George Edwards

Will I Go To Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Tomorrow?

Professor Edwards (right) with one of his Indiana law students (Ms. Sheila Willard) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (file photo)

It’s Sunday morning, and I am scheduled to fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, tomorrow morning, Monday, 19 August 2019.

But, my years of traveling to Guantanamo have taught me that I could arrive at Joint Base Andrews (Andrews Air Force Base) tomorrow, and the trip could be cancelled. I’m not talking about a cancelled flight because of a plane’s mechanical issue, with everyone waiting for a replacement plane, or a possible weather delay. Instead, the 10 days of U.S. military commissions I am slated to monitor at Guantanamo could be scratched, with there being no need to fly down this week.

In the over 15 year since I first became involved with Guantanamo, I learned to expect the unexpected.

Hadi al Iraqi / Nashwan al Tamir, the alleged 2nd highest al Qaeda member in U.S. custody. Professor Edwards is scheduled to attend his hearings at Guantanamo from 19 – 29 August 2019.

This article describes what is expected to happen during the upcoming week of hearings in the case against a Guantanamo detainee the U.S. government calls Hadi al Iraqi, but who prefers to be called by what he says is his birth name, Nashwan al Tamir.

But first, I’ll explain how I got booked on this flight to Guantanamo.

My Guantanamo mission

I was a professor of law at Indiana University McKinney School of Law when in 2003 a Pentagon officer asked if I would do a project related to over 650 detainees then being held at Guantanamo. My Indiana students and I researched rights afforded to defendants at Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II, thinking that at a minimum, rights afforded to defendants then should be afforded to any detainees facing trial by military commission at Guantanamo.

After that project ended, my Indiana students (and Stetson law students) and I worked on the cases of Australian David Hicks (whose 2007 proceedings became the first completed U.S. military commission since World War II), and Canadian Omar Khadr (who was 15 when picked up, who was then taken to Guantanamo and charged).

Fast forward, and I founded the Military Commission Observation Project at Indiana, through which we send faculty, staff, graduates and current students to Guantanamo to monitor hearings, exploring rights afforded to all Guantanamo stakeholder groups. Stakeholder groups include defendants, victims and their families, Guantanamo guards, defense and prosecution lawyers, witnesses, media, observers / monitors, and others. (For more information on different categories of Guantanamo stakeholders, see www.GuantanamoBayReader.com).  

Guantanamo Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observer Challenge Coin — with our Stated Mission —
To Attend, Monitor, Be Seen, Analyze, Critique & Report

Our Project spells out the mission of Guantanamo Observers / Monitors as follows:  To attend, monitor, be seen, analyze, critique and report on Guantanamo proceedings.

For our Guantanamo Bay Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observer / Monitor Challenge coins, see here.

We disseminate information through our blog at www.GitmoObserver.com.

Hadi / Nashwan Background

Hadi / Nashwan is an alleged high-level member of al Qaeda Iraq who allegedly liaised with the Taliban and perpetrated war crimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 – 2004. The government claims that he is the second highest ranking al Qaeda member in U.S. custody.

He is charged with allegedly commanding al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents who attacked U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan after the U.S. and coalition invaded after 9/11.

The specific war crimes charges against him include denying quarter, attacking protected property, using treachery or perfidy, and attempted use of treachery or perfidy. Also, the US alleges that he conspired to commit war crimes. Allegedly, persons under his command planted IEDs that killed coalition soldiers on roads, fired at a U.S. military medical helicopter, and attacked civilians including aid workers.

He was taken into custody in 2006, arrived in Guantanamo in April 2007, and arraigned in June 2014 on war crimes charges that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

For at least the last two years, he has suffered from degenerative disc disease, for which he has undergone at least 5 surgeries by military doctors at Guantanamo.

This military judge has acknowledged that the medical condition causes pain and extreme discomfort for Hadi / Nashwan, making it difficult for him to sit in a regular chair in the courtroom for extended periods. He has used a special seat in the courtroom, and has been wheeled into the courtroom in a hospital bed. Furthermore, a special cell that can fit a hospital bed has been constructed next to the courtroom, for him to use during court breaks.

His trial was scheduled to begin in February 2020. It is unclear whether it will go forward, given his health, and given that several weeks of hearings in his case were suspended during his defense counsel’s 12-week maternity leave (including cancelled sessions for June and July 2019).

What is expected to happen this week?

This week, the judge will likely deal with any issues related to Hadi’s / Nashwan’s medical condition. It is likely that the defendant will be wheeled into the courtroom on Wednesday morning, 21 August, in either a hospital bed or a modified wheelchair.

