Guantanamo Bay

Scheduled to Fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Next Week

Pentagon approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin, depicting Mr. Nashwan / Mr. Hadi at his Guantanamo arraignment on 18 June 2014.

In one week, on 3 June 2022, I am scheduled to fly from Indianapolis to Washington D.C., and fly the next day from Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base) to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On Friday, I plan to stay at a Maryland hotel near Andrews, and Uber to the base and be ready to check in at 6 a.m., Saturday for the 10:00 a.m. flight.

My destination is Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB), and my mission is to monitor a U.S. military commission pre-trial hearing in the case against Nashwan al-Tamir / Hadi al-Iraqi, who is charged with war crimes allegedly perpetrated in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 and 2004. For clarification, the prosecution refers to the defendant as “Hadi al Iraqi” while defendant has stated that his name is “Nashwan al Tamir”. Hereinafter, I will refer to him as “Mr. Nashwan / Mr. Hadi”.  

It was reported in the New York Times that Mr. Nashwan / Mr. Tamir was picked up in Turkey in 2006 and held by the C.I.A., before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2007. He was arraigned at Guantanamo in 2014 and charged with the following war crimes: denying quarter; attacking protected property; using treachery or perfidy; and attempted use of treachery or perfidy. Proceedings in his case have been reportedly delayed multiple times due to his declining health. He underwent five surgeries for a pre-existing spinal disease. 

About Me

I work as a clinic assistant at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and I support nine live client clinics and four full-time faculty members. I joined the Law School in late 2021.

Our nine clinics include the Appellate Clinic, Child Advocacy Law Clinic, Civil Practice Clinic, Criminal Defense Clinic, Health and Human Rights Clinic, Immigration Clinic, Intellectual Property Clinic, Re-Entry Clinic, and the Wrongful Conviction Clinic.

The clinics provide students the opportunity to work on real cases for real people under the supervision of clinical faculty. I support the work of the students and faculty, including but not limited to corresponding with clients, handling inquiries, and providing other administrative support. To date, I have been able to attend two expungement hearings, a full day of housing court, and two “second chance” outreach days, and I watched an appeals trial. I believe my experience at Guantanamo Bay will be vastly different from the hearings I have experienced considering I have not yet witnessed a criminal hearing.

I have a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Purdue University. I had an opportunity to intern with Purdue Marketing and Media for a year. While I was an intern, I developed an interest in writing. I worked as an editorial intern and wrote hundreds of articles and press releases. I became interested in the legal field after taking a course on Constitutional Law when I was a Purdue student. I see this experience — being able to blog and attend the hearings— as an opportunity to combine my interests of law and writing.  

I recently learned that I am the first staff member of IU McKinney School of Law to be nominated to travel to Guantanamo Bay to monitor hearings. The dozens of other IU Affiliates who have been nominated for Guantanamo travel have been faculty, students, and graduates. I’m honored to be the first staff member to be nominated and hope that my experience sparks an interest in other staff members.

My Mission for this Guantanamo Bay trip

My mission has been laid out for me as an NGO observer affiliate. NGO stands for “non-governmental organization”. The NGO I am affiliated with is the Military Commissions Monitoring Project (MCMP), which is part of the Program in International Human Rights Law of the IU McKinney School of Law. The Pentagon granted the Program in International Human Rights Law the status of “Observer”, and that Program in turn created the MCMP, which nominates IU McKinney faculty, staff, students and graduates to travel to Guantanamo to “observe” or “monitor” hearings. IU McKinney affiliates also travel to Ft. Meade, Maryland where Guantanamo hearings are broadcast live from the Guantanamo courtroom into a secure room at Ft. Meade via CCTV. They also travel to other installations where Guantanamo hearings occur, mostly via CCTV, but at times live, and include sites such as Ft. Devin, the Washington Naval Yard, Andrews, and the Pentagon.

As a representative of our IU McKinney NGO, my mission is to attend, observe, be seen, analyze, critique, and report my observations. I plan to be independent, objective, neutral, unbiased, and open-minded. It is my responsibility to be an impartial observer for myself, the other stakeholders of the proceedings, including future observers.

From the Beginning

I became aware of the MCMP, like many others at IU McKinney, through the emails sent out by Professor Edwards, the Law School’s Guantanamo Program Director. The emails are sent out monthly to law students, faculty, and staff to seek individuals interested in traveling to Guantanamo Bay and the other sites. Professor Edwards is also the Founding Faculty Director of the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) and has been involved with Guantanamo since 2003. The opportunity sounded like a once in a lifetime experience, but I did not think I would be selected as a new hire, having joined the law school only 6 months earlier. I pushed the idea of applying away until my supervisor forwarded the same email to me. In it, she encouraged me to apply. I took her encouragement as a sign and submitted an application.

The next day, I interviewed with Professor Edwards. The following week, I received the news that I was nominated by the MCMP to travel to Guantanamo to monitor these pre-trial hearings.

The next steps were to complete paperwork for the Pentagon, Indiana University, and the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL).

The paperwork for the Pentagon included 6 forms: a Hold Harmless Agreement, an acknowledgment of the NGO Ground Rules for Observation of Military Commissions, an Invitational Traveler Worksheet, a form requesting temporary access to NSGB, an acknowledgment of NGO Representative procedures for observation of military commissions, and a bio about myself.

I began communicating with other IU affiliates scheduled to travel in June, and we helped one another in completing the forms.

Preparing for Travel

Front cover of the Manual.
Front cover of the Guide.

To prepare, I have been given a multitude of resources, including the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and the Know Before You Got to Guantanamo Bay: A Guide for Human Rights NGOs & Others Going to Gitmo to Attend U.S. Military Commissions or For Other Purposes.  

The Fair Trial Manual gives an overview of the history of Guantanamo Bay, presents the rights of the detainees and all stakeholders, and provides precedents for why the detainees should be given a fair trial. The Know Before You Go Manual provides useful information from dress codes in the courtroom to fun activities for travelers when they aren’t observing or preparing for the hearings.

Both the Manual and the Guide can be found on the Gitmo Observer website.

Travelers are also provided a “Guantanamo Checklist” which lists what to do before, during, and after travel. The Checklist is an approximately 30-page document that comprehensively lists requirements for all participants. It also includes samples of how to complete the paperwork for the Pentagon.

Another great resource is the blog posts on the Gitmo Observer. Thanks to previous travelers’ blogs, I read that plans can change frequently regarding the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay. Travelers must remain flexible and be attentive to communication incoming from the Program Director and the Pentagon.

