9-11 Case

Gearing Up For Gitmo

Luke near a Tsunami Hazard Site in American Samoa, while on a 2014 summer human rights internship

Luke near a Tsunami Hazard Site in American Samoa, while on a 2014 summer human rights internship.

My name is Luke Purdy, and I am an almost-graduated 3L law student from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. I am scheduled to fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on 29 August to observe the Military Commission’s proceedings against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which have been ongoing since 2003. I have also been scheduled to attend previous hearings at Guantanamo Bay, but these hearings (one of which was for Al-nashiri, accused of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole) were cancelled at the last minute. 


I first heard about IU McKinney’s Gitmo Observer program while I was interning in Melbourne, Australia for the law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law. During that time I worked on the defense of an alleged Serbian war criminal. This experience elevated my interest in the world of military law, specifically when it impacted the rights of criminal defendants. Soon after returning from my internship in Australia, I dove into more classes relating to international human rights. In one class, International Criminal Law, I was able to contribute to a Fair Trial Manual being drafted by the Program in International Human Rights Law for use by observers at Military Commission proceedings like the one I am scheduled to attend at the end of this month. As many prior observers have done, I will be bringing copies of these manuals for observers to use during the upcoming trial against Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.


Photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the accused war criminal whose hearings I am scheduled to attend.

The Charges

The defendant in this trial, Khalid Sheik Mohammad, is accused of participating in numerous terrorists plots against the United States, including the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Khalid confessed to many of these crimes. However, some have criticized the procedures used on Khalid to elicit these confessions, which included waterboarding. Ultimately, if convicted of war crimes, Khalid Sheik Mohammad could face the death penalty.

My Role

In line with the goals the Military Commission Observation Project, my task as an MCOP representative is to attend, observe, analyze, critique, and report on the Military Commissions. Specifically, I am interested in learning about the defense team’s access to discovery materials, and whether rules of confidentiality interfere with the defense’s ability to defend their client fairly. I would also like to see how classified information is used (if at all) by the prosecution, and get a sense of how “reasonable” the speed of the trial is, and whether proceedings are being carried out without undue delay.

(Luke Purdy, Indianapolis, 10 August 2015)

Preparing for Guantanamo Bay 9-11 Hearings

Our plane to Guantanamo Bay is scheduled to depart from Andrews Air Force Base on Saturday morning, 13 December 2014.

Our plane to Guantanamo Bay is scheduled to depart from Andrews Air Force Base on Saturday morning, 13 December 2014.

Panic like a 1st year law student or new law firm associate!

It is easy for an Guantanamo Bay fair trial NGO observer to experience the same sort of panic that a first year law firm associate experiences when thrown into a complex litigation matter. I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the last few days reading and re-reading the motions to be heard next week when I am in Guantanamo Bay. Despite my homework, I am not sure I fully comprehend the significance of many of the details.


Blog posts – to a fair trial – Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.

Generally, my blog posts during my Guantanamo Bay mission will not focus so much on the substance of the legal arguments related to the case. Instead, they will focus on right to a fair trial issues, as discussed in the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual. However, on the eve of my departure, I wanted to post on the defendants in the hearings next week, the pre-trial motions scheduled, and on the odd assortment of categories of lawyers expected to be present to represent the defendants and to represent the U.S.

The hearings for 15 – 16 December 2014

Five motions are scheduled to be heard during two days of hearings at Guantanamo Bay in the case against 5 alleged masterminds of the World Trade Center / Pentagon attacks on 9-11. All five defendants, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak bin ‘Atash, Ramzi bin al Shibh, Ammar al Baluchi (aka Ali Abdul Aziz Ali), Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi, and their legal defense teams are expected to be present for the hearings. Also expected to be present is Independent Counsel appointed for Mr. bin al Shibh.

The regular prosecutors in the case will likely not be in the courtroom during at least some of the hearings, but the U.S. will be represented by a “Special Review Team” that was called in to represent the U.S. next week because of conflict of interest issues related to due to allegations related to the FBI allegedly infiltrating defense teams on the case(more…)

Preparing for the 9-11 Guantanamo Bay Hearings

My work with the The Gitmo Observer

I have been involved with the U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (“MCOP”) (also known as The Gitmo Observer) since mid-spring 2014.  In my position as a law librarian at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law I have worked on developing and maintaining The GITMO Observer site and providing research support for the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Observation Manual.  Thus I am honored and excited to have been selected to serve as an NGO observer at the upcoming military commission hearings on December 15 and 16 at Guantanamo Bay.

My work in South Africa

I begin assisting Professor George Edwards and the MCOP upon my return from South Africa in April 2014. I spent six months (September 2013 – April 2014) in Johannesburg as a Senior Fellow at the Legal Resources Centre of South Africa (LRC). The LRC is South Africa’s largest and oldest national public interest law organization. Established in 1979, the LRC lawyers challenged apartheid and played important roles in drafting the South African Constitution. In 1994, Nelson Mandela appointed LRC’s founder, Arthur Chaskalson, to serve as the first President of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. The LRC advances research and provides free legal services to the poor and vulnerable in the areas of land and housing rights, children’s rights and education, environmental justice, HIV/AIDS, health and social services, refugee matters, and women’s equality.