Then, the judge is scheduled to listen to defense and prosecution lawyers argue a number of motions, all of which were listed on a docket that circulated a month or two ago. These motions, which are listed below, deal with a range of issues, including defense requests for information about and access to places where Hadi / Nashwan and others were confirmed, and conflicts of interest of war court personnel.

Motions on the docket are:

  • Defense Motion to Compel Discovery of Information Related to and Access to Buildings in which the Accused or any Potential Witnesses Have Been Confined (AE 137);
  • Defense Motion to Compel Defense Examination of Accused’s Conditions of Confinement Onboard Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (AE 139);
  • Defense Motion to Compel Appointment and Funding of Defense Mitigation Specialist (AE 150);
  • Defense Motion to Compel Production of Discovery Relating to Rules of Engagement Requested in Defense 51st Supplemental Request for Discovery (AE 156);  
  • Defense Motion to Dismiss on the Basis that the Convening Authority has a Personal Interest in the Outcome of the Military Commission (AE 157);
  • Defense Motion to Dismiss because a Military Judge and Law Clerk Sought Employment with the DOD and DOJ (AE 150);  
  • Defense Motion to Compel Discovery of Information Related to Public Statements Made by RDML Ring Concerning Conditions of Confinement (AE 150); and,
  • Defense Motion for Judge Libretto to Disqualify Himself under R.M.C. 902 (AE 150).

Conclusion – What Will Happen This Week?

This coming week at Guantanamo, like all weeks at Guantanamo, is unpredictable.

We will need to wait to see how matters unfold this week.

Stay tuned to www.GitmoObserver.com for updates!

George Edwards

Professor of Law

Direct, Military Commission Observations Project (MCO)

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

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Check your eligibility to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings through Indiana’s Guantanamo Project. Click here.

Indiana law students and faculty at Ft. Meade’s Guantanamo hearings

Ft. Meade # 1 of 4

Right to left — Mr. Tex Boonjue, Ms. Hee Jong Choi, and me. We’re standing in front of the Post Theater at Ft. Meade.

I was at Ft. Meade, Maryland today to monitor hearings in the Guantanamo Bay Military Commission case against an alleged high-ranking al Qaeda member, Hadi al Iraqi. Hadi faces war crimes charges in the court, located in a remote area of Cuba. The U.S. military broadcasts the hearings live to a Ft. Meade base movie theater (the Post Theater) via a secure video-link.

Indiana students at Ft. Meade

I was joined by two Indiana University McKinney School of Law students, both of whom have strong interests in human rights and international criminal law. They are both representatives of Indiana’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP).

Ms. Hee Jong Choi is a rising third year student who is an intern in Indiana’s Program in International Human Rights Law. She has been working on North Korean human rights issues, while she was based in South Korea for the first half of the summer, and while based in Washington, DC at an NGO (HRNK – The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea) for the second half of the summer.

Mr. Tex Boonjue is a rising 2nd year Indiana student, who is working for the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) at the Washington, DC Naval Yard.

Fort Meade's Post Theater is screening Guantanamo Bay war crimes hearings during the day, and San Andreas in the evenings.

Fort Meade’s Post Theater is screening Guantanamo Bay war crimes hearings during the day, and San Andreas in the evenings.

Defendant’s opportunity to speak today – Conflict of interest

Today’s hearings were notable, in that the defendant had an opportunity to speak more than defendants typically speak at military commission hearings. Typically, at the beginning of a hearing week, the military judge will ask the defendant whether the defendant understands his rights. The judge lists our numerous rights, and the defendant is given a chance to answer as to his understanding of those rights. Generally, after that, the lawyers do the rest of the talking, along with the judge.

Today, an issue was presented regarding the possibility that the lawyer who represented Hadi for a year may have a conflict of interest that could have a negative impact on Hadi. The judge asked Hadi series of questions, in open court on the record, and Hadi replied. Hadi and the judge entered into a discussion about these issues.

Hearings suspended, again

Ultimately, due to questions concerning the possible conflict, the judge suspended the hearings, indefinitely.

The hearings for July 2015 had been scheduled for two weeks, beginning Monday, 20 July. The night before, this conflict issue was raised in special conference, and the judge postponed the hearings until today, Wednesday the 22nd. Today, we had about 3 hours of court time, including the time that the defendant and the judge conversed, and including pauses and a long break.

The two weeks of hearings could be over as of lunch time today.

