U.S. Department of State travel warning for Cuba
On 29 September 2017, the United States Department of State issued an advisory that “warns U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba”. Indiana University prohibits its students from traveling to countries for which the State Department has issued such travel warnings, unless IU grants an exemption.
On Tuesday, 4 October 2017, the IU Office of (OSAC) granted an exemption thus permitting IU students to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to continue to participate in the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the IU McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law.
Why the Cuba Travel Warning?
The State Department warning stated that in recent months, “numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees have been targeted in specific attacks. These employees have suffered significant injuries as a consequence of these attacks. Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.”
The warning noted that neither the U.S. nor Cuban government has “identified the responsible party, but the Government of Cuba is responsible for taking all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on our diplomatic personnel and U.S. citizens in Cuba. Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba.”
The warning noted that “[a]ttacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens.”
The warning further noted that on September 29, the U.S. “ordered the departure of nonemergency U.S. government employees and their family members to protect the safety of our personnel.”
Indiana University travel ban and exemption
The Indiana University Overseas Study Advisory Council (OSAC) must approve international activity, such as the law student Guantanamo travel, and monitors such programs. OSAC “supports the Standards of Good Practice of the Forum on Education Abroad” and “endeavors to use” those standards “as a guideline when creating, monitoring and evaluating IU programs”.
When a travel advisory is issued for a country, OSAC requires IU student travel to cease to that country, unless OSAC grants an exemption.
The Cuba travel warning was issued on the 29th of September. On 3 and 4 October the Guantanamo project submitted to OSAC a 4-page document explaining the Guantanamo program, mentioning the distance between Havana (where the referred to medical issues were said to have happened) and Guantanamo Bay, that fact that IU students traveling to Guantanamo are confined to the U.S. military base there and have no access to the rest of Cuba, and that the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica handles consular matters for Guantanamo Bay, and not the U.S. Embassy in Havana, followed by an 86-page supporting document. OSAC granted the exemption on Tuesday, 3 October 2017, clearing the way for IU McKinney School of Law students to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba later this month.
Upcoming IU McKinney law student travel to Guantanamo Bay
The next student scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay in the IU McKinney program is Ms. Sheila Willard, a third-year law student, who is scheduled for a Guantanamo mission from 14 October 2017 to 21 October 2017 to monitor pre-trial hearings in the case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The five defendants face the death penalty for a series of war crimes associated with the attack that killed almost 3,000 people on 9/11.
At Guantanamo bay, Ms. Willard will be seated in the rear of the courtroom in the observation gallery, along with other monitors, media, and victims and family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks. She will be joined by representatives from various other NGOs from around the country to observe the hearings.
Ms. Willard traveled to Guantanamo Bay once before, to monitor the case against Hadi al Iraqi, an alleged high-ranking member of Al Qaeda. She also traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where she monitored the case of the 5 alleged masterminds, in the case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, et al., viewing the proceedings via CCTV from the Guantanamo Bay courtroom.
OSAC Requirements for travel to Guantanamo Bay
Any IU McKinney Affiliate (student, faculty, staff member, graduate) wishing to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a representative the Military Commission Observation Project is required to sign an exemption document that among other things contains a liability waiver. All MCOP monitors are also required to have insurance (e.g., covering health / accidents), which his offered to students through the Office of International Affairs, is already provided for faculty and staff, and is easily obtainable for graduates who may not have such insurance already.
Military Commission Observation Project at IU McKinney
On 28 February 2014, the Pentagon granted NGO observer status to the Indiana University Program in International Human Rights (PIHRL). Since then, PIHRL created the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which nominates potential observers from an interested pool of students, faculty/staff, alumni, and affiliates to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or Ft. Meade, Maryland to observe in the high-profile cases against detainees that are charged with terrorism-related offenses.
MCOP representatives may travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to attend, observe, analyze, critique, and publish materials on the hearings. Travel may also be to the Ft. Meade, Maryland military base where the same Guantanamo Bay hearings may be viewed via secure video-link.
Interested in traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or to Ft. Meade, Maryland?
As mentioned, travel through the Guantanamo project is available to faculty, staff, students and graduates of the IU McKinney School of Law. Information about registration for possible travel can be found here [though dates for the last quarter of 2017 and the first half of 2018 may not yet be posted on the website].
More information about the project can be found at www.GitmoObserver.com.
Read the Gitmo Observer blog to prepare for your observation
IU affiliates who are nominated for and travel to Guantanamo or Ft. Meade to observe the hearings contribute to the Gitmo Observer blog. Affiliates post at the time of nomination and Pentagon confirmation, preparation, once the affiliate begins the process of traveling to Guantanamo, once at Guantanamo and throughout the hearings, and finally upon return to the U.S. after observation. The blog posts contain varied information that may be valuable to any person preparing to travel to Guantanamo or Ft. Meade to observe the hearings.
Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and the Know Before You Go guide for future observers
The MCOP project has made available to observers our Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, a series of manuals that will help you in better preparing for your observation. Here are some insights into what you will find in the manuals:
- what the right to a fair trial is and how a fair trial should look
- how to assess whether a fair trial is being afforded to all Guantanamo stakeholders
- roles & responsibilities of independent Observers sent to monitor Guantanamo hearings
- background info on Guantanamo the military commissions
- a schematic of the courtroom (so you can know who is who)
- and a 76 page “Know Before You Go To Guantanamo” insert that will tell you what to expect on your flight to Cuba, the ferry ride across Guantanamo Bay from the landing strip to your Quonset Hut accommodations, base security, food (which can be quite good!), beach, boating, and of course the courtroom, the hearings, and briefings by the prosecution and defense.
The McKinney affiliate scheduled for each the hearing will be responsible to email to all of the Pentagon-approved observers a PDF version of the Know Before You Go To Guantanamo guide prior to departure from the U.S. All observers are encouraged to read the guide as the authors are experienced in Guantanamo and Ft. Meade observation and everything that is involved in making it a fully beneficial experience to all parties involved.
Please let us know if you have any suggestions for improving our Excerpts, our full Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual (over 500 pages in 2 volumes) and our Know Before You Go To Guantanamo Guide (76 pages). Please send inquiries or thoughts to GitmoObserver@yahoo.com.
Sheila Willard (J.D. Candidate, ’18)
NGO Monitor, U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law