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 ( 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

Indiana University Students Travel to Guantanamo Bay Despite Trump Administration Cuba Travel Warning

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.Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 11.19.36 PM

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”.resources-trident

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.

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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

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

For more information, please write to or


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

Traveling to Guantanamo Bay for Hearings Tomorrow

George Edwards & Greg Loyd - Pre-Gitmo - DC - 18 July 2015

Mr. Greg Loyd (left) & Professor in Washington, DC on the eve of Mr. Loyd’s departure for Guantanamo Bay hearings in the case against Hadi al Iraqi. Professor Edwards will monitor the same hearings at a secure location at Ft. Meade, Maryland, beginning Monday, 20 July 2015.

Greg Loyd will fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor hearings in the military commission case again Hadi al Iraqi. Professor George Edwards will monitor those same hearings via a secure video-link at Ft. Meade, Maryland.

Mr. Loyd, who is a graduate of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, is representing the law school’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), founded by Professor Edwards. Three Indiana students and graduates will join Professor Edwards at Ft. Meade for the hearings, that commence Monday, 20 July 2015.

Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi

Hadi al-Iraqi

Who is the defendant?

The pre-trial hearings are in the case against Hadi al Iraqi, who is an alleged high ranking member of al Qaeda. He is charged with being an al Qaeda liaison to the Taliban, to al Qaeda in Iraq, and to other affiliated groups. Professor Edwards was in the courtroom at Guantanamo Bay in the 2014 summer when Hadi al Iraqi was arraigned on these charges.

The flight to Guantanamo Bay & drive to Ft. Meade

Mr. Loyd is scheduled to report to Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday, 19 July 2015, for his flight to Guantanamo Bay. Professor Edwards and the other Indiana monitors are scheduled to drive to Ft. Meade early Monday morning for the hearings. While Mr. Loyd will be in the Guantanamo courtroom, the Ft. Meade viewers will witness the proceedings live by video.


All Indiana monitors will be posting blog entries about their observations. They are all using the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual to help them assess whether in their opinion, all stakeholders are receiving the fair trial to which they are entitled. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial, and so too is the prosecution. Other stakeholders with rights and interests include the media, the U.S. an international public, and the victims and victims’ families.



Going to Guantanamo – Overnight at Andrews Air Force Base

Air Force H20

Outside Andrew Air Force Base from my hotel.

I flew from Indianapolis to Washington DC to a beautiful 30 degrees. My hotel for the night is just across the street from Andrews Air force Base, where I’m to report at 6:45 a.m. tomorrow for my flight to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor the case against al Nashiri, who is charged with being a mastermind of the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 US sailors in 2000.

On this trip, I will be joined by ten other Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observers, some of whom have already expressed interest in the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, that we at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law have been researching and writing.

Flying to DC

My trip was uneventful, save for the look on all who tried to lift my carry-on luggage containing the Manuals, which at this point are in two Volumes, totaling over 400 pages. More about the Manuals later.

On my flight from Indianapolis there was an ‘interesting’ conversation going on behind me. I was sitting in front of the loudest three on this very small plane. Their conversations spanned from blue-collar job variations by state, Hoover Dam documentaries, Benghazi and then, Guantanamo! I held my breath.

Their biggest and only complaint was that US taxpayer money was paying for top-notch medical care “for those 9-11 prisoners down there in Cuba” while people here cannot afford it.

The pilot came on the intercom, and voices behind me were lowered for the remainder of the flight. I am still a little shocked that three people on that small plane going from Indiana to the East Coast would talk about Guantanamo Bay, on the eve of my first trip to that U.S. detention center on a remote Caribbean Island.

Preparing for my mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

As an NGO observer, I am tasked with evaluating whether the all stakeholders are being afforded the rights and interests to which they are entitled through the Military Commission process. Yes, I will be examining rights of the defendants. Also I will examine rights of victims and their families, rights of the prosecution, rights of the press, and rights and interests of others who have a stake in the proceedings.

