colorado, and Kentucky, my family settled in Indiana, where I spent most of my formative years. At the age of seventeen, I enlisted as an infantryman in the Army. I served in the National Guard for six years and received an honorable discharge in 2014. After finishing my undergraduate studies in 2015, I moved to Shenzhen, China. I lived there for four years, working first as an English teacher for adult learners and then as a project manager for a trading company. During my free time, I studied Mandarin and traveled across China and Southeast Asia. I returned to the United States in 2019 to attend law school. 

Cover of the Universal Periodic Review shadow report submitted by PIHRL in 2020 

In the summer of 2020, I took an international law class with Professor George Edwards. The topics discussed during this course included international humanitarian law, extraordinary rendition, and torture. That fall, I took an international criminal law class with Professor Edwards, where we explored many of these same topics on a deeper level. As part of this course, we had the opportunity to research and write about the fair trial of Guantanamo detainees. This work resulted in the submission of a United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) shadow report that tackled potential human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay. During that time, I also worked as a research assistant with the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL).  

I first learned about the Military Commission Observation Program (MCOP) as a student of Professor Edwards. The MCOP provides Indiana University McKinney School of Law students, alumni, and faculty the chance to travel to Guantanamo Bay as NGO observers. I had initially applied to participate in the program in 2020; however, the Covid-19 pandemic spoiled the opportunity for that year. This fall, I applied again and was accepted to participate. 

I am preparing for the mission by completing a checklist provided by the MCOP. This checklist includes receiving permission from Indiana University to travel, obtaining the necessary clearance from the Pentagon, and ensuring that I have all required documents in order. Moreover, I am reading as much as possible about the 9/11 attacks, the backgrounds of the defendants, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, and the history of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. My future posts could delve deeper into any one of these topics. But, until then, I am focused on the upcoming mission.   

Pre-Departure Reflections  

My international experience, military background, and interest in international law and human rights all converge into one nexus through this mission. While serving as an observer, I will keep in mind the goals of our mission: to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials about the 9/11 hearings from an objective and neutral perspective.   

Jeff Johnson  

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) 

Indiana University McKinney School of Law  

Destination Gitmo: Embarking on a Journey to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for the al-Nashiri Hearings

Introduction

Tomorrow morning at approximately 4:45 AM EST, I will wake up in the comfort of my Upper Marlboro, Maryland hotel room to begin my journey to the beautiful country of Cuba. While embarking on a journey to the exquisite Cuban beaches may generate an illusion of a tropical vacation, my ultimate destination is Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB) – also known as “Gitmo.”

Thirty-nine men remain imprisoned at Guantanamo, many apprehended almost two decades, following 9/11 and the initiation of the “War on Terror.” One such prisoner is a Saudi Arabian named Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the U.S.S. Cole Bombing.

It is al-Nashiri’s hearing(s) that I am scheduled to attend during the week of 26 September 2021 – 2 October 2021 through the Military Commission Observations Project (MCOP), an Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Program. Through MCOP, I have been nominated as an NGO Observer, and my mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on the al-Nashiri hearings.

My Background

My name is Analiese W. Smith, and I am a third-year law student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was born and raised in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, right outside of Chattanooga. At the ripe age of eighteen, I packed my bags and moved to the Midwest to pursue my undergraduate degree at Indiana University Bloomington, where I ultimately obtained a Bachelor of Science in Public Affairs (BSPA) in Law and Public Policy, a minor in Mandarin Chinese, and a Business Foundations Certificate. It was in the last year of my undergraduate degree that my desire to attend law school emerged.

I began law school at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in August 2019 and quickly learned of the school’s Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), founded and directed by Professor George E. Edwards. My interest in the PIHRL inspired me to enroll in multiple courses taught by Professor Edwards, namely International Law and International Criminal Law. As a student in International Criminal Law and then, later, as a PIHRL Research Assistant, I have worked on teams to conduct research and write of Guantanamo prisoners’ fair trial rights, work that has ultimately contributed to the submission of Universal Periodic Reviews of the United States to the United Nations regarding Guantanamo Bay prisoners’ rights.

In addition to my educational background and experiences through PIHRL, I am also a member of the United States Army Reserves. I was commissioned as a Military Intelligence Officer on May 6, 2018 through the Indiana University Army ROTC Program. From there, I served as the Battalion Intelligence Officer of the 373rd Quartermaster Battalion, conducting intelligence support to petroleum logistics operations. I recently transitioned positions from that of the Company Executive Officer to Company Commander of the 1-415th Infantry Regiment (Det 2), 1st Battalion, Bravo Company.

Given my background in human rights and national security, embarking on my journey to Gitmo tomorrow is of the utmost importance to me. Despite my background, I travel to Gitmo tomorrow to execute one mission: to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and publish materials on the al-Nashiri hearings from the objective and neutral perspective of an MCOP NGO Observer.

Destination Gitmo awaits.

Analiese W. Smith

NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

September 25th, 2021

Preparing to Travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Observe Pre-Trial Hearings in the Case Against Five Alleged Plotters of the 9/11 World Trade Center / Pentagon Attacks

This weekend I will be traveling to Joint Base Andrews in order to board a military flight to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba to monitor the U.S. Military Commission case against the five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

I am a third-year juris-doctor (JD) student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and will be traveling through the Military Commissions Observation Project (MCOP). The MCOP is part of IU McKinney’s Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), founded and currently directed by Professor George Edwards.

My Background and Introduction to the MCOP

I am from Waxhaw, North Carolina and graduated in 2018 from Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia with a degree in International Relations and a concentration in Peace and Justice Studies. I had always known that I wanted to pursue a career in international human rights law, and I originally choose IU McKinney for law school because of PIHRL.