Booking my flight to DC

I booked my flight to D.C. two weeks ago. The day after I booked my flight, I received notice from the Pentagon that the military judge who presides over the case I am scheduled to monitor ruled that the pre-trial hearings my proposed week at Guantanamo will be “closed”, meaning that for the entire week I would be at Guantanamo, all the hearing sessions would relate to classified matters, and NGO representatives (like myself) would not be able to attend. Thus, there was a possibility that I could travel to Guantanamo for the week, and not have an opportunity to sit in on any courtroom hearings.

The Pentagon sent me an e-mail asking me if I still wanted to go to Guantanamo, given the judge’s ruling about the hearings. I learned that there is still the possibility the “closed” hearings will be “opened”, so I decided to continue to travel. Also, I learned that there are many aspects of monitoring / observing that take place outside the hearings, for example, briefings by U.S. military commission lawyers.

My next blog post

This is a photo of me…
I plan to post more photos of my journey to Guantanamo —  including at the airports in Indianapolis and DC, on the planes, the hotel, and of course at Andrews and Guantanamo.

My next blog posting is expected to include any updates I receive from the Pentagon this last week before the scheduled travel, my journey from Indianapolis to DC, and my arrival at Andrews.

Madison Sanneman

Clinic Assistant

NGO Monitor / Observer, Military Commission Monitoring Project (MCMP)

Program in International Human Rights

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Day 3 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Radio GTMO; Beach; Q & A With Defense of 9/11 Defendant “AAA” (Monday, 7 March 2022)

I arrived at Guantanamo Bay 3 days ago to monitor U.S. Military Commissions, but so far, the hearings have been delayed / postponed until Wednesday, 9 March. Because of the delays, the other 5 observers and I have been doing other things during the time that the pre-trial hearings would have been taking place.

This morning I woke up early to go on a run with two of the other NGO observers. The three of us ran about 2.25 miles around the Camp Justice area, along a beach-front road that goes by one of the most beautiful beaches at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Glass Beach (described later in this post).

After the run, I showered in the shower facilities provided at Camp Justice (photos from a previous blog post) and then ate breakfast with the other 5 observers at the Galley. Because there were no pre-trial hearings today, the other 5 NGO observers and I, with the help of our escorts, planned the following itinerary for the day:

  • A “windshield tour” (driving tour) of Guantanamo Bay. Our escort drove us down the main roads of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and drove us through some of the different housing neighborhoods. I did not photograph the houses during this driving tour.
  • A visit to the local radio station (Radio GTMO, described more later in this blog post)
  • Snorkeling at Glass Beach (described more later in this blog post),
  • A Question and Answer session with members of the al Baluchi (“AAA” aka “Triple A”) defense team and with the Chief Defense Counsel (described more later in this blog post).

Radio GTMO

The outside of the Radio GTMO building.

Radio GTMO is a radio station that broadcasts in English on the NSGB (Naval Station Guantanamo Bay). Radio GTMO was established in 1940 and is run by military personnel. The station houses one of the largest military collections of vinyl records. According to our tour guide, the vinyl collection is worth approximately $1 million and was acquired over the years that it has been in operation when special military base vinyl records were produced in order to create the library of music that the DJs were able to broadcast.

The vinyl record collection at Radio GTMO, estimated to be worth over $1 million.

During the tour, the tour guide, a member of the military wearing civilian clothing (I did not ask which branch the guide served in) showed us 6 NGO observers the broadcast room (pictured), a small recording studio (not pictured), and the vinyl collection of Radio GTMO (pictured). At the end of the tour, we were taken to the souvenir section of the radio station, where a variety of T-Shirts, coffee mugs, and other small souvenirs are sold. I purchased a T-shirt for my son and a coffee mug for my wife, both of which contain the text “Rockin in Fidel’s Backyard.”

The DJ at Radio GTMO is live on the air in the studio as the other NGOs and I receive a tour of the rest of the station.

Glass Beach

After our tour of Radio GTMO, our escort took us to get lunch. After lunch, our escort drove us 6 NGO observers to Glass Beach, one of the beaches at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Our escort told us that Glass Beach got its name because of the large amounts of beach glass that can be found there.

Glass Beach is sandier than other beaches in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and green, brown, and clear beach glass can be found all over the beach.

Us 6 NGO observers snorkeled at Glass Beach and saw some amazing fish, colorful rock formations, and coral. When I set off from Indianapolis last Friday, 4 March, I did not expect to spend today snorkeling. I thought I would be observing the pre-trial hearings that were originally scheduled to start today. It feels a bit strange to be in “vacation mode” today, but at least all of us NGO observers were able to schedule a meeting with members of the “AAA” defense team for later today.

When we finished snorkeling at Glass Beach, our escort took us back to Camp Justice where we showered and got ready for our on-the-record meeting with members of the “AAA” defense team at 4:00 PM.

Meeting the Defense

The “AAA” defense team had invited us 6 NGO observers to a barbeque dinner and informal meeting yesterday, Sunday, 6 March (described in a previous blog post). At the end of the dinner, we got contact information for one of the defense attorneys, and asked to schedule a more formal meeting to discuss some of the issues that are expected to be argued during the pre-trial hearings this week. Earlier today, a member of the defense team reached out to one of the other NGO observers to formally schedule a meeting today, 7 March 2022 at 4:00 PM.

Inside the NGO Resource Center where our meeting with the “AAA” Defense Team took place earlier today. This tent has also been set up as a place for NGO observers to work. However, the other NGO observers and I mostly worked elsewhere because the wifi connection was not strong enough to reach the NGO Resource Center.

The Q & A meeting with the defense team took place in the NGO Resource Center in Camp Justice. The meeting consisted of all six NGO observers asking questions, and six members of the defense (three military team members, and three civilians) answering our questions. Questions ranged from broad questions about the 9/11 case generally, to more specific questions about the motions on the docket for the upcoming pre-trial hearings. Below is a selection of the questions and answers that stood out the most to me.

Questions and answers have been paraphrased and are not direct quotes.

Q: What is the role of the Chief Defense Counsel?

A: The Chief Defense Counsel, now General Thompson, does not represent any specific client, but instead acts as a resource for each of the defense teams that represent each of the defendants at Guantanamo Bay being charged. The Chief Defense Counsel helps to manage resources and funds necessary for the effective defense of the defendants.