To help prepare for this mission, I have familiarized myself with the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, which at this point I find to be of ‘biblical’ importance. As I mentioned, it is now in two Volumes. Volume I is the main body of the Manual, and identifies the international and domestic U.S. law that governs the Military Commissions. It provides a good idea of what a fair proceeding should look like, so that NGO Observers will have a good point of reference. It also contains a number of extensive, comprehensive “checklists” that Observers can use to give an idea of what to look for when they are observing.

Volume II contains the Appendices, which include hard copies of many important legal documents, such as parts of the Military Commission Act, Rules of Procedure, and International Documents, including parts of the Geneva Conventions.

Both Volumes have been instrumental in helping me prepare for my role as an observer. I have done background readings on blogs from other participants who have attended the hearings, as well as from the Military Commission Website and other resources. The Gitmo Observer Blog also contains Briefing Books under Research and Resources, which have been very helpful in orienting myself with the details of the hearings.

March 2 – 6 Hearings

Vaughn Ary -

Retired Major General Vaughn Ary

This week, the al Nashiri court dealt with Unlawful Influence (AE 332, Defense Motion to Dismiss for Unlawful Influence and Denial of Due Process for Failure to Provide an Independent Judiciary). See Alleged Unlawful Influence over Guantanamo Bay Judges.  It is argued that a high ranking military official, retired Marine Major General Vaughn Ary, engaged in “unlawful influence” over the judges of the Military Commission by ordering them to relocate to Guantanamo Bay to help speed up the proceedings.

The defense argued that no military official should be able to order a Military Commission judge to take such actions, since the judges are supposed to be free from outside influence.

The Learned Counsel for al Nashiri’s made a statement about who “can be trusted to act impartially” (Pentagon scraps judges’ Guantánamo move order; 9/11 case unfrozen, Miami Herald). The order of Major General Ary was reversed at the end of this past week, after Ary testified from the Pentagon.

Motions scheduled to be argued next week while I am present as per the second amended Docketing Order are:

  • AE 334 – Defense Motion for Appropriate Relief to Allow Mr. AI Nashiri to Groom Prior to Court Sessions and Meetings with his Defense Team.
  • AE 272D – Government Motion for Reconsideration and Clarification of AE 272C- Ruling- Defense Motion for Appropriate Relief: Inquiry into the Existence of a Conflict of Interest Burdening Counsel’s Representation of the Accused Based on Ongoing Executive Branch Investigations;
  • AE 331 A – Government Motion To Amend the Docketing Order (February 2015 Hearing) To Allow The Government To Determine The Manner In Which It Presents Its Evidence Relating To The Admissibility Of Government-Noticed Hearsay And Evidence Identified In AE 207;
  • AE 319I – Defense Motion to Continue the Evidentiary Hearings Related to AE 166 et seq and AE TI 9 Until Preliminary Matters are Resolved;
  • AE 319J – Defense Motion to Continue Further Hearings on the Government’s Motion to Admit Hearsay Until the Court of Military Commissions Review Renders a Final Judgment on Appeal;
  • AE 328 – Defense Motion for a Fair Hearing on the Admissibility of Evidence as Noticed in AE 166 and AE 166A; 3 (8) AE 319F, Defense Motion to Compel Discovery Related to AE166/166A/166B and Seeking Further Appropriate Relief;
  • AE 319G – Defense Motion to Compel Witnesses to Testify at the Hearing on AE166/166A/166B/319;
  • AE 256D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 256C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5);
  • AE 257D, Defense Motion to Strike AE 257C: Government Notice of Bill of Particulars (Defining Civilian Population as Used in Aggravating Factor #5).

Tomorrow (Sunday), we are scheduled to leave for Guantanamo from Andrews. I plan to post again once I cross the street and enter the base.

I look forward to meeting the other NGO observers.

Aside from the hearings, all that is ringing in my head is ‘banana rats’ – these animals that are supposedly running around pretty freely on Guantanamo Bay. They say that they have to keep the temperature in our GTMO tents very low to keep these rats out at night.

Also, I hear there is a Jamaican shack with the best food on the GTMO base!