Since arriving at IU McKinney in the Fall of 2018, I have taken most of the courses covering human rights and international law offered by the law school. I was first introduced to opportunities through PIHRL as a student in Professor Edwards’ International and International Criminal Law classes. My involvement with PIHRL has allowed me to have experiences with clients and practitioners before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council. My experiences have also involved working with legal stakeholders in Guantanamo Bay and the Military Commissions Defense Organization. These experiences often involved the tumultuous past, and present, of Guantanamo Bay and the calls to ensure the right to a fair trial, the right to humane treatment, and the prohibition of torture and the associated right to receive rehabilitation.

Subsequent posts will discuss the five co-defendants in this case: Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Walid Salid Mubarek Bin ‘Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Ramzi bin al Shibh, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi. As a summer intern, I was able to work with the defense team of Mr. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, also known as Mr. al Baluchi. Unfortunately, as my internship took place remotely during the peak of the COVID-19 lockdowns in Summer 2020, I wasn’t able to complete the internship through the Military Commissions Defense Organization with a classified security clearance. Despite my internship being undertaken in unusual circumstances, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the team, and I learned so much about the dynamics of trial, the proceedings in the 9/11 trial, and the advocacy put forth by the legal stakeholders in Guantanamo Bay. 

I am extremely fortunate that my previous experiences have allowed me to learn about the history, controversies, and nuances of Guantanamo Bay. Prior to my involvement with PIHRL, my knowledge about Guantanamo Bay was extremely limited. I had the same misconceptions as most Americans, including that Guantanamo Bay largely exists outside of controversy.

It is for this reason, as well as so many others, that I take my role as an observer so seriously. It is undoubtedly the individual responsibility of every American to learn about Guantanamo Bay and the Military Commissions. However, I think it is also the responsibility for those of us who have the ability to act as observers, to attend and objectively report on Guantanamo Bay, and to publicize the trials of the Military Commissions with the hope of informing the larger public.  

Preparation For My Role As An Observer

As an NGO observer affiliate with MCOP, my role is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report my observations. My role must be conducted in an independent, objective, neutral, unbiased, and open-minded manner. As an impartial observer, I have a responsibility to myself, the stakeholders of the trial, and future observers to shed my personal beliefs before walking into the hearings every day. 

Thankfully, I have several tools aiding my preparation. 

The Gitmo Observer website has allowed me to review the experiences of previous observers. The website provides access to the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual which is an independent and objective guide for assessing human rights protections and interests of the prosecution, the defense, victims and victim’s families, witnesses, the press, the court, JTF-GTMO detention personnel, other detainees, NGO observers and other Military Commission stakeholders.

The Gitmo Observer website also offers access to the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Bay: A Guide for Human Rights NGOs & Others Going to Gitmo to Attend U.S. Military Commissions Or For Other Purposes. The Know Before You Go guide provides guidance on all procedures and processes of attending Military Commission hearings.

 

To competently attend and observe, I also have to be well-informed on the current state of the trial. The Gitmo Observer website provides daily briefings, and the Office of Military Commissions makes the filings for each trial available online. I have also benefitted from the helpful reporting of Carol Rosenberg at The New York Times and various reporters at Law Dragon.

Pre-Mission Reflections

After being involved in various projects with PIHRL, and international law classes with Professor Edwards, I’ve learned that the first step observers must often ask themselves is “what is the source of international law?” This is the basis of the questions leading me into my week at Guantanamo Bay – what are the sources of domestic and international law binding on the Military Commissions and are these obligations being upheld?  As I will be attending the hearings the week after the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and after the first week of hearings since February 2020, the calls for a fair and speedy trial have resurged. 

As a future international human rights lawyer, my interest is in an outcome that protects the rights of both the prisoners and victims and that the operation of the trial is consistent with domestic and international law.

Ellie Halodik, MCOP / PIHRL Affiliate

Guantanamo Prisoner Covid-19 Issues Raised at United Nations – Geneva Hearing on 9 November 2020

The United Nations is poised to question the U.S. about how COVID-19 affects prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, which has had an undisclosed number of residents who contracted COVID-19. Prisoners, their lawyers, human rights groups, and U.S. Senators have expressed grave concern about Guantanamo prisoners’ potential exposure to the coronavirus, and questioned the adequacy and transparency of protocols to prevent and treat COVID-19 at the remote island facility holding 40 aging, vulnerable prisoners.

U.S. government officials are scheduled to appear before the UN Human Rights Council and are expected to testify that during the four-year Trump Administration, the U.S. has fully complied with all its human rights law obligations in the U.S., and elsewhere, including Guantanamo.

This testimony is part of a “Universal Periodic Review” (UPR), which each country must periodically undergo. This is the 3rd UPR hearing for the U.S., following UPRs in 2010 and 2015. This U.S. UPR hearing is scheduled to begin Monday, 9 November 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland, at UN European Headquarters.

Law Students / Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Joint UPR “Shadow Report” to the Human Rights Council

Law students and faculty from three law schools in three countries, acting under a non-governmental organization (NGO) umbrella, submitted to the Human Rights Council a Joint UPR “Shadow Report” titled “Deprivation of Guantanamo Bay Prisoner Rights During COVID-19“.

The Report focuses on 6 specific human rights violations the U.S. has perpetrated and continues to perpetrate against Guantanamo prisoners: (1) arbitrary, prolonged detention; (2) torture; (3) denial of health rights; (4) interference with privacy and family life; (5) denial of a fair trial; and (6) denial of remedies for human rights violations. Furthermore, the Report explains how COVID-19 exacerbates these rights violations.

The law students and faculty who prepared the report are from these three law schools in these three countries: Indiana University McKinney School of Law (Indiana, U.S.A.); Chulalongkorn University Faculty of Law (Bangkok, Thailand); and Auckland University of Technology – AUT School of Law (Auckland, New Zealand). Students researched and drafted the report, in consultation with a U.S. Department of Defense / Pentagon lawyer who works on Guantanamo matters.

The Human Rights Council does not permit NGOs to speak on the floor of hearings during this week’s portion of the U.S. UPR. However, the NGOS are permitted to speak on the floor at the next round of the U.S. UPR, which is scheduled for February 2020. Students from this 3-country NGO Team will be nominated to deliver the student Team’s oral remarks on the floor of the United Nations UPR follow-up hearings on the U.S., in Geneva in February.