George Bizos 85th Birthday 010During my time with the LRC, I enjoyed many a brown bag lunch with George Bizos, an LRC lawyer. An internationally renowned South African human rights lawyer, George Bizos is credited with crafting the three words in Nelson Mandela’s statement during his 1964 treason trial which resulted in the imposition of life imprisonment rather than the death sentence. Upon learning that an American sat across the tea table from him the first time we met, George looked at me and said, “I have sympathy with his position but your President Obama has to shut down Guantanamo Bay.”  The topic of Guantanamo Bay would come up often during the six months I spent at the LRC and my knowledge of what was happening and why at Guantanamo Bay would prove woeful in comparison to that of George Bizos. The MCOP provided a fortuitous opportunity to learn more about the military commission process at Guantanamo Bay upon my return to the States.

The 9-11 case / Khalid Shaik Mohammed case that I will monitor next week

I will be observing hearings with respect to the five 9-11 defendants: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi.

Earlier this week Professor Edwards was able to confirm that the hearings will involve matters of guard gender, the FBI probe/conflict of counsel, and the hearing schedule for 2015.

My preparation for the hearings

Even though I have been involved with the MCOP project, I had and still have lots of preparation to do. I’ve reread parts of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Observation Manual to better understand my obligations to observe and analyze the proceedings. I am also reading the many documents related to this matter that are hosted on the U.S. Office of Military Commissions website. This is a complex case with five defendants and five separate defense teams.  As a result, I have also been reading biographical information on the Human Rights Watch and other sites to help me identify and keep separate each of the defendants. Later this week I am meeting with two other observers, Hattie Harmon and Chuck Dunlap, who have recently observed proceedings at Guantanamo Bay for advice and information.

Lecture by Gitmo Defense Counsel – Rick Kammen

I recently attended a lecture by Rick Kammen, the lead lawyer for al Nashiri  in the USS Cole case. His presentation focused on the many systemic problems of the Guantanamo Bay military commissions. What was readily apparent from his presentation is that Americans as a whole don’t pay much attention to the activities of the military commissions. In addition to its critically important work to ensure fair and transparent trials for all the stakeholders, MCOP is equally important in that it offers opportunities for many of us to become involved and expand awareness in others.

(Posted by Catherine Lemmer)

Hattie Harman at Fort Meade – 9/11 Case (17 April 2014)

Special Counsel Appointed to Investigate FBI Infiltration of 9-11 Defendant’s Defense Team
As Jeff Meding posted earlier, the main event of Thursday’s short hearing was the government counsel acknowledging that special counsel Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez has been appointed to represent the government on the issue of the alleged FBI infiltration of Binalshibh’s defense team (seeking information about Mohammad’s defense team) (AE292).  Campoamor-Sanchez is best known for his role in prosecuting the Chandra Levy murder in 2011 when he was an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA).

After today’s hearing, the Miami Herald reported that by Thursday evening, the 9-11 case Judge Pohl had “appointed two unnamed independent defense counsel” to advise Mohammad and Binalshibh with regard to the potential conflict of interest that may arise within their defense teams stemming from the FBI investigation. And at Thursday’s hearing, Judge Pohl left open the possibility that, depending upon what is revealed in discovery into the FBI investigation, the other defendants may also need separate counsel for this purpose.

Can Defense Counsel Bring Back to GTMO Defendant’s Notes Written at GTMO?
Another interesting issue addressed Thursday was defense counsel Cheryl Bormann’s request that Judge Pohl issue an order from the bench allowing her to bring writings made by her client Bin Attash back to him at Guantanamo. Apparently counsel had been permitted access to writings her client made that related to his defense, and was permitted to take them from Guantanamo in order to use them in the development of the defense. But when she attempted to bring them back to discuss in conference with Bin Attash, the “Privilege Review Team” (PRT) refused to allow it. Judge Pohn granted Bormann’s request.

Khalid Shaik Mohammad’s Defense Counsel to Leave
Finally, Army Major Jason Wright, one of Mohammad’s defense counsel, informed the court that he likely will be leaving the defense team this summer. As an Army JAG officer, Wright is required to complete his LLM degree after attaining the rank of Major. This would require him to leave his present assignment as counsel for Mohammad. Wright’s deferral request was denied, and he has been ordered to report for his LLM assignment in July. Major Wright informed Judge Pohl that he determined that his obligation to his client must take precedence and for that reason he has resigned his commission and will be separated from the Army on August 26. This will allow Wright to represent Mohammad through the June hearings and hopefully at the August hearings as well.

No luck visiting the NSA!

No luck visiting the NSA!

Post-Hearing on Thursday
After Thursday’s hearings adjourned, I took a quick tour of the base on my way to the airport.

I was unable to see the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, though, as I was confronted by signs as pictured at right.  And while I was unsuccessful at convincing Military Police Officer Robinson to take my photograph by the main gate, I was able to convince him to allow me to take his photo by his police vehicle.  I must say that everyone I encountered at Fort Meade was most gracious and helpful.

main gate

Fort Meade Main Gate

Officer Robinson

Officer Robinson

Touch Down at Indianapolis Airport–Met by police, fire trucks, sniffer dogs!
Things got even more interesting on my return trip to Indianapolis, when the Southwest flight on which I was traveling landed on time and then taxied into what seemed like the middle of nowhere! The plane was surrounded by police and fire trucks. Passengers were deplaned by stairway onto the tarmac where we and our carry-on luggage were sniffed dogs handled by TSA agents. We were then bussed nonchalantly to the terminal to continue on our way.

I later read news reports that my flight had requested an “emergency landing” after having received a “threat.” Precisely what the threat was, I still do not know! But I arrived home from Fort Meade safe and grateful for the wonderful experience of serving as an observer on behalf of McKinney’s MCOP team.

Deplaning in Indianapolis

Deplaning in Indianapolis

TSA dog and fire truck

TSA dog and fire truck

Our transport to the terminal

Our transport to the Indianapolis terminal