Q: Will the pre-trial hearings still begin on Wednesday, 9 March, 2022? (The hearings were originally scheduled to begin today, 7 March, 2022. However, on Friday, 4 March, I was informed that the hearings had been postponed until Wednesday, 9 March.)

A: The start of the pre-trial hearings is still somewhat in question. The judge has indicated that the pre-trial hearings will still begin on Wednesday. There is a possible scenario where judge McCall holds abridged hearings instead.  Abridged hearings would mean that the hearings are only in session for a few hours that day, instead of having a full day of hearings, which could last around 8 hours.

Q: What is the difference between the Convening Authority and the Judge in the Military Commission trial?

A: The Convening Authority has a kind of governor and prosecutor authority combined together. The judge listens to the oral argument and has a similar authority to a judge in a US federal court. (I later went online to read more about the Convening Authority on the Office of Military Commissions website: https://www.mc.mil/aboutus/organizationoverview.aspx)

Q: What kind of treatment does the defense want Mr. al Baluchi to receive?

A: The defendant wants to receive medical treatment that is similar to the medical treatment given to individuals who have received Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). There is a treatment plan that the defense would like to be implemented by the treating doctor for the 9/11 defendants. However, this treatment plan has usually not been implemented by the doctor on-site.

Q: What is the defense argument about the “meaningful separation” between detention at the CIA black sites, and detention at Camp 7? What does the prosecution define as “meaningful separation?” (The 5 men were held in CIA black sites and subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. While at these black sites, these men made statements. In 2006, the 5 men were moved to Guantanamo. They were interrogated and made statements.)

A: The defense argues that the so-called Enhanced Interrogation (torture) of the defendants that began at the CIA black sites, in effect, continued once the defendants were transferred from the black sites to Guantanamo Bay. The defense argues that, taken as a whole, there was a continuing course of conduct in the interrogation of the defendants, such that the interrogation/torture of the defendants at the CIA black sites has tainted any confessions/admissions/statements made by the defendants after being transferred to Guantanamo Bay cannot be used in the trial, because the effect of the interrogation/torture was so extensive that the statements cannot be reliable and should be considered as coerced statements.

According to the defense, the prosecution defines “meaningful separation” as a change in time, place, and questioner. The prosecution thus argues that statements made by the defendants after they were transferred to Guantanamo Bay can be used in the trial because the statements were made in a different time, place, and with a different questioner than any statements from the CIA black sites.

Q: What is the defense and prosecution argument about when hostilities began between the United States and Al Qaeda?

A: According to the defense, the prosecution argues that hostilities began in 1996 when Osama bin Laden released a statement declaring the United States an enemy.

The defense said that they disagree the prosecution, and that hostilities did not begin until 7 October 2001, when President George W. Bush announced the beginning of strikes against Al Qaeda camps (https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011007-8.html).

Q: Why does defining when the beginning of hostilities was matter for this case?

A: According to the defense, this matters because whether or not there was an armed conflict at the time of the 9/11 attacks has an effect on whether or not a military commission is the appropriate place to try the defendants, as opposed to a civilian criminal court.

End-of-Day Thoughts

As I write up my thoughts from today, I am thinking about how many issues which, on the surface, appear simple, are still being argued in pre-trial hearings to the court. For example, the court has still not determined when hostilities began between the United States and Al Qaeda. And while the date when hostilities began may seem to be insignificant at first glance, this determination may in fact have a huge impact on the whole legitimacy of even using the Military Commissions as the proper venue for trying the defendants.

I am glad that I was able to meet with the defense team for “AAA.” However, I would like to meet with defense counsel for other defendants. I would also like to meet with the prosecution. The other NGO observers and I are working with our escort contacts to try to arrange more meetings this week. Hopefully we will be able to set up meetings with other defense teams and the prosecution.

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

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 (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.

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


Traveling from Indiana to Washington D.C. en route to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (4 March 2022)

Getting ready to check my bag at Indianapolis International Airport, for my flight from Indianapolis to Washington D.C. on 4 March 2022.

Today is Friday, 4 March 2022, and I am traveling from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Washington, D.C. so that I can fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba tomorrow as an observer of the pre-trial hearings in the U.S. Military Commissions that are scheduled to occur the week of 5-12 March 2022.  The hearings are in the criminal case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and I am attending as a monitor from the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

To the Indianapolis Airport

Walking towards security at Indianapolis International Airport on 4 March 2022.

My brother drove me to the Indianapolis airport, where I arrived at approximately 9:45 AM. I immediately went to check in for my flight and check my bag. After checking my bag, at approximately 10:05 AM, I went to the terminal B security line where I went through the usual security protocols. I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast, so I stopped at Tinker Coffee Company and ordered an egg and sausage sandwich, and a hot cup of coffee. I boarded my flight, and departed on time, at 11:21 AM. One hour and thirty-eight minutes later, I touched down in Washington D.C. 

Reading Carol Rosenberg’s Guantanamo Book

As I was in the air, I continued reading Carol Rosenberg’s book, Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon’s Alcatraz of the Caribbean. Carol Rosenberg has been reporting on the Guantanamo Bay cases since the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo Bay in January 2002. Reading her book has been a great primer on trying to orient myself around the long history of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, contains a great array of photographs of Guantanamo Bay, and discusses major issues such as information about the Camp Justice Court, hunger strikes by the prisoners, and even estimates of the costs of maintaining the facilities and keeping the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

My cousin, who lives in Washington D.C. and works as a public defender in Baltimore, Maryland, picked me up from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and drove me to his house, where I stayed tonight. I hadn’t seen my cousin in about six years, and we were able to catch up with each other while in the car.

When I arrived at my cousin’s house, at approximately 2:00pm, I got connected to wifi, and saw that I had received another email from the Pentagon. This email contained updated travel orders, Aircraft & Personnel Clearance (APACS), a reminder of important documents to bring to Joint Base Andrews (passport, vaccination card, blank health form required for Covid-19 protocols, APACS), and a reminder of the flight schedule from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay. While I was expecting to receive this set of documents from the Pentagon before my flight, I had been worried that the email which contained the documents would be sent too late and that I wouldn’t have easy access to a printer. Thankfully, this was not the case.

I needed to print the updated travel orders that were contained in this email, so my cousin and I looked online to find a print shop that would be able to print documents in color (the APACS document I received from the Pentagon was required to be in color). Once we found a print shop that was reasonably close, we scheduled a time to go and have my documents printed.