First United Nations hearing on U.S. since DJ Trump lost the election

This will be the first United Nations hearing concerning the U.S. since the presidential election held on 3 November 2020, and the first post-election opportunity for the outgoing Trump Administration to comment on whether and the extent to which U.S. has complied with its human rights obligations during the full four-year Trump Administration.

There was speculation that if the incumbent lost the U.S. Presidency, then this coming week’s UN hearings on the U.S. would be deferred until President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris assume office on 20 January 2020.

Issues covered at this UPR hearing

This UPR hearing will be broadly focused, highlighting a range of alleged human rights violations by the U.S. in many areas.

Topics for the hearing include Guantanamo Bay and torture. Additional topics include violence against women; human trafficking; systemic racial discrimination and racial profiling by police and other governmental authorities; general discrimination based on race, sex and religion; hate crimes; the death penalty; juvenile sentences without parole; gun violence; “indigenous issues”; homelessness; health care; migrants; the environment;  gender equality; privacy; sexual violence in the military; and migration policy and treatment of migrant children.

Hearing to be live-streamed

The hearings should be viewable on UN TV — http://webtv.un.org/

The for UPR UN Webcast Calendar for the week should be available here”
https://www.un.org/webcast/schedule/latest.html

The first day of hearings, Monday, 9 November 2020, are scheduled from 2:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Geneva, Switzerland time.

Proposed Democratic Party Platform 2020 Pledges to Close the Guantanamo Bay Prison

The proposed Democratic Party Platform 2020 that was released on Monday, 3 August 2020, calls for the closure of Guantanamo, in firm and certain terms: “We will close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay”. (page 82) The full 92-page Platform can be downloaded below.

This carries on the pledge made by Presidential candidate Barack Obama before he was elected in 2008, and his efforts to close Guantanamo after his inauguration on 20 January 2009 until he left office 8 years later.

The Guantanamo reference appears in a section of the Platform titled “Terrorism” (pages 81-82).

Terrorism

So long as violent extremists continue to plot attacks on our homeland and our interests, Democrats will maintain a vigilant focus on counterterrorism.

Democrats recognize that the threat landscape has evolved dramatically since September 11. Our counterterrorism priorities, strategies, footprint, and tools should shift accordingly, including to respond to the growing threat from white supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups.

Democrats will sustain the global effort to defeat ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates. We will ensure that the world is equally committed to the difficult task that follows military success: dealing with the underlying conditions that allowed violent extremism to flourish in the first place. We will work with our partners to prioritize diplomatic, law enforcement, and intelligence tools, to reinforce our objectives instead of distorting them.

Democrats believe that our rhetoric, policies, and tactics—and those of our counterterrorism partners—should never serve as terrorist recruiting tools. We will always work to avoid civilian casualties, and we will not weaponize counterterrorism for anti-immigrant purposes. We will reject the targeting of Muslim, Arab, and other racial and ethnic communities based on their faith and backgrounds at home and abroad. We will close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, enhance transparency, oversight, and accountability in counterterrorism programs and operations, and safeguard civil liberties and the rule of law.

Delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention will vote on the Platform remotely, from 3 – 15 August 2020, with all votes due to be cast before commencement of the Convention, which is scheduled for 17 – 20 August 2020.

Download the 92-page Democratic Party Platform 2020 here:

George Edwards

Professor of Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Director (Founding), Program in International Human Rights Law & Military Commissions Monitoring Project.

My Week at Guantanamo Bay to Monitor Hearings in the Case Against Alleged 9/11 Conspirators

This week I attended U.S. military commission hearings held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, against five alleged 9/11 conspirators.  I was a representative of Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Military Commission Observation Project, which sends McKinney faculty, staff, students, and graduates to Guantanamo to monitor hearings.  I and nine other representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were able to attend court sessions on three different days this week.  The hearings dealt with a defense lawyer’s motion to withdraw, accusations that U.S. intelligence agencies are interfering with the litigation, defense motions to dismiss, and discovery matters.

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The NGO Representatives who attended hearings at the Guantanamo hearings pose in front of “Camp Justice,” the tent city where we spent the week

Judge excuses 9/11 defense lawyer

On Tuesday morning, 18 February 2020, Air Force Col. W. Shane Cohen heard arguments on a motion to withdraw filed by Defendant Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s “learned counsel,” James P. Harrington.  Defendants facing the death penalty cases are entitled to be represented by “learned counsel” who meet American Bar Association standards of death penalty knowledge and experience.  Mr. Harrington, 75, has served as Mr. bin al-Shibh’s learned counsel since 2012.  Harrington requested permission to withdraw from the case due to his health and difficulty in his relationship with his client.

Most of Mr. Harrington’s arguments related to his medical conditions, though he stated that he difficulties in his relationship with Mr. bin al-Shibh affected the health issues. The government argued that al-Shibh would not be happy with any learned counsel, that Harrington had not provided his medical records, and that his condition was not an emergency.  A separate closed ex parte hearing was held with al-Shibh regarding his relationship with Harrington.

Judge Cohen announced his interim ruling on Harrington’s motion on Wednesday morning.  As he found good cause for withdrawal based on Mr. Harrington’s health, he did not address Mr. al-Shibh’s relationship with his lawyer.  Cohen granted Harrington leave not to appear at Guantanamo again, on the condition that he continue to approve pleadings filed by his team until a new learned counsel is appointed.  Mr. bin al-Shibh’s team is required to update the commission every two weeks on progress in the search for a replacement and file a transition plan upon the appointment of a new learned counsel.

Judge Cohen noted that severing al-Shibh’s case from that of the other 9/11 defendants was an option but did not sever.  He acknowledged the possibility that the start of the trial could be delayed until June 2021.  Judge Cohen cancelled hearings that had been scheduled for March 2020, so hearings in the 9/11 case will not resume until June 2020.