Seriously, I am very keen on furthering the goals of the Indiana University Military Commission Observation Project, which include to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the Military Commissions. This is a very important project that I believe serves all stakeholders in the Military Commission process.

Avril Rua Pitt, Across the Street From the Andrews Air Force Base Entrance, 28 February 2015

Final Days at GTMO – 30 – 31 May 2014


James Zender, IU McKinney Law School JD graduate, at Guantanamo Bay in May 2014.

On the final two days of scheduled hearing days at Guantanamo Bay, the hearings either ended early or were deemed classified. The NGO Observers were excluded from classified hearings. Thus, we had lots of time to explore Guantanamo Bay.

What to do at GTMO when there are no hearings?

With significant down time when we can’t monitor hearings, there were still a number of ways for us to fill our time in Guantanamo.

The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) wing of the military has a heavy presence and their mission is to ensure military members have relaxing and appropriate non-work related activities to maintain somewhat of a normalized life experience in such a secluded location. They have an outdoor movie theater that plays brand new movies most evenings. They provide cook out facilities at the beach. There is a golf course and dive shop. With time to kill, we were able to take our pick on how we wanted to pass our time.

Radio Gitmo

Our first stop was Radio Gitmo, which is in charge of the airwaves on base. They host three radio stations and sell a popular Fidel Castro bobble head. After a tour of the facilities (I had never been in a radio station before) we got to see the back room where they still maintain a huge collection of vinyls. Our guide noted it was the largest vinyl collection in the military and they still regularly play them on the air.


The vinyl collection at Radio GITMO

Camp X-Ray – A familiar site

On our way back from Radio Gitmo, we drove past the infamous Camp X-Ray site. This camp was the very first one to hold detainees after 9-11 until Camp Delta was built. After the transfer to Camp Delta, the military wished to raze Camp X-Ray, but a US court ordered it preserved as evidence. We were not allowed to take picture of it, but there are pictures you can find online from those authorized to take them. Its current condition is one of (more…)

Power Session Part II – 28 May 2014 (al Nashiri-view from GTMO)

As the NGO group broke down the morning’s activities over Subway sandwiches, we were all surprised they got through three of the motions that morning. As we looked over the docket, we guessed that two more would be done that afternoon, and things would likely wrap up by Thursday. One motion in particular (AE 120D) was rumored to possibly take a whole day to argue. We expected a much slower pace in the afternoon. Not only were we dead wrong, but I think things could have gone even quicker.

Will al Nashiri come to court this afternoon?

As I took my lucky number 23 assigned seat, I was curious if al Nashiri was going to opt to show up for the afternoon session. At the outset of any round of hearings, he must be present for the judge to explain to him his right to be present, or not be present. Earlier, we got to hear him speak, in Arabic, that he understood that right. According to some of the observers who have been to a number of these hearings, the defendants will often opt out of coming back after the first mandatory session.

Within 3 minutes of sitting down, al Nashiri was escorted in and he took his place at the defense table.

As with the morning session, he spun around in his chair and casually looked across the gallery. As his gaze swept across the room we were in, I felt our eyes meet, for a passing moment. There appeared to be no ill will or flames of evil in his glance, just curiosity. After he made a similar check in the morning, I asked our escort if we were behind a one-way mirror. The answer was a resounding no, but he noted that the glass was sound proof. Judge Pohl entered shortly after our arrival and he quickly got things underway.