My cousin had to finish working before walking to the print shop, so I took this time to take out my copy of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual: Excerpts that I was given by the MCOP before departing Indianapolis, and reviewed some of the international law, domestic law, and information about what the right to a fair trail entails in the context of Guantanamo Bay. 

The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual

The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual assists NGO observers prepare for Military Commission hearings. It provides background information on the stakeholders (the stakeholders include “defendants and defense counsel, the prosecution, victims and victims’ families, judges and judicial staff, fact and expert witnesses, the press, governments with detained citizens, governments whose citizens were injured by the alleged crimes, Guantanamo Bay detention facility staff (Joint Task Force – Guantanamo), and the general international and U.S. publics. Stakeholders also include Guantanamo Bay prisoners who have not been charged with any offenses, and are thus not considered “defendants”. involved in the hearings”), what a right to a fair trial means, a brief history of the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commissions, among other useful information. I would recommend anybody interested in what is happening at Guantanamo Bay, even those who will be unable to travel to Guantanamo. (You might also find Know Before You Go To Guantanamo interesting and helpful.)

The print shop

The print shop was approximately 1.5 miles from my cousin’s house in Washington, D.C, and there is a convenient walking path that we were able to take to get there. We left at approximately 4:30 PM. The walking path goes along one of the train lines, and there are painted murals, dog parks, and brand-new apartment buildings along the path.

Train tracks and new apartment buildings in Washington D.C. along the walking path I took to print the final travel documents I was sent from the Pentagon before travelling to Guantanamo Bay.

Phone call from Guantanamo Bay escort

About half-way to the printing shop, at 5:09 PM, I received a phone call from an unknown phone number. I answered the phone and it was a woman, the escort designated to assist the NGO observers once we arrive outside Joint Base Andrews tomorrow morning. The escort told me that it had been confirmed that there will be a total of six NGO observers flying out of Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay tomorrow morning. She also told me that all the NGO observers were going to Guantanamo Bay for the first time. Finally, she told me that the pre-trial hearings that had originally been scheduled to begin on Monday, 7 March had been pushed back, and were currently scheduled to begin on Wednesday, 9 March.

I don’t ordinarily answer the phone when I receive a call from an unknown number, but because my flight to Guantanamo Bay was tomorrow, I suspected that the phone call may have been related to that travel.

Continuing to the print shop

Mural on the side of a building along the walking path I took to print the final travel documents I was sent from the Pentagon before travelling to Guantanamo Bay.

I continued walking to the print shop, got my documents printed, and walked back with my cousin to his house around 6:00pm. My cousin and his wife cooked dinner, we talked about his work as a public defender,

I shared with him some information about my mission at Guantanamo, and we discussed just how long the pre-trial proceedings were taking, and how it feels almost unreal that the five alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks were first charged in 2008, and the trial is still in the pre-trial phase. Then, I went to bed, ready to wake up at 5:00 AM, so as to arrive at Joint Base Andrews at 5:50 AM to start the process of getting boarded on the flight to Guantanamo Bay.

Final Thoughts

As I sit in the second floor bedroom of my cousin’s house writing up everything I did today, I can’t help but think about the what is going on in Guantanamo Bay, why the pre-trial hearings have been rescheduled from Monday, to Wednesday, and things I will be able to blog about on Monday and Tuesday, the days that will now not include observing any pre-trial hearings. I will be taking extensive notes in my journal throughout my time in Guantanamo Bay, and will be turning those journal notes into additional blog posts to be posted here as well.

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


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

www.GitmoObserver.com

www.GuantanamoBayReader.com

Also check out

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

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.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 11.18.29 PM

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.

For more information, please write to gtmo@indiana.edu or gitmo@indiana.edu.

 

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

Guantanamo hearings begin in 9/11 case

GTMO - Paul Schilling and 3 flags

Paul Schilling at Camp Justice. The U.S. flag is flying at 1/2 mast to honor the memory of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. (Photo taken 16 February 2016)

Our Guantanamo Bay tents are about 50 yards from the entrance to the war crimes courtroom complex that we walked to at 8:15 a.m. today, Tuesday, 16 February 2016.  We had to pass through airport-like security to get into the courtroom. Today’s hearings are in the case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The Observers sit in the gallery, with a thick protective glass separating our seating area from the defendants, counsel, judge and others in the main part of the courtroom. We stare through the glass at the backs of most of those of the courtroom, facing the judge.

We can see all that happens in the courtroom, as we peer through the thick glass. But our room is soundproof, and we can only hear what’s happening in court when TV screens with speakers are turned on, hanging in front of the glass gallery wall, piping in the audio.

Different sections of the gallery are reserved for the media, NGO Observers, and victims and their families (whose section can be cordoned off by a curtain should they wish). Military personnel may also take some of the gallery seats.

After we were all seated, the 5 accused entered the courtroom.

Each of these 5 accused has a civilian legal counsel and military counsel (Judge Adjutant General (“JAG”) attorneys).  Since this is a death penalty case, the Military Commission Act requires that the accused have an attorney that has previous death penalty case experience.  Civilian counsel for these 5 defendants have death penalty experience, and they are referred to as “Learned counsel”.

Courtroom Layout

Facing the judge on the left hand side of the courtroom are 5 tables, one for each of the accused, their civilian and military counsel, an interpreter and others on the defense team.  In the front and center of the courtroom is the military judge, Judge Pohl.  Judge Pohl sits elevated on the bench with a court security officer to his right (the left front of the courtroom), the witness stand to his left (the right front of the courtroom) with the court reporters located below, in front of the judge.  A speakers’ podium sits front and center of the judge and courtroom. The prosecution sits on the right side of the courtroom.  General Mark Martins is the Chief Prosecutor for all the U.S. Military Commissions.  We was present in court today and was seated with and assisted by attorneys from the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense, interpreters and 3 JAG officers.  To the far right of the courtroom is the jury box.  Since these hearings are for pre-trial discovery motions, there is no panel present.  Military Police (“MP”) personnel are located to the far left of the courtroom, along the left wall, and are seated there after escorting the defendants into the courtroom.   The are approximately 2-3 MPs for each defendant.  Paralegals, interpreters, MPs and other court personnel are located in the courtroom and may move about freely.

My general observations

As Observers, behind the glass, one of the ways we can best observe the proceedings is by closely observing the interactions of the players.  Here are some of my observations.