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James Harrington, who has served as learned counsel for 9/11 Defendant Ramzi bin al-Shibh since 2012, was released by Judge Cohen pending appointment of new learned counsel

Defense lawyers argue that a live computer link compromises process

In a particularly fiery exchange Wednesday among lawyers for Ammar al Baluchi and Khalid Shaik Mohammad (“KSM”) and the judge, those defense counsel argued that the government was using a device in the courtroom which allowed outside interference in the litigation.  Maximum security is enforced in the courtroom, and generally no phones or other devices with connections outside of it are permitted.

The courtroom has two principal parts to it: (a) the well, where the prosecution, defense, judge, defendants, jury, guards, court reports, and other participants are; and (b) the gallery where NGOs, media, victims and victims’ families, and members of the public sit.  The two areas are separated by reinforced glass and soundproofing.

The gallery we were seated in has five large windows looking into the courtroom, each with a television monitor at the top.  The monitors display the person speaking, whether the judge, defense or government counsel, and they and the audio work on a 40 second delay.  We were informed that if classified information is mentioned, the judge or his security officer can trigger a police-type light to the right of the judge, cutting the monitors and audio.  This has not occurred when I’ve been at the court.

In 2013, during defense argument to preserve what remained of CIA “black sites,” the red light came on and the audio feed was cut, but no one inside the court had triggered it.  The subsequent revelation that intelligence agencies had remote access to the audio feed led to lengthy litigation and the original judge’s order that the CIA or any other agency with remote access disable it.

Earlier this month, defense teams observed government lawyers apparently receiving messages from a device sitting on the prosecution’s tables and reacting to those messages by asking the judge to cut the audio and video feed to the gallery.  On Wednesday, defense lawyers argued that the apparent link with intelligence agencies was once again permitting outside interference into the court’s operation.  Judge Cohen then acknowledged that he had, without notice to defense teams, allowed prosecutors to establish the live link to intelligence agencies, including the C.I.A.  He insisted that the link was necessary to avoid “spills” of classified information, and that 21st century technology avoided the necessity of having representatives from more than a dozen intelligence agencies in the courtroom to signal their objections to potentially classified information.  KSM lawyer Gary Sowards responded “21st century technology in the service of 15th and 16th century torture.”

Judge Cohen insisted that nothing nefarious was going on, and that if he had proof that defense teams were being listened in on, that he would dismiss the case immediately.  He also said that the commission was not a “kangaroo court” or a “failed experiment,” referring to characterizations of the commission made by former defense counsel and the Chief Defense Counsel of the Military Commissions Defense Organization.

Defense lawyers requested a guide outlining classified matters, feedback on alleged confidential matters causing audio to be cut, and the original schematic for electronic wiring at the court.  Judge Cohen took the requests under advisement.

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Me in front of the northeast gate, the border between the U.S. Naval Station and the Republic of Cuba

Other motions argued this week

We also observed arguments on discovery matters and motions to dismiss.

Defense lawyers argued that the government had not complied with discovery requests and orders regarding medical records of the defendants and the disclosure of potential witnesses.  They contend that these records and witnesses could shed light on the effect of torture upon defendants before their statements to FBI “clean teams.”  The government seeks the introduction of these statements into evidence in the case, while the defense contends that the statements were the result of coercion and should be excluded.  Government lawyers agreed to attempt to resolve these disputes before court resumes in June.

Lawyers for Ammar al Baluchi and Mustafa al Hawsawi also argued that some of the charges against their clients should be dismissed as they are unreasonably multiplicitous.  In other words, the same alleged acts are the basis of multiple charges.  Judge Cohen also took these arguments under advisement.

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Ferry’s Landing Beach, formerly known as Fisherman’s Point.  Christopher Columbus landed here in 1494.

Court adjourned

On Thursday afternoon, Judge Cohen ordered that hearings in the 9/11 case be adjourned until June.

On Friday, the other NGO Representatives and I toured the U.S. Naval Station’s Northeast gate with Cuba, and met with Commander Wall, Deputy Chief Defense Counsel of the Military Commissions Defense Organization.  As our meeting with Commander Wall began, we were informed that our flight back to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland that had been scheduled for Saturday was delayed for 24-hours due to mechanical problems.  We took advantage of the delay by taking a late afternoon boat ride in Guantanamo Bay.

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Other NGO Representatives and I enjoy a boat ride in Guantanamo Bay

Paul Logan

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

February 22, 2020

My Return to Guantanamo Bay to Monitor Hearings in the Case Against Five 9/11 Alleged Conspirators

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Professor George Edwards (left) and I at the Guantanamo Bay airport on Saturday, 15 February 2020. I had just arrived for my week of monitoring, and Professor Edwards was preparing to return to Andrews Air Force Base after his week of monitoring at Guantanamo in the 9/11 case.

The Pentagon approved me to travel to the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to observe and monitor U.S. Military Commission pre-trial hearings against five alleged co-conspirators of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

On Saturday, 15 February 2020, I traveled on a military flight from Andrews Air Force Base (Joint Base Andrews) outside Washington, D.C. to Guantanamo along with nine other representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Our mission includes to attend, observe and be seen, analyze, critique and report on the proceedings.

The 9/11 trial is scheduled to begin on 11 January 2021, less than one year away. Developments in the case may derail the case, causing a substantial delay.

This short piece describes my background and my observation and monitoring role, who the 9/11 defendants are, case developments I learned at a barbeque sponsored by one of the defense teams including the requested withdrawal of one of the defense counsel, and my concluding thoughts.

My background

I received my Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law in 1994, and am an employment lawyer in Indianapolis. When I was in law school, there were few international law opportunities for students.  Several years after I graduated, Professor George Edwards founded the school Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), which for over 20 years has offered students and graduates many international opportunities. One of its projects is the Military Commission Observation Project, to which the Pentagon granted special status that permits the Project to send IU McKinney faculty, staff, students, graduates to Guantanamo to observe and monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings.