In the meantime, many dozens of people associated with the hearings boarded a plane this past Sunday at Andrews Air Force Base, bound for 2 weeks at Guantanamo Bay. The plane may be forced to return to Andrews more than a week early, with only 3 hours of court.

At the Ft. Meade Commissary today

At the Ft. Meade Commissary today

Who else was at Ft. Meade today?

Also in the Post Theater observing today’s hearings were 7 law student interns from the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of the Military Commissions, along with one of their supervisors, Major Chris Hartley (Army JAG, International Law Advisor). Two law student interns from the Human Rights First National Security section were present, as was another gentleman who did not identify himself. A DoD contractor was there to help ensure that no one brought cell phones into the Theater. And a technician and another administrator popped in from time to time to check up on things.

It was an early lunch day at Ft. Meade.

Greg Loyd, our Indiana McKinney representative who is in Guantanamo Bay this week, reported that there is plenty to keep him and observers busy down there, even with the hearings being suspended. He, and the rest of us, are spending time working on the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.

George Edwards – Ft. Meade, Maryland

My flight to Guantanamo Bay – by Greg Loyd

On my way to Guantanamo Bay: a quick meeting with George Edwards

I’m on the left, with Professor George Edwards who founded the Military Commission Observation Project at Indiana. This photo was taken in Washington, DC the day before my departure for Guantanamo.

I’m set this morning to go to Guantanamo Bay to monitor Military Commission hearings. On my plane, which leaves from Andrews Air Force Base, will be the judge, prosecution and defense lawyers, victims’ families, press, court reporters and interpreters, and other hearing observers. For 10 days we will be involved in pre-trial hearing in a case against alleged war criminal al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an alleged high-ranking al Qaeda member.

I appreciate the opportunity to represent the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

 My Background

I graduated from Indiana’s law school over a decade ago, and I have worked as both a defense attorney and a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. I have worked with many categories of individuals emotionally vested in cases – criminal defendants scared for their future due to charges against them, detectives who sink their nights and days investigating a case, family members who grieve for a loved one, and fellow attorneys who spend sleepless nights worrying upcoming hearings. I hope this balanced lense will aid me in better understanding each Guantanamo Bay stakeholder’s point of view and lead to reporting that readers find helpful.

 My Role

As an Observer, I will watch, listen, and ask questions about the rights of stakeholders in the al-Hadi al-Iraqi case. Obviously, one such stakeholder is the defendant who has significant rights and interests in the matter. Yet, so too do the families of victims. The press. NGO’s. Yes, even the prosecution. When evaluating the military commissions, it is important to consider not just the rights of any one stakeholder, regardless of who or what this stakeholder is, but rather, the analysis must be global in nature. Given that much has been written about the defendant’s rights, I will try to pay close attention to another stakeholder — the rights of the Guantanamo Bay prosecution — in an effort to contribute to a full discussion.

A helpful starting point is to ensure an understanding of the charges filed against a defendant.

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi

What are “Charges”?

Charges are the formal method that the government uses to accuse an individual (the defendant) with having committed a crime. The charges are not evidence and the filing of a charge does not mean that the defendant is guilty. Rather, it is the Government’s responsibility to prove at trial that the defendant is guilty. The Government filed fives charges against Hadi al-Iraqi.

Charges Against Hadi al Iraqi

Here is a brief explanation of the charges filed against the defendant.

  1. Denying Quarter

In short, the Government alleges that Hadi al Iraqi ordered his combat forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan that when they engaged in combat, they were to take no prisoners, even if the opposing forces attempted to surrender.

  1. Attacking Protected Property

Here, the Government alleges that the defendant attacked a military medical helicopter as it attempted to evacuate a U.S. military member from a battlefield and that the defendant knew the helicopter was a medical helicopter.

  1. Using Treachery or Perfidy

The Government asserts that the defendant detonated explosives in a vehicles that killed and injured German, Canadian, British, and Estonian military personnel.

  1. Attempted Use of Treachery or Perfidy

Hadi al-Iraqi is charged in this count with attempting to detonate explosives in a vehicle to kill or injure U.S. military members.

  1. Conspiracy

The Government contends that the defendant entered into an agreement with Usama bin Laden and others to commit terrorism, denying quarter, and murder (among other acts), and that he took at least one step to accomplish the purpose of the agreement.

Conclusion

I’m looking forward to monitoring the upcoming hearings. In applying my experiences, I hope to share a thoughtful analysis regarding my observations at Guantanamo Bay that contributes to the exploration of the rights of all stakeholders.

By Greg Loyd