  • All 5 accused wore glasses entering the court and removed them as the proceeding went on
  • Kalid Sheikh Mohammad’s beard was partly black, partly white and partly orange.  It looked like it was dyed.
  • All of the accused interacted with their attorneys.  They shook hands, smiled and appeared to listen to their attorneys.  In fact, the interaction was similar to what you would expect to see between a defendant and his attorney in a criminal trial in a regular U.S. courtroom.
  • Two of the accused, Ali Aziz Ali and Mustafa al Hawsawi, spent much of today’s short court session talking to one another.
  • I thought Judge Pohl did an excellent job maintaining courtroom order and decorum.  He set out to explain things to the accused, and apparently sought to understand any concerns raised by the accused or counsel. He appeared to ask pertinent, difficult questions.  It seemed clear to me that he was in control of the hearing and has respect of counsel on both sides.
  • The Observers are viewing the hearing in real-time, through the glass.  However, the audio is delayed 40 seconds, for security reasons we were told.  This can make for awkward viewing.  For instance, we can see the personnel in the court stand up when the Judge enters.  However, we do not hear the “all rise” command until almost a minute has passed.  It can also make it difficult to determine when someone has finished speaking.  We can see them depart the podium, but we are still hearing their final remarks on the audio feed.

Proceedings

Today’s hearing did not begin until 9:15, about 15 minutes behind schedule.  Once the Judge was seated, he took the appearance of the parties and advised the accused of certain rights that they have.  He explained that the accused had a right to be present and it was their personal choice to attend or leave.  Most of the gallery was waiting in anticipation to hear the accused speak.  Each of the accused affirmed orally that they understood their rights as explained by the judge.  As Observers, we realized this is one of the few occasions that we may have to actually hear the accused speak, since during most hearings traditionally the lawyers and the judge do the talking.  The Judge explained what motions were going to be heard and asked defense counsel if there were any issues.

One of the defendants, Walid bin-Attash, expressed his desire to dismiss his learned counsel and military counsel.  From the testimony received and the judge’s statements, it appears that bin-Attash sent a letter (in arabic) to the Judge.  When questioned about the letter, bin-Attash stated that he did not trust his attorney and wished for new counsel.  It is my understanding that his lead attorney, Cheryl Bormann has been on the case since the beginning.  bin-Attash also expressed his intent to dismiss his other counsel, Michael Schwartz.  Schwartz was his previous military attorney.  Based on the testimony of his new military attorney, US Army Major Michael Seeger and bin-Attash, Seeger has only been on the case a very short period of time.  The Judge questioned counsel regarding an attorney’s duties to his/her client.  The Judge also questioned the accused regarding his intentions and whether he wished to retain Seeger. bin-Attash also provided the court with a second hand-written letter at the hearings, expressing his desire for new counsel.

The court allowed for input from other defense counsel and the prosecution.

After about an hour and a half, the court went into recess until tomorrow.  The Judge decided to have the letters translated and he would reconsider the request to dismiss counsel tomorrow.

For now, we are scheduled for a full day of hearings tomorrow, with the total hearing time today being only about 90 minutes.

Paul Schilling, JD graduate, Indiana University McKinney School of Law

(Published by Professor George Edwards on behalf of Mr. Shilling.)

 

Arrival at Guantanamo Bay Today

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Camp Justice — Where we are staying during our week at GTMO. Photo by Catherine Lemmer, IU McKinney School of Law)

Our flight to Guantanamo Bay was delayed leaving Andrews Air Force Base. We arrived at Guantanamo after a 3 hour flight. We were processed through the arrival gates and loaded a ferry to the main post. I found it interesting that all of the victims’ families, defense counsel, prosecutors, media, court stenographers and NGOs traveled on the same flight.

 

Our group of NGO Observers is staying at Camp Justice. Camp Justice is essentially rows of Quanset hut type tents. Our tents are air conditioned, with a 6-8 small bunks. We have a refrigerator, lights and electricity in all of the tents. Bathroom (latrine) tents and shower tents are located nearby. We were given a short period of time to get settled in. We then headed to the security office to obtain our badges. Badges are required for all NGO Observers, media, and others when occupying Camp Justice. We were given a short briefing regarding some of the rules and conditions. Our cell phones will not work (phone calling cards are available). Wi-Fi is very limited and available on some hotspots on the main post. We can, however, buy internet access through an Ethernet connection. It is slow, but it works.

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One of our Camp Justice tents.

We later took a tour of the main base. And, as the highlight of the evening, we were invited to a barbeque with some of the defense counsel. When asked about the volume of filings in the case, one attorney remarked that the 9/11 hearings have over 11,000 pages of transcript and over 20,000 pages of motions. We also learned that the public transcripts are usually available online within 24 hours. It was an opportunity for us to talk to the counsel, as attorneys, and get their input on some of the questions we had.

On a sad note, we learned of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, when one of our NGO attorneys drew our attention to the CNN headline.

There are no hearings scheduled for tomorrow. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. The dining facility will host a Valentine’s Day brunch. We are scheduled to tour the lighthouse and receive a briefing from Brigadier General Martins, the Chief Prosecutor of the US Military Commissions.

I recognize that I am the eyes and ears into Guantanamo Bay and the Military Commissions for many people in Indiana and elsewhere who will not have the opportunity to visit this base. In upcoming blogs I will report more on the substance of our monitoring work, as well as my other experiences here in Cuba.

Paul Schilling

Indiana University McKinney School of Law, JD Graduate

Indiana Deputy Attorney Geberal (posting in personal capacity)

(Posted by G. Edwards on behalf of P. Schillng)

 

At Andrews Air Force Base Traveling to Guantanamo Bay

AAFB - Paul Schilling - 13 Feb 2016

Paul Schilling reading the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, published by Indiana’s Military Commission Observation Project. The Manual, which comes in 2 Volumes, provides insights into rights and interests of all stakeholders in the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commission process.

Paul Schilling is traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, today (13 February 2016) to monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings in the case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Schilling is representing the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law. I am the founding faculty director of this program, and because Paul had technical issues in posting from Andrews, I am posting a few photos on his behalf.

Schilling was selected from Indiana McKinney Law School affiliates, which includes faculty, staff, current students and alumni. Our Program has sent dozens of Affiliates to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor Military Commissions live, and to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where Affiliates can monitor hearings broadcast via a secure videolink into a theater on the Ft. Meade base.

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View of Andrews Air Terminal from the tarmac.