I am thankful and excited about this opportunity, for myself, and for other IU McKinney Affiliates who have taken advantage of it!

This will be my third trip to “Gitmo” (as the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station is called). In January 2018, I monitored hearings in the case against alleged  al Qaeda commander Hadi al-Iraqi / Nashwan al Tamir.  As a result of his ongoing back problems, only two half-day hearings took place the week I was there.

In November 2018, I returned to Guantanamo for hearings against the five alleged 911 co-conspirators.  We had a busy week of hearings, including the testimony of former acting general counsel William Castle regarding Defense Secretary James Mattis’ firing of the Military Commission’s Convening Authority and its legal advisor.

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Guantanamo Bay’s Windward Point Lighthouse and Museum.  The lighthouse was built in 1904.

The defendants

The five defendants in this case hail from multiple nations, are of varying ages, speak multiple languages, and share a long history of confinement in black sites and at Guantanamo.

  • Khalid Sheik Mohammed, called “KSM,” is the lead defendant, and is accused of masterminding the 9/11 attack and overseeing the operation and training of the hijackers in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Walid bin Attash allegedly ran an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan where two of the 19 September 11 hijackers were trained.
  • Ramzi bin al Shibah allegedly helped the German cell of hijackers find flight schools and enter the United States and allegedly helped finance the plot.
  • Ammar al Baluchi, KSM’s nephew, is accused of sending money to the hijackers for expenses and flight training, and helping some of them travel to the U.S.
  • Mustafa al Hawsawi is charged with facilitating fund transfers to and from the hijackers.

The 9/11 defendants were seized in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003, and were held in secret CIA black sites outside the U.S. from then until September 2006, when they were transferred to at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station since 2006. When the men were in the black sites, they were subjected to what the U.S. government calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” but which the defendants call “torture”, including stress positions, walling, dietary manipulation, sleep deprivation, cramped confinement, and others. Some of them were waterboarded, including KSM, who was waterboarded 183 times.

Connell

James Connell, Learned Counsel for Defendant Ammar Al-Baluchi

Barbeque invitation by al Baluchi’s defense team; Gathering information

While pre-trial motion hearings in the 9/11 case had been scheduled to take place all week, an unforeseen development late last week has thrown this schedule into doubt.  We (the NGOs) learned more about this development at a barbeque held by Mr. al Baluchi’s defense team Saturday night, hours after we arrived at Guantanamo.

Mr. al Baluchi’s defense team regularly invites NGO Representatives to a barbeque on the night of their Guantanamo arrival in order to preview the hearings expected to take place during the week and to answer questions regarding the proceedings.  The “barbeque” now features pizza and is held at Guantanamo’s historic windward point lighthouse, rather than featuring meat and vegetables cooked on grills at the townhouses where defense counsel used to live at Guantanamo.  The barbecues have become an invaluable resource for NGO Representatives to gain insight into developments in the 9/11 hearings.

The Possible Withdrawal of Mr. bin al Shibah’s “Learned Counsel”

At the barbeque Saturday night, we were informed that last Tuesday, Mr. bin al Shibah’s 75 year old learned counsel, James P. Harrington, asked to be excused from the case for medical reasons, and because of issues involving his defense team. A “learned counsel” is a lawyer with training and experience handling cases in which the death penalty is an authorized penalty, as in this 9/11 case. Under Military Commission regulations, each defendant facing the death penalty is entitled to a learned counsel at all hearings. If the learned counsel is not present for any particular hearing, the hearing cannot go forward.

Air Force Col. W. Shane Cohen, the military judge, recessed hearings for the remainder of last week to permit Mr. Harrington to file his motion and for the government to respond.  The briefing has now been completed, with argument thereon is scheduled to take place here Tuesday morning, 18 February 2020.

Mr. Harrington’s absence from the case threatens to derail the war court’s plan to start the trial in January 2021.  As Mr. al Baluchi’s counsel James Connell explained, the requirement for death penalty defendants to have counsel learned in such cases dates to the very beginning of the republic in 1789.

The October 2017 withdrawal of alleged USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s learned counsel, Indianapolis lawyer Rick Kammen, eventually contributed to the months-long abatement of that case, in which the D.C. Circuit Court vacated years of rulings.  Chief Defense Counsel Brigadier General John Baker, who oversees all Military Commission defense counsel, has repeatedly requested funding for back-up learned counsel, but those requests have been denied.

Mr. Harrington has served as al Shibah’s learned counsel since 2012.  It is reported that he has a heart condition that required surgery a year and a half ago, followed by two knee surgeries, and that his doctor has advised him to leave the case.  While Judge Cohen suggested that Mr. Harrington’s withdrawal would cause a delay of three to nine months, Mr. al Baluchi’s counsel described that short of a delay as very ambitious.  The Pentagon would have to hire a new learned counsel, get that lawyer the required security clearances, and provide time for the lawyer to get up to speed on more than seven years of pretrial proceedings.

Judge Cohen has stated a willingness to entertain motions from each defense team to sever their client from the other defendants, with severed cases being tried separately. For example, if Mr. al Shibah’s case is severed, and other defendants are not severed, the case would go forward with 4 defendants, with Mr. al Shibah’s case heard separately.

Cohen

Air Force Colonel W. Shane Cohen has presided over the 9/11 case as military judge since June 2019

Conclusion

Tuesday’s proceeding could alter the schedule and eventually the shape of the 911 proceedings.  I and the other NGO Representatives look forward to witnessing these arguments firsthand and hope to hear Judge Cohen’s ruling as well.

Paul Logan

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

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

February 19, 2020

Traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Monitor the Hearings in the Case Against the Alleged 9/11 Co-Conspirators

From 20 to 31 January 2020, the U.S. government is holding pre-trial hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the military commission case against 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

I was nominated by the Indiana University  McKinney School of Law in to travel to Guantanamo to monitor these hearings. I graduated from the law school in 2018, and am participating in the school’s Military Commission Observation Project, that sends faculty, staff, students and graduates to Guantanamo to monitor hearings live, and to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor the hearings via CCTV.