Motion AE 267B

The first motion of the afternoon was AE 267B, where the defense was moving to allow the defendant the option to choose whether he wanted a trial by a single judge or a trial by jury. I found this motion flawed on so many levels, and as the defense made their arguments, I found myself trying to reason why they would want this option. It was frustrating to me that I could not concentrate, because the Navy officer making the argument had the best form and delivery out of any of the eight various people who gave arguments. But substantively, I just could not grasp the logic of the motion or his points. The crux of their issue was with the fact that military commission trials have a jury of “members”, all of who are officers (typically higher ranking ones) in the armed forces. The convening authority selects a pool and they are sent down for voir dire. The defense argued this inherently built in unacceptable levels of bias, noting that nearly all the officers would be, like the Navy lawyer himself, a young commissioned officer when the Cole bombing happened. He noted that many of them may have known people on board or shaped strong opinions about the defendant at the time. The judge questioned whether the decision to opt out of a jury trial would come before or after voir dire. I was so caught up still trying to figure out why this motion was being made, I forgot to note the defendant’s answer. What really hung me up was that the whole point of voir dire and each parties’ ability to strike members is to eliminate bias. Claiming other measures needed to be taken seemed to short circuit this control for bias. Furthermore, a single person, instead of a group of twelve, would seem to be much more capable of bias. Finally, I could not even begin to understand why in a capital case, when a unanimous decision of all twelve members is required for the death penalty, the defense would even want the option of reducing that number of votes to one. “They must have a very high opinion of Judge Pohl,” I remembered thinking as the prosecution prepared to make their argument. I was eager to hear their side of the motion. At the conclusion of their argument, everything became completely clear. This motion was nothing more than a defense tactic to attempt to trip up the court and make the whole proceedings invalid. The MCA section 949m specifically states that a jury trial must be given. Furthermore, it notes a death penalty cannot be instituted except by unanimous consent of a twelve member jury. If the judge gives the defense the ability to opt out of this, it would directly contravene the statutory authority and Congress’ explicit intent, thus opening it up for an appeal and invalidation of the trial. Furthermore, the commission’s authority over cases has (according to the prosecution) five necessary parts, including a trial by jury. Allowing the defendant to opt out of a jury would undermine and invalidate the commission’s jurisdiction over the case. After the prosecution finished its argument, which was succinct and well articulated, it became clear to me that this was a defensive tactic to get the proceedings thrown out on a technicality later down the line. Regardless of where you stand on the validity of the commission to try the accused, I am happy the prosecution snuffed this trick out and will likely succeed in averting a technical dismissal. Nothing would be more annoying and a deterrent to some level of justice than the success of such a move. I am very glad we had two prosecutors with us on this trip, because afterwards I was asking them about such tactics. They confirmed that in their long years of experience, they have seen many, nearly identical, ploys made by defense teams. Since the prosecution was rather brief and did not even give a reply argument, Jude Pohl was able to move quickly to the next motion.

Motion AE 270

The next item was AE 270, which dealt with the defense’s request for remedies for the failure of the prosecution to give it evidence. This motion was pretty short, and along with the one that followed it, appeared to be the most easy, simple issues on the docket. They were the ones I was hoping to get at the outset to get me warmed up. The defense was concerned by the fact that certain evidence was produced to them recently that should have been produced earlier. A previous document (AE 045) gave notice to the court that all pertinent evidence was turned over to the defense. However, more evidence was recently found and the defense sought remedies to prove to the prosecution the court would not tolerate the dragging of its feet in releasing material. In perhaps a slight break in neutrality, Judge Pohl asked “And what remedy would you have me give you?” I definitely caught a sign of frustration in his voice. The defense did not seem to have a specific remedy in mind, or at least her answer was so convoluted I could not decipher it, but after this question, the defense council appeared to lose her place and stumbled to get back on track. The prosecution appeared to uncover another common defense tactic, and its arguments mirrored such a sentiment. As he noted, the prosecution has a continuing duty to find and produce discoverable material, and one cannot simply claim anything produced after a certain date is a violation. A continuing duty necessarily means they will be producing things all the time. However, this situation is certainly more unique than most, and while I am not sure the judge should issue remedies here, a regularly filed motion similar to this one may be a positive thing for the process. There is no doubt the various branches of the government are not in sync with what is happening here in GTMO. Some parts are actively against it and failing to cooperate. Some parts are trying to subversively control it. One part, the prosecution, is trying to make it happen. With the prosecution being pulled by so many different strings, it is certainly important to “hold their feet to the fire” as the defense said, to show that this court will not be toyed with or manipulated. While I would be shocked if the defense prevails on this motion, given the historical nature of the proceedings and prime setting for government conspiracy, this sort of motion is a healthy part of the process of justice.

