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.
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
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
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.
NGO Monitor / Observer, Military Commission Monitoring Project (MCMP)
Program in International Human Rights
Indiana University McKinney School of Law