At Guantanamo, my mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report on the military commission proceedings in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

From Indiana to Maryland

Today I traveled from Indiana to a small town in Maryland near Joint Base Andrews (Andrews Air Force Base), which is where my plane to Guantanamo is scheduled to depart at 10:00 tomorrow morning (Saturday).

I stand in Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. holding a copy of the “Know Before you go to Guantanamo Bay” manuals and one of the NGO observer challenge coins on 17 January 2020.

This is my seventh observer mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and I have picked up a few tricks to help ensure a successful mission.

It is essential to arrive near Andrews the day before a scheduled flight out of Andrews because the flights to Guantanamo Bay usually depart early in the morning. It is a good idea to book direct flights early in the day in case there are flight delays or cancellations, because there are no flights from Indiana that would arrive in time on the morning of the Guantanamo flight.

I arrived in Washington DC at approximately 1:00 pm today on a direct flight from Indianapolis, and from there I took a Lyft to the Quality Inn at Joint Base Andrews in Clinton, Maryland. I chose this hotel because it is very close to the Visitor Control Center (VCC) at Joint Base Andrews, where I will meet my military escort to get on base in the morning. It is so close, in fact, that I can see the VCC from my room. In the morning I will check out of the hotel and walk across the street to meet my escort. From there we will drive through the Andrews main entrance and go to the base air terminal (the home of Air Force One) to catch our flight to Cuba.

Know Before You Go to Guantanamo / NGO Coin

I left Indiana this morning I stopped by the law school where I picked up fourteen copies of the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay manual, which is a continuously updated color publication authored by Professor George Edwards, who founded our law school’s Guantanamo projects. We provide copies of Know Before You Go to observers from other groups we meet at Joint Base Andrews, and the observers can use the Manual during the week at Guantanamo. PDF copies of the Know Before You Go to Guantanamo Bay can be downloaded on http://www.GitmoObserver.com. 

Two NGO challenge coins designed by Professor George Edwards of the Indiana University  McKinney School of Law Program in International Human Rights Law, with input from other Guantanamo stakeholders.

Additionally, I picked twenty NGO observer challenge coins which can be purchased for $15.00. Professor Edwards designed the coin with guidance and input from various Guantanamo stakeholders.

Testimony at Guantanamo This Week

At the hearings this week we are expected to hear testimony from psychologists James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen who are purported to have developed the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) program, containing techniques such as waterboarding, that was implemented following the 9/11 attacks in CIA-operated black sites. 

The first day will likely be 22 January 2020 due to the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I plan to make another blog post from the terminal at Joint Base Andrews in the morning and plan to continue to post on the blog throughout the hearing week.

Benjamin Hicks

Juris Doctor (2018)

Military Commission Observation Project Trial Observer / Monitor

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

17 January 2020

I Attended My Second Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Periodic Review Board (PRB) Hearing at the Pentagon

At the Pentagon, With Professor George Edwards, Founder of the Guantanamo Military Commissions Observation Project, and IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law.

This morning, 17 September2019, I traveled to the Pentagon for the second time, this time to attend a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani (ISN 1461), who is a prisoner being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been for more than 15 years.

Periodic Review Boards (PRBs)

The Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) process was established on 7 March 2011 upon an Executive Order by President Obama who sought to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. The PRB is a discretionary administrative process with the stated purpose of seeking to determine whether each prisoner held at Guantanamo “continues to be a threat” to U.S. national security.  

Today, Mr. Rabbani had a PRB hearing, at which he had an opportunity to plead with the U.S government to release him from Guantanamo.

Background on Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani (ISN 1461)

Mr. Rabbani is an alleged travel and financial facilitator for alleged al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is alleged that Mr. Rabbani’s main job was to operate al Qaeda safe houses in Karachi, Pakistan, facilitate travel of Mujahidin and their families to and from Afghanistan, and acquire and drive vehicles.  He is also suspected of having links with Osama Bin Laden.

Mr. Rabbani is a Pakistani citizen and was born in Saudi Arabia in October 1969 and raised there. According to a JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment document, Mr. Rabbani was arrested in September 2002 in Pakistan during a raid of guest houses that he operated along with others. He was held in Pakistani custody until he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2004.

Mr. Rabbani is now under a PRB subsequent full review, which is a hearing permitted to every detainee every three years if their Initial and File review hearings are declined.

Today’s Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Abdul Malik

Since this is my second time visiting the Pentagon, I was familiar with the process to expect. I arrived at the Pentagon today at 8:00 a.m. (Tuesday, 17 September 2019), showed my passport, cleared through rounds of high security, and went to the Pentagon waiting area waiting for the other observers.  While waiting, I had the opportunity to talk with the other observers. We were 3 Observers plus one member of the media. I was the Observer who represented the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and the other two Observers represented Judicial Watch and Human Rights First. A media representative from al Jazeera was present. Though governmental representatives may also view PRBs from this venue, none were present today.

Around 8:30 a.m., the four of us were escorted to a secure conference room in the Pentagon to observe the hearing broadcasted while it is happening live from Guantanamo Bay. The hearing was broadcasted through a TV screen in the middle of the room.  Before we entered that room, we had to leave our cell phones and cameras on a table outside the conference room. Once inside the room, we had to sign a form that indicated rules for a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), such as, no recording devices.

The hearing started around 9:05 a.m.