Motion AE 272

Motion AE 272 served as the penultimate motion in this round of hearings. It was the only motion that was actually uncontested. The defense noted how the FBI had approached and caused members of the defense team in the 9-11 hearings to sign non-disclosure agreements, which represents possible illegal contact and possible conflict of interest problems. Supposedly, such contacts have also been made in this case, and the defense is seeking to have the court compel any defense team members to tell their team, or the court, if they have been contacted. The prosecution had almost no argument and agreed that such an order should be made. Furthermore, he was going to look into the possibility that such contact would represent a conflict of interest.

Motion AE 120D — The “big daddy” (request for reconsideration of AE 120C)

As the last motion came to quick resolution, all my fellow observers and I stared at the docket we were given. This leaves only AE 120D, the rumored big daddy of all the motions to be heard. Surely, the judge was not going to try to start it so late into the afternoon. But, without hesitation, he called the prosecution forward to address its motion.

General Martin — What were the underlying issues?

For the first time at the hearing, General Martin proceeded to the podium. He looked very impressive with his salt and pepper hair, very calming demeanor and speech pattern, and massive display of colors, medals, and badges on his uniform. His motion was a simple request for reconsideration of the judge’s previous order on AE 120C. At the outset of his argument, he asked to display things on the monitors, the only person to do so in the hearing. I was even more intrigued. What followed, was nothing short of a disappointment.

For the better part of the argument, I failed to grasp the underlying issues and what specifically he was looking to have done. It was made even more frustrating because his reputation is one of a very smart man, but his argument was either too smart for me, or fatally disjointed. Once the defense came up, I began to form a much better view of the issues. The order the prosecution was seeking to have reconsidered compelled the it to turn over, in discovery, information on the CIA’s RDI (Rendition, Detention, Interrogation) program. The prosecution argued that the order was too vague at parts in order to properly comply with it. Furthermore, it argued that a change in facts results in a need for the judge to reconsider the motion under the new set of facts.

The facts the prosecution relied on is the ability of the defense to now be able to show the defendant documents about events that happened to him. I think this basically means they are allowed to show him photos or documents related to his confinement or torture.

The defense countered that procedurally, in order to properly grant a motion to reconsider, there must be a change in facts or law from when the order was given. Here, they argue, no such law or fact is given. No new law was given, but the prosecution did mention in passing the fact that the defense has the ability to show things to the defendant. However, it seemed like this was not actually a new fact, and therefore, this motion fails on procedural grounds. Even if it was valid, the defense made an interesting point that part of the reason they needed (and he thinks they were given) access to the RDI program material was that they could not be effective counsel, as required by law, without it.

Stripping away the material now, would mean they could not make an effective defense. After a very long-winded argument and reply, I ultimately think the defense will prevail on this motion. Discussing this motion afterwards with my colleagues, I noted my disappointment in the General’s argument. However, they noted something I had not considered in that he had a terrible argument to begin with (they noted the apparent procedural flaw), and this can certainly reflect on how the argument is given. One person noted he was the one who likely gave this argument because his status might lend extra weight to the issue.

End of the hearing for Observers.

At almost exactly 4:30pm on the first day, our experience in the courtroom came to a close. We all could not believe it was over. We thought there were many occasions when the judge would end the arguments for the day, but he kept powering through, taking only a 15 minute recess in the middle. Despite our expectations of a longer hearing, things could have been even shorter. One of the most distinct differences I noticed in the commission proceedings compared to regular courts was the lack of a timing mechanism. There were no green-yellow-red lights or countdown timer. Attorney’s were given free rein to talk as long as they wish, which is never a good thing I would think. Ultimately, that proved true only in the final motion, where the defense seemed to massively overstate, restate, and reiterate points. We all laughed afterwards that there were at least four or five times we thought he was going to end it, only to ramble on about something else.

Judge Pohl – Strategies?