Schilling currently serves as Deputy Attorney General of Indiana, and is a veteran of Afghanistan. You can read his posts on this page:   GitmoObserver Blog. Schilling is blogging in his personal capacity and not on behalf of his employer or his law school, with his opinions being his own.

More information about the Military Commission Observations Project can be found at this link:   MCOP Link

AAFB Barracks- 13 Feb 2016 - Paul Schilling

Bunkers at Andrews Air Force Base that house Air Force One.

To download a free copy of Volume I and Volume II of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manualclick here:  Manual

George Edwards

 

 

 

Preparing to Travel to Guantanamo Bay

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U.S. Military Commissions charging defendants with war crimes are held at Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo by Catherine Lemmer, Indiana University McKinney School of Law)

I am a practicing attorney with the Office of the Indiana Attorney General and an alumnus of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. I am also a veteran of Afghanistan.  I was selected to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (“Gitmo”) to represent the  Military Commission Observer Program (“MCOP”) which is part of the law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law (“PIHRL”).  This program, which was founded by Professor George Edwards, sends law school affiliates to Guantanamo to monitor hearings in criminal cases related to a range of international crimes. My participation in this program is in my own personal capacity, and my blog posts and other comments are my own, and not of my employer or of my law school.

 

AAFB - Paul Schilling - 13 Feb 2016

Updated — Here I am at Andrews Air Force Base on Saturday, 13 February 2016, waiting for my flight to Guantanamo Bay. I’m reading the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual that Professor George Edwards developed to help Observers understand rights and interests of stakeholders, and help them as they monitor the Military Commissions

I am scheduled to monitor the hearings scheduled for February 15-19, 2016, in the case against 5 alleged perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon.

 

I was previously scheduled to attend hearings in the case against Hadi al Iraqi, who was allegedly a liaison between al Queda Iraq and the Taliban.  Those hearings were postponed.  Those hearings were in Gitmo, but I was going to monitor them from a remote viewing site – at Fort Meade, Maryland, where the Gitmo courtroom proceedings are simultaneously projected by secure video link.

The Role of the Observers

The MCOP sends observers to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor the commission hearings in person. Our role as observers is to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on the proceedings.  We seek to gather information that sheds light on whether the rights of all stakeholders have been afforded to them.  A stakeholder is an individual (or organization) holding rights and/or interests in the Military Commissions.  Military Commission stakeholders include, for example, the defendants, defense counsel, the prosecution, victims and their families, judges, witnesses, the press, the international community and countries with detained citizens at Gitmo.

The MCOP has been researching international and domestic U.S. Law that governs the Military Commissions, and analyzing it in the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.  The Manual, which is in draft form, is used by Observers and others interested in ascertaining whether a fair trial is being afforded to all stakeholders.

Background:
In preparation for my trip, I took some time to review the charges and some background research on the defendants. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked 4 planes in the US. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, 1 plane crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth plane crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. In all 2,921 civilians were killed as a direct result of these attacks. Al Queda, a reported terrorist organization said to be run by Usama Bin Laden (“UBL”) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Court documents charge that al Queda planned for the 9/11 attacks for years. It was charged that in August 1996, UBL proclaimed a holy war against the US, and that Khalid Shaikh Mohammad (“KSM”) and UBL discussed hijacking commercial airliners and crashing them into buildings in the US. Preparations would have included identifying the “pilots”, obtaining visas, funding the terrorists, flight schools and simulators and casing airport security to determine the feasibility of an attack.

All 5 of the defendants in the case I am scheduled to observe were allegedly involved in the planning process and allegedly provided material support to the hijackers.

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Khalid Shaikh Mohammad

KSM and and the other co-defendants, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hasawi are charged as having participated in various stages leading up to the 9/11 attacks.

The official charges against the defendants include the following, though it is not clear whether all the charges (e.g., the crime of conspiracy) will survive challenges by the defense:

Charges: All Defendants:
1. Conspiracy;
2. Attacking Civilians;
3. Attacking Civilian Objects;
4. Murder in Violation of the Law of War;
5. Destruction of Property in Violation of the Law of War;
6. Hijacking or Hazarding a Vessel or Aircraft;
7. Terrorism

The Military Commission Observation Program requires me to submit daily blog entries. My next blog post will be from Andrews Air Force Base, from where we are scheduled to fly to Gitmo on Saturday morning, February 13, 2016.

My next substantive blog post will likely summarize some of the motions that we are expected to hear this coming week. Also, I will report on my trip to Guantanamo Bay, noting my observations.

I recognize that I am serving as the eyes and ears of many people who will never be permitted to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I feel a special obligation to report comprehensively, thoroughly, and accurately on behalf of those who are not as fortunate as I am to have such an opportunity.

Paul Schilling — J.D. ’10, Indiana University McKinney School of Law; Indiana Deputy Attorney General (participating and commenting in my own personal capacity and not that of my law school or my employer).

The Club No One Wants to Join

At the end of each week of the 9/11 hearings, there are a series of concluding media briefings at which the defense teams, the prosecution, and the families of the 9/11 victims speak to the members of the press who are present in Guantanamo Bay. This week the members of the media included representatives from news outlets, including among others, Associated Press, BreitBart News,  BuzzFeed, and Law DragonCarol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald was present as well and is the only reporter that has attended all of the Military Commission hearings. The NGO Observers are not allowed to attend these press briefings but are allowed to view them via a live stream in the NGO Office Lounge.

After Walter RuizJames Connell III, and David Nevin, defense attorneys, and Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins spoke, four of the Victims’ Family Members chose to speak to the media. It was apparent from their statements that each is on an individual journey.

Phyllis Rodriguez spoke first. Her 31-year-old son Greg died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. She started by saying she was a 9/11 victim’s family member and as such she was a member of a “club no one wants to join.” Phyllis then went on to say that she had always opposed the death penalty, but that her conviction had not been tested before 9/11.

Four days after the 9/11 attacks she and her husband Orlando Rodriguez wrote an open letter, “Not In Our Son’s Name,”calling on President Bush not to resort to a military retaliation against Afghanistan. The print version is here. As a result of the letter circulating on the internet along with several others by victims’ family members calling for non-violent solutions, they met others who held similar beliefs. From these connections, the non-profit September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows was formed on February 14, 2002.