The TV screen was switched to the hearing where we can see a US military official sitting in front of a table. The PRB started with an off-screen voice, presumably of a U.S. military official, calling out the names of the six U.S. government departments participating in the PRB, and making other preliminary announcements. The six departments are Department of Defense; Department of State, Department of Justice; Department of Homeland Security; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Then, the U.S. military official read out an “Unclassified Statement”, which is now posted online[1], and gives an [alleged] general background about the detainee. It reads as follows:

Text Box: Photo of the Unclassified Statement

“Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani (PK-J 461), a.k.a. Abu Badr, was a financial and travel facilitator for al-Qaida leaders Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024) and USS Cole mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from 1997 until his arrest in September 2002 during a raid of guest house that Abu Badr was operating with his brother Abdul Rabbani (PK-1460) IN Karachi, Pakistan. His primary jobs were to run al-Qaida safe houses in Karachi, facilitate travel of mujahedeen and their families to and from Afghanistan, and acquire and drive vehicles. Abu Badr lived in Saudi Arabia until his early 20s but spent his active jihadist years in Pakistan.”

Later, the appointed personal representative for Mr. Rabbani read out a statement. This statement is posted online[2] for the public. She noted in her statement that she has scheduled over 40 meetings during the past months with Mr. Rabbani. However, Mr. Rabbani has not accepted to attend any of the meetings. The personal representative said that Mr. Rabbani does not feel that the current political situation will allow any detainee to depart GTMO.  The personal representative reiterated that she will continue scheduling meetings with Mr. Rabbani.

With that, the public session was concluded at 9:11 a.m. about 4 minutes after it began.

Reflections and preparation for Guantanamo Bay

This is my second time attending a hearing at the Pentagon related to Guantanamo detainees. This time, since the Personal Representative Statement was published online before the hearing stating that the detainee will not be attending, and considering last’ time discussion with the other NGO observers about how prisoners’ are losing hope on the process, I expected this hearing to be short.  

After attending my second PRB, I started to get a better understanding of the current proceedings.  It appears that detainees are increasingly refusing to attend the PRB hearings. This comes to no surprise considering the current political environment and that no detainee has been successfully released through the PRB process since the current Administration assumed power, and the five detainees who were cleared for transfer by the PRB process during Obama Administration remain at Guantanamo.  It appears that the process is losing its meaning and trust. With no changes or progress in the proceedings, it is expected that more detainees will stop cooperating.

Although PRB hearings so far were very short and expected, it still provides an insight into how PRB hearings are being held. It is a unique opportunity for those who are interested in learning more about the Guantanamo detainees, prisoners’ rights and prosecuting alleged war criminals. I look forward to continuing learning about the PRBs process and having the opportunity to attend more PRBs in the future.  I look forward to my upcoming visit to Guantanamo Bay to attend and observe the military commission hearings.

Maitha Salem Altamimi

Master of Laws (LL.M.) Candidate, International Human Rights Law Track (2019)

Military Commission Observation Project Trial Observer / Monitor

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

October 14th, 2019

Note: Progress of the case

As of October 17th  29th, 2019, The Periodic Review Board released “Unclassified Summary of Final Determination” determining that “continued law of war detention of the detainee (Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani) remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The Full Unclassified Summary of Final Determination is available at; https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/


[1] Full statement is posted at https://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN1461/SubsequentHearing1/20190604_U_ISN_1461_UNCLASSIFIED_SUMMARY.pdf Access to other related documents is at https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/

[2] Access to the full statement is at https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/

I Attended a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) Hearing at the Pentagon

  This morning, Tuesday 30 July 2019, I traveled to the Pentagon where I attended a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Abdul Malik, who is a prisoner being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been for more than 12 years.

Part I of this blog post describes who I am and how I came to attend this PRB. Part II describes the PRB, which is an administrative parole-like process that was created by President Obama in 2011 as he was seeking to close Guantanamo’s detention facilities. Part III discusses the background of Mr. Malik. Part IV discusses Mr. Malik’s PRB.

  1. My background

I am from the United Arab Emirates, and received a U.S. government Fulbright scholarship to study for my LL.M. degree at Indiana McKinney School of Law, where I am in the International Human Rights Law Track. I have taken international human rights law classroom classes, and am currently working as an immigration intern at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Silver Spring, Maryland, through McKinney’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

I received my first law degree from UAE University in 2015, and a post-graduate diploma in UAE Diplomacy and International Relations from Emirates Diplomatic Academy in 2017. After earning those degrees, I worked for 2 years in the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment as a legal researcher and 5 months as an analyst in a Minster of State office.

During my work and studies, I developed an interest and passion towards topics related to International Human Rights Law.

At Indiana McKinney, I learned that Professor Edwards founded two projects related to Guantanamo Bay. The first is the Military Commission Observation Project, that sends McKinney Affiliates (faculty, staff, students, graduates) to Guantanamo Bay base to monitor U.S. military commission hearings live, and to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where they can view military commission hearings by CCTV. The second is the Periodic Review Board (PRB) Observation Project that sends McKinney Law Affiliates to the Pentagon to monitor PRBs (which I explain below). I applied for both projects and received clearance to attend today’s PRB hearing at the Pentagon. I am still waiting for approval to travel to Guantanamo, Cuba to attend the Military Commissions hearings.    

As a lawyer who has been working to become a human rights advocate, I have long been interested in various topics related to human rights. Among those topics is prisoners’ rights; the right to a fair trial, the right not to be tortured, etc. Nowadays, it appears that many of these rights have been neglected or overlooked especially when these rights intersect with terrorism, politics and national security.  I have been thinking about how we can balance between ensuring justice and human rights while considering politics and national security.

I hope my Guantanamo experiences will offer me a better practical understanding of these pressing issues.

  1. Periodic Review Boards (PRBs)

The Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) process was established on 7 March 2011 upon an Executive Order by President Obama who sought to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. The PRB is a discretionary administrative process with the stated purpose of seeking to determine whether each prisoner held at Guantanamo “continues to be a threat” to U.S. national security.  The PRB does not address the legality of the detention of any prisoner, or the guilt or innocence of any prisoner, and only addresses the issue of threat to U.S. national security.    The question of whether a detainee is guilty is determined by a separate Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

If a PRB determines that a prisoner is “no longer a threat”, the prisoner can be cleared to be released from Guantanamo, either to be repatriated to his country or transferred to resettle in a third country. The members of the PRB include one representative of each of the following: Department of Defense; Department of State, Department of Justice; Department of Homeland Security; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Every detainee in a PRB proceeding is provided with a personal representative who is a uniformed U.S. military officer whose role is to assist and advocates on behalf of the prisoner during the PRB process.