One of our escorts made a very good point noting that he thinks Judge Pohl recognizes the historical nature of this proceeding, and the fact that it is likely to be appealed until the cows come home. He thinks the compilation of as complete of a record as possible can only serve to help such situations. Through this lens, I can certainly agree. However, after reviewing all the attorneys’ arguments in my mind, I noted how the lack of a time limit appeared to hurt them because on at least three separate occasions, I noted that the attorney was very redundant. Ultimately, I think the lack of some time limit makes for much more disorganized and loose arguments. Having a time limit allows you to focus on what’s important and organize it in a way that effectively makes those points. After watching a day of hearings, my immediate reaction as to what to change would be to institute time limits, even if they are more than would be typically necessary.

Meeting with General Martin

After the hearing, we were lucky enough to schedule a sit down with General Martin almost immediately after the hearing. We filed into the media room where we sat in a nice little circle for a round table discussion with him. For nearly two hours, we were able to ask him questions. I particularly enjoyed the handful of questions he took from our prosecutors because it really helped to harmonize the military commission process with the typical court process. They noted to him multiple different procedures, rights, tactics, and issues that the sides addressed that are mirrored almost exactly in domestic courts. His reputation for intelligence was confirmed as he easily cited to both the military commission and domestic rules that mirrored one another, and noted the differences in terms and usage.

He came off as someone who had a deep understanding of the system, a recognition for its flaws, an openness on how to make it better, but ultimately, a zealous belief that it is the best system currently for these trials. I was particularly stuck by his entertainment, and out loud thinking, of better solutions to people’s perceived flaws in the system being used to try al Nashiri.

He referred a couple times to the Nuremberg Trials and Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals.

I was eager to ask him to what extant he looks to those trials for guidance or indications of how to proceed in a military tribunal, which one day will likely hold the same historical significance. However, he was focused on the other side of the room and then had to leave. Two hours was a generous amount of time, and I was glad he took the time for us.

Dinner at Caribbean Jerk House

After he left, we piled into the vans for a trip to the Caribbean Jerk House for a late dinner. I am pretty sure the two guys running the place did not care what we ordered They grabbed something from the bins, cut it up and served it to us. Despite half of our orders being wrong, we were all so hungry, we were going to mimic Judge Pohl and have a power session on some jerk flavored chicken and ribs.

Power Session Part I — 28 May 2014 (al Nashiri-view from GTMO)

First Day of my round of the al Nashir hearings – 28 May 2014

I just finished the first day of al Nashiri hearings down here in Guantanamo Bay, and it was a power packed session. Over the course of three days, they had scheduled seven separate motions, as well as a couple closed sessions for discussions related to top secret material.

I was looking forward to a couple of the lighter, easier motions to get me started, followed by some of the more contentious and complex ones to come later in the week. However, they were able to power through all seven motions today, leaving only one closed hearing in the morning. As things currently stand, my time witnessing history has come to a close, and it took only five hours. But, boy were they a loaded five hours, and it all started with a bang…

Rise and shine – Guantanamo Bay style interrupted by an explosion!

The first motion of the day was scheduled at 9am, but was to be conducted in a closed session due to security concerns. This meant we got to “sleep in” until 8am, when the trumpets blared over the loud speakers the National Anthem. Everyone was certainly happy for a few extra minutes of shut eye after arriving promptly at Andrews Airforce Base by 6am the day before.

We assembled at 8:30am outside our tents, and started walking with our escorts over very shortly thereafter. The two minute walk to the courthouse was interrupted by a massive explosion.

The shock wave shook the ground and pounded our chests with the force greater than any fireworks show I have ever witnessed. Our escort, whom I was walking next to, was wide eyed and looking around at the military personnel for explanations. They too were confused. We continued into the courthouse checkpoint very leery of what to expect.

The guards conducting the security check immediately asked us what was going on. Having seen a large plume of white smoke arising down by the water line, I told them about it. They all had very concerned looks on their faces, but continued to shuffle us through the security checkpoint. Once we were in the waiting room to go into the court, the guards there were all talking about what happened.

Our escort and I were able to find out that supposedly there was some unexploded ordinance that was being control detonated. That was reassuring. Nothing says perfect timing like a huge explosion ten minutes before an alleged terrorist is brought into a courtroom. Suddenly, two smaller booms rocked the lobby. Everyone looked around, first at the guards, and then the guards at each other. Despite the fact that they were wearing wires (like you see secret service guys wearing), they had no clue what these explosions were. But, it was time to get into our assigned seats, so they showed us into the viewing room.