The organization’s mission is stated on its website as follows: “an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn our grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating nonviolent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism. Acknowledging our common experience with all people affected by violence throughout the world, we work to create a safer and more peaceful world for everyone.” (Peaceful Tomorrows website). The organization has received numerous awards, including a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2004.

In 2015 film maker Gayla Jamison produced and directed a documentary about the ongoing reconcilation work of Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez. The film is entitled In Our Son’s Name.

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Phyllis Rodriguez and her daughter Julia. (Guantanamo Bay Ferry)

The press briefings are recorded and the video posted on the Military Commission site for public viewing. The December 11, 2015 briefing will be posted shortly.  The words and stories of all the Victims’ Family Members are powerful reminders of the importance of making sure that the defendants are afforded fair and just proceedings by the Military Commission.

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Sunrise at Guantanamo Bay, awaiting ferry to the base airport.

By: Catherine A. Lemmer, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay, 11 December 2015.

9/11 Hearings Set To Proceed

Professor Catherine Lemmer at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Professor Catherine Lemmer at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, December 2015

There were no open hearings today, December 7, 2015, in the 9/11 case. The hearings were closed for a 505H hearing during which the prosecution, defense teams, and judge addressed a number of evidentiary issues.

One of the on-going matters the parties discussed today was the use of female guards in the detention camps. The inmates object to the use of female guards for religious reasons. The court heard, during the open session in October 2015, extensive testimony and evidence on this issue.  Despite that the court was in open session the transcript has been significantly redacted and is now labeled: “Unclassified For Public Use.” This means that the previously available information is now classified. For example, there is less than one page of transcript for the 11:16 AM to 12:28 PM session on October 30, 2015.

GITMO transcript

gitmo transcript 2

All the transcripts are available on the Military Commission site. The unofficial word is that the female guard issue will be continued in the February 2016 hearings. Judge Pohl will hear additional classified evidence at that time. Until such time, the interim order will remain in place that prohibits female guards from interacting with the defendants for purposes of “legal activities.”  For example, transporting the defendants to attorney meetings or to court.  It is an order limited to legal matters, therefore the female guards are not prohibited from interacting with the defendants in such instances as escorting them to the recreation area or for matters other than legal.

The unofficial word is that the Military Commission will conduct four days of hearings starting tomorrow morning. At that point Judge Pohl will engage in a colloquy with each defendant regarding his right to be present in the courtroom. This colloquy occurs each time the hearings are convened.

As the NGO Observers were not able to be in the courtroom, we visited the Navel Exchange (NEX) for supplies. There was a huge Christmas display in the entrance to the NEX; many of the units decorate a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree pictured above features two local wildlife — the iguana and the banana rat.

The NGO Observers were taken on a drive up on the windmill ridge. From there you could see the entire naval station. The JTF detention centers are on the other side of the island and off-limits to the NGO Observers.

By: Catherine A. Lemmer, 7 December 2015, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay

Enroute to Guantanamo Bay for 9/11 Hearings

I arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in the dark and am all checked in. I got my ticket and had a chance to read the Andrews Gazette while waiting for the rest of the NGO Observers to arrive.

Andrews gazette

I’ve introduced myself to the other NGO Observers as they arrived and I’ve handed out the newest version of our Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual. There are seven observers this time, representing law schools, human rights and other non-profit organizations, and the private bar. I look forward to sharing conversations and learning from them this week.

Andrews Air Force Lemmer

Professor Catherine Lemmer at Andrews Air Force Base     5 December 2015

The issues before the hearing this week are of great interest — classified information, the female guard issue, the CIA interpreter issue, and the continuing conflict-of-interest issues. I was at Guantanamo Bay for the February 2015 9/11 hearings when the CIA interpreter issue stopped the hearings. I am very interested to see how that issue will be advanced.  It will also be interesting to see if the recent move by the military to open all combat positions to women will have an impact on the discussion of the female guard issue.

The chatter in the departure lounge is that the week is shaping up to be very productive.  It is sure to be an interesting and informative week.

By:  Catherine A. Lemmer, 5 December 2015, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay

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.

Blogging

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

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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 - https://www.linkedin.com/pub/vaughn-ary/3b/644/b7

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

Preparations to Attend Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri Hearings at Guantanamo Bay, 1 – 7 March 2015

al Nashiri

Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri

I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor the Al Nashiri Hearings at U.S. Military Commissions from 2 – 7 March 2015.  This is the case against a man, al Nashiri, who is charged in these proceedings with having being a masterminded of the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, docked off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding dozens more.

At Guantanamo Bay, I will be representing Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law, which has received NGO Observer status by the Pentagon. This human rights program created the Military Commission Observation Project, and the Project nominated me for this mission.

Background

I have a Bachelor of Law from Moi University based in Eldoret Kenya (’09). I also hold a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in International Human Rights Law (’11) from IU McKinney, which is how I primarily got involved with the Program in International Human Rights Law.  In 2010, I was an intern in this human rights program, working in Vienna Austria in. As an International Human Rights Law student in Prof. Edwards’s classes, I gained valuable gainful insight into international criminal law, and the Guantanamo Bay case of David Hicks, on which IU McKinney students worked and on which Professor Edwards served as an expert witness.

I am currently studying International Research Ethics, but have not lost my interest in international law.

Experiences

I have had an interest in international law for many years now, but certain events heightened my desire to understand international criminal law and international humanitarian law.

On August 7, 1998, the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya was bombed, killing over two hundred person, wounding countless people, and causing significant property damage. There was a similar terrorist attack in neighboring Tanzania. The blast rocked our notions of the relative peace and security we had experienced as a nation. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility, and terrorism was at doorstep of my East African home.

Al Nashiri was a suspected mastermind of those East African bombings, and one of the suicide bombers, the driver of the truck carrying explosives who attacked the Embassy, was his cousin, Azzam (pg. 152, 9-11 Commission Report). It was purely coincidental that I was approved for the Al Nashiri hearings. Although as a nation we lost family and friends, I naturally was inclined to seeing all those involved pay for their crime. At the same time, reading about the torture that alleged masterminds and perpetrators were subjected to left me conflicted as a human being, and a continued believer in the universality and inalienability of human rights.

With this background and my academic experience in international law, I am eager to attend the hearings and apply what I have learned to assess whether the accused are accorded fair trials, and whether the rights and interests of all other stakeholders are being fully afforded to them.