More information about PRB’s hearing and decisions is available at www.prs.mil and https://gitmoobserver.com/prbs/  

  1. Background on Mr. Abdul Malik.

Mr. Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (known as Abdul Malik), who is from Kenya, was born on 11 November 1973. He has been held at Guantanamo since 2007, after being suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda of East Africa (AQEA) and participating in the 2002 attacks against the Paradise Hotel and an Israeli aircraft in Mombasa, Kenya. He was arrested in 2007 by Kenyan authorities and transferred to US custody a few weeks later.

Mr. Abdul Malik has been afforded multiple levels of PRBs, including an initial review and file reviews. The current PRB is considered to be a “subsequent full review”, which is a hearing permitted to prisoners every three years if their initial and file review hearings are not successful. Each of his PRBs offered him the opportunity to ask the United States government to release him from Guantanamo.

  1. Today’s Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Abdul Malik
At the Pentagon, with Professor George Edwards, Founder of the Guantanamo Military Commissions Observation Project, and IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law.

I arrived at the Pentagon today at 7:30 a.m. (Tuesday, 30 July 2019), cleared through a round of security, and went to the waiting area waiting for the rest of the observers.  Sometime after, Professor George Edwards and other representatives from different Organizations arrived. While waiting, I had the opportunity to talk with the other Observers. We were 5 Observers in total. I and Professor Edwards represented Indiana University McKinney Law School and the other three representatives were from Judicial Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Human Rights First.

Around 8:30, military officials in uniform came to escort us through more security channels, and take us to a secure Pentagon conference room to observe the hearing broadcasted while it is happening live at Guantanamo. We were to watch the hearing broadcasted through a TV screen in the middle of the room.  Before we entered that room, we had to leave our cell phones and cameras on a table outside. Once inside the room, we had to sign a form that indicated rules for a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), such as, no recording devices.

The hearing was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m., but started late, around 9:05 a.m. The TV screen was switched to the hearing channel. We could see the hearing room, which I understand is in a courtroom at Guantanamo Bay.

The PRB started with an off-camera voice, presumably of a U.S. military official, making introductory remarks, including calling out the names of the US departments participating in the PRB. Then, the U.S. military official read out an “Unclassified Statement”. The statement is posted online[1], and it makes allegations regarding the general background of the prisoner. It is read as follows:

“Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (KE-10025) was inspired by a radical imam to leave Kenya in 1996 to receive extremist training in Somalia, where he developed a close relationship with members of al-Qa’ida in East Africa (AQEA), including senior operational planners such as Harun Fazul.  Bajabu became an AQEA facilitator and was closely involved in the preparation and execution of the attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002 against the Paradise Hotel and Israeli aircraft.  In February 2007, Kenyan authorities arrested Mr. Bajabu for his involvement in the Mombasa attacks and transferred him to US custody a few weeks later.”

Later, Mr. Abdul Malik’s appointed personal representative read out a statement. At the time of the hearing, this statement was not posted online for the public. He noted in his statement that he has scheduled 15 meeting during the past 7 months with Mr. Abdul Malik, and Mr. Abdul Malik accepted to attend five out of the 15 meetings requests. The last meeting was scheduled on July 29, 2019, one day before this board hearing which according to the personal representative, Mr. Abdul Malik again refused to attend. Mr. Abdul Malik did not attend the public portion of the scheduled PRB today. The personal representative stated that he will continue scheduling meetings with Mr. Abdul Malik. 

With that, the public session was concluded about 4 minutes and 44 seconds after it began.

Reflections

This was my first time attending a Guantanamo hearing and my first time attending a hearing at the Pentagon.  I did not know what to expect, but definitely, I expected the hearing to last longer. According to the other Observers who have been attending these hearings for a long time, it is usual for a PRB hearing to be this quick (fewer than 5 minutes). I also expected Mr. Abdul Malik to be present at the hearing. However, it appears that Guantanamo prisoners may be choosing not to attend their PRBs because they see little chance of being released after a PRB, given the current political environment, the fact that no prisoners have been released through the PRB process since the current U.S. Administration assumed power, and that even some prisoners who were cleared by the PRB process during Obama Administration are still in Guantanamo and not yet released.  Current prisoners are losing hope in this process. I suspect that more prisoners will stop attending PRB hearings.

Visiting the Pentagon.

On a different note, this was my first time visiting the Pentagon. It a very big and beautiful building. I didn’t see much of the place, but hopefully next time I visit, I can take a building tour.  Although the hearing was very short, it was worth attending. It offers insight into the PRB and how the hearings are being held. It a unique opportunity for those who are interested in learning more about the Guantanamo prisoners. I look forward to learning more about the PRBs process, and to have the opportunity to attend more PRB hearings at the pentagon.  Ideally, the prisoners will attend the next PRB hearing I attend.

I’m still waiting for my security clearance to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to observe the military commission proceedings live. This opportunity would definitely provide me with a better understanding of the Guantanamo Military Commission proceedings.

Maitha Salem Altamimi

Master of Laws (LL.M.) Candidate, International Human Rights Law Track (2019)

Military Commission Observation Project Trial Observer / Monitor

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

July 31st, 2019

Note: Progress of the case

As of August 29th, 2019, The Periodic Review Board released “Unclassified Summary of Final Determination” determining that “continued law of war detention of the detainee [Mr. Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu] remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The Full Unclassified Summary of Final Determination is available at: https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/


[1] Access to the Unclassified Statement is at https://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN10025/SubsequentReview1/20190326_U_ISN_10025_UNCLASSIFIED_SUMMARY.pdf

Access to other related documents is at https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/