In the Guantanmo courtroom

Each person attending the viewing has an assigned seat. I was number 23, the third row back, and seated three seats from the left end. I was looking directly at the defense side. Not even a minute after sitting down, the detainee guard unit brought in al Nashiri. He sat directly in front of me.

Court was called to session and the prosecution had an addition to their team that was made known at the outset. A civilian attorney was joining them. The defense took the opportunity to reiterate to the court its outstanding motion and belief that the defense is at a distinct resource disadvantage. They noted how the new addition was the twelfth member of the prosecution, while the defense is stuck at five, and the judge is dragging his feet on allowing a sixth.

With these preliminary issues noted in the record, the judge turned to the first motion: AE 206.

Motion AE 206 (and more explosions rocking the courtroom)

The first motion of the day was from the defense.

This motion is looking to compel the prosecution to produce a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA RDI (Rendition, Detention, Interrogation) program. This motion was one of the more interesting ones because it implicated a number of issues. First, the prosecution has an ongoing duty to disclose evidence to the defense, and this report contained a number of details regarding al Nashiri’s treatment while confined. The defense argued the report contained a number of items, which would be extremely valuable to their defense, and the prosecution’s failure to produce the report warranted an order to compel.

As a preliminary matter, Judge Pohl asked if he was even capable of compelling the Senate to produce such a document.

I was surprised that the defense did not spend more time on their answer, beyond a mere “yes”. The judge seemed quite concerned he would not be able to compel a separate branch of government to produce such a document, but neither the prosecution nor defense, when asked directly by the judge, elaborated on authority or law, which pointed to his ability to compel disclosure.

Despite my novice nature in this arena, I would have certainly prepared authority to back up that very likely question. Moving forward, the defense focused on the probative value of the RDI report to their case and why the full report, and not just an executive summary, was needed.

In the middle of his argument, the room literally shook with another explosion. No one even flinched. The CCTV feed was even shaking considerably. I wonder if those at the Fort Meade location even knew what rocked the camera.

The defense counsel finished his argument shortly after this fourth explosion.

His presentation was the most spirited and aggressive advocacy we saw all day, hands down. His colorful language included terms like “fantastical treatment” and his demeanor was more like a basketball coach pleading his case before a referee who just called a terrible foul. Due to the issue of the topic, discovery of an item highly relevant to the defense, I can understand the advocacy/frustration in his argument. I wonder if his enthusiasm will change when he has to argue al Nashiri did not kill 17 sailors.

The prosecution’s attorney on this issue was the polar opposite. She was extremely tight, very formal, and hardly ever showed emotion, although there were times you could see she wanted to maybe raise her voice or use more pointed language. The government argued it has been seeking all material to the best of its ability and that the underlying information that the report was based on has already been given to the defense. I found this to be an interesting point since the report’s sources would seem more important than the report itself. However, I found it even more interesting that the prosecution overtly dodged the judge’s direct question on whether they have asked the Senate for the report.

In terms of good faith in trying to produce discoverable material, it seems a “yes” answer is highly desirable, but her utter lack of acknowledgement of the question and very political answer gave a very strong impression that they have not even asked for the report yet. Even if the report does not contain something the defense already has access to, this answer made the government look bad. This could be why in the middle of her answer, General Martin himself, the Chief Prosecutor, called the attorney over to the table. He conferred with her for a moment and she returned to give the court a future date, June 20th, on which the prosecution will know in more detail when and if the report will be available.

This was pretty much how they left the discussion of motion AE 206.

Motion AE 013N

The next motion was AE 013N, which asked the judge for permission to release secret information to the DC Circuit for use in a habeas case filed there on behalf of al Nashiri. The habeas case was filed in order to assert the commission did not have jurisdiction over the matters at hand. Due to Protective Order #1, issued by the judge, no information is to be released without his prior consent. Therefore, the defense was merely looking to obtain his consent before having it sent to the DC judge. However, the information the defense sought to be transferred was related to al Nashiri’s confinement, which the judged questioned whether it was even probative and necessary for the DC Circuit’s habeas determination.

