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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have just arrived back from the meeting with the defense as I sit in my tent in Camp Justice and write my thoughts in my journal, which I will later type up and post as a blog post here (gitmoobserver.com). It was so interesting to hear directly from the defense attorneys who have been working on the 9/11 defense team for so many years. I am very excited to hear the arguments that will be made in the upcoming pre-trial hearings, especially the arguments regarding when the existence of hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda began.
J.D. Candidate (2022)
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law
Indiana University McKinney School of Law