Reason for Applying to be an Observer

I admired the work of the IU McKinney PIHRL before I even joined McKinney School of Law. In 2009, I was fortunate to meet Prof. Edwards in Eldoret, Kenya, and had a chance to work with interns from PIHRL who did their internships in the legal office where I worked in Kenya just after I completed my law degree. As an affiliate of Professor Edwards’ program, I was very proud when it earned United Nations ECOSOC Special Consultative Status, and very proud when the Pentagon granted the PIHRL NGO Observer Status to the Military Commissions.

Courtroom sketch of al Nashiri by artist Janet Hamlin.

Courtroom sketch of al Nashiri by artist Janet Hamlin.

Al Nashiri

As mentioned, al Nashiri is charged with masterminding an attack on USS Cole in October 2000 and on. He faces charges in perfidy, murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, terrorism, conspiracy, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, and hazarding a vessel.

Personal Thoughts on the Hearings

I look forward to attending the hearings. I am however conflicted. The purpose of allowing observers is to ensure free and fair trials are conducted before the Military Court at Guantanamo, yet the process is riddled with torture and gross human rights abuses. I have received countless of emails from human rights based organizations, to sign petition for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. I cannot say that I have made any active advocacy efforts towards this end. I find it unsettling after claims and evidence of illegal detention and a flagrant violation of rights, there is an interest in the right to a fair trial. At the same time, terrorist continue to launch attacks against innocent human beings. I have witnessed this in Kenya, and continue to witness it with the constant threats from the militant group Al- Shabaab. I desire justice for the victims of terrorism, and respect for human rights for those accused.

Travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

My journey to Guantanamo begins March 1, and will return to the country on March 7. I will be posting my observations on this blog as I continue to prepare, and updating on the hearings on a daily basis. I look forward to meeting other NGO Observers who will be there, attending the hearings and applying the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual to give an objective and personal view of the proceedings.

Avril RuaAvril Rua, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 21 February 2015

9/11 Hearings Misc Motions Heard

On Wednesday, February 11,  Judge Pohl called for the parties to suggest motions that could be heard outside of the 292 conflict-of-interest matter and the prior CIA black site interpreter matter (350). There was an aura that the 9/11 hearings were on life support as the prosecution and defense struggled to put motions on the table that could be argued during the remainder of this week. Mr. Walter Ruiz, Learned Counsel, proposed a number of motions that deal only with his client, Mustafa al-Hawsawi.

This morning he called to order the Military Commission to hear arguments on a variety of outstanding motions. Defendant Mr. al Baluchi chose not to attend the hearings today. As a result, the first few minutes of the proceedings dealt with an Officer of the Judge Advocate General Corp’s office testifying that he had informed Mr. al Baluchi of his rights to attend and to obtain his waiver. Typically when this happens the prosecution files a “submission of alias” because the testifying officer does not provide his name on the witness stand. Learned Counsel for Mr. al Baluchi, James Connell, noted on the record that the prosecution had not made such admission this morning.

David Nevin, Learned Counsel for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, again went on the record to make an on the record motion (and to indicate that he will be filing a written motion) to halt all proceedings until such time as the matter of the former CIA black site interpreter issue is resolved.  Again, he was overruled.

Today’s activity focused on motions focused by Mustafa al-Hawsawi.  Mr. Walter Ruiz, Learned Counsel, argued the following motions:

  • AE192 & AE196 Motion to Seek to Disqualify Legal Adviser, Office of the Military Commission Due to the Unlawful Interference with the Professional Judgment of the Chief Defense Counsel and Detailed Learned Military Counsel. Mr. Ruiz requested that Judge Pohl go forward with an analysis of the underlying facts and law because these circumstances are representative of an instance of unlawful influence in the proceedings. The issue of unlawful influence does not resolve itself simply because those involved have left the Office of the Military Commission. Ms. Bohrmann, Learned Counsel, for Mr. Walid bin Attash, similarly urged Judge Pohl to undertake the analysis and make a ruling.
  • AE332 & AE340 Motions to compel discovery of Mr. Hawsawi’s medical records and access to medical personnel who treat Mr. Hawsawi. Mr. Ruiz requested access to medical records and medical personnel in order to judge the standard of care his client is receiving and also to help Mr. Hawsawi make medical decisions. His health has showed signs of deterioration. The prosecution challenged these motions by arguing that the medical issues are arising out of a December 2014 incident in which Mr. Hawsawi was injured while in detainment. The prosecution also stated that his medical records, which were classified, are being declassified and delivered to the defense on a rolling basis.
  •  AE303 Motions addressing conditions of confinement. Mr. Ruiz argued that the circumstances of confinement at Guantanamo Bay violate humanitarian law. He did note that there has been one change. For example, Mr. Hawsawi did not have any access to his family from 2003 through most of 2014.  In October 2014 a process was put in place to allow the defendants to record messages that will be delivered to their families. In January 2015 a process was put in place to enable the defendants to Skype with their families. His overall focus was that quality of life will equal quality of defense and that the United States has a legal duty to abide by the law. The prosecution urged Judge Pohl to stay out of the detention role and noted that the Geneva Convention does not apply to these defendants because they are “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents.”
  • AE214 & AE214A Motion to Compel Mr. Hawsawi Access to the Government of Saudi Arabia in Compliance with United States Law and Motion to Compel Prosecution to Produce Un-redacted Copies of Correspondence etc. Pertaining to Requests by Saudi Arabia to Meet With Its Citizens Held in Guantanamo Bay Mr. Ruiz urged Judge Pohl to order this discovery so that Mr. Hawsawi would have access to officials of his home state, Saudi Arabia.

At the conclusion of lengthy oral arguments, Judge Pohl asked if there was any further outstanding matters.  Again David Nevin renewed his concern that the legal proceedings were continuing in light of the 292 and 350 matters.

James Harrington, Learned Counsel for Ramzi bin al Shibh, brought up what he called a “simmering problem.” He stated that the manner in which the defendants are handcuffed/shackled has changed and that as a result the defendants are experiencing injuries.  Mr. Harrington noted that the defendants are not attending attorney-client meetings rather than suffer the injury. He asked Judge Pohl to ask the prosecution to look into the matter and see if the issue can be corrected.

The proceedings concluded with James Connell, Learned Counsel, asking Judge Pohl to issue an subpoena or other relief to provide the defense access to the former CIA black site interpreter.  Judge Pohl declined to do so and asked for a written motion.

Camp Justice Guantanamo Bay, Cuba December 2014

(Catherine Lemmer, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay, February 9-13, 2015)