Defense acknowledged it was not directly related, but may serve to indirectly help his decision and that furthermore, it should be released to the DC Circuit now, in case he needs it, instead of having to come back later with this same motion if he asks for it. The prosecution noted Protective Order #1 specifically laid out the procedure for procuring release of secret information and that the current situation has not met those steps yet.

While the prosecution was making his arguments, two more explosions echoed throughout the courtroom. As with the other one that happened while court was in session, no one even paused. The prosecutor, this time a Marine JAG officer, made a very compelling case, and of the seven motions heard, I feel this is one of the two that were obviously won by one of the sides. Protective Order #1 appears to clearly articulate the procedure for getting transfer. It is to occur upon the need of the secret information, followed by an appropriate motion to compel its transfer. Here, the DC Circuit has not indicated the evidence would be necessary or relevant, and thus the transfer of the material now would seem like a waste, especially if they never use it. Given the secret nature of the evidence, the burden and cost of transferring something that is not even utilized seems excessive, and I would not be surprised to see Judge Pohl rule this motion is premature.

Motion AE266

The final motion of the shortened open morning session was AE 266, which was certainly the most uncomfortable of the motions discussed. I say this because the viewing room is populated by NGO observers, media, victims’ family members, and any base personnel that wishes to watch. I cannot even imagine what it must be like for the victims’ family members to come down and look the accused killer of their loved one in the eyes. Furthermore, I do not imagine they harbor a very kind view towards those tasked with defending him. This motion compounded these feelings when the defense team made direct mention to them.

The motion sought for the judge to disclose any inappropriate communications he may have had with government agencies (i.e. the FBI, CIA, or other secretive organization that might have a hand in a government control of this commission conspiracy) as well as communications he may have had with victims’ family members.

The defense noted the unique situation of the GTMO hearings; all the media, NGOs, defense teams, prosecution teams, court administrators, and victims’ family members fly down on one plane and live in relative close proximity. This means that inadvertently, Judge Pohl could have contact with one of the victims’ family members. As the defense attempted to delicately articulate how such contact would be inappropriate (and it would, per the 2009 MCA), I could not help but look over at the members sitting across from me. They were both hurt and shocked that they were being dragged into this, and possibly used as a technical excuse to let the accused walk from the commission.

While as a lawyer I understand the purpose and legitimate point of the argument, no matter how nicely he attempted to put it, it came off as cold and disrespectful, and it certainly made for an uncomfortable 5-7 minutes. None-the-less, prosecution was quick to note that it was not at all opposed to the judge disclosing all ex parte communications that would be cause for concern, and noted it does not believe any such actions have occurred.

The prosecution also focused on stating exactly where the line is between appropriate ex parte communications, which are outlined in the MCA, and those that are forbidden, also outlined in the MCA. At the conclusion, I feel like the judge did the best thing in noting he would make a written statement noting that no inappropriate ex parte communications have been made to a government agency. He then explained that while he may have said “good morning” to a victims’ family member at some point in a terminal, that he takes every precaution to avoid inappropriate contact and that so far, none have been made.

End of the morning session

This concluded the morning session of motions and the court adjourned for a little over an hour for lunch. As I checked out of the courtroom, I wondered if the afternoon would hold any more uncomfortable situations, one sided arguments, or explosive interruptions. Since it is getting pretty late right now, I will add the afternoon’s motions tomorrow in another post (Power Session Part II)

3rd GTMO Observer Gears up to Depart-James Zender


In what can only be described as a whirlwind couple of days, I was fortunate enough to have earned a nomination by the MCOP to represent it during the next round of hearings at the end of this month. After Professor Edwards notified me that I was the one selected, I tried my best to keep my emotions in check. The Pentagon still needed to confirm my spot.

Thankfully, I was not in limbo for long. The following morning I received the confirmation from them, along with the requisite documents to make it final. I was so excited to be (more…)