Matt Kubal

A Day Exploring Guantanamo Bay

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The view of the bay in front of the Jerk House, coffee shop and the Tiki Bar.

Today the court in the 9/11 case was in closed session all day to discuss confidential information. We were not allowed to attend the hearing and instead were left  spend the day at our own leisure (with our awesome coast guard escorts to take us around the island). I took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in until a little past 8am and then joined several of my fellow observers to grab a coffee at the shop known as the “Starbucks” (the shop has another name, but everyone seems to call it Starbucks) right by the Jerk House. A few nights ago I had the best jerk chicken I have ever had outside of Jamaica at the Jerk House.

 

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Relaxing on Windmill Beach near the now closed Camp Iguana

It was time for my first visit to the beach for the week and so off we went to Windmill Beach, what I was told was the most popular beach on the base. It’s a rocky shore and there’s a bit of coral to dodge when entering the ocean, but the swimming was refreshing with small waves breaking near the shore and lounge chairs for free use. We also saw a few groups of scuba divers coming in and we were told the base offers scuba certification. I relaxed by the water below the former detention camp and read a bit (my book club is reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”; his theories seem a bit speculative to me).

 

Nearby Windmill Beach was Camp Iguana. The camp’s small size was made up by it’s prominent location overlooking the Caribbean and Windmill Beach. If it wasn’t a detainment facility, it would be a lovely spot for a hotel or spa. The camp formerly held three child soldiers and later some detainees who were classified as no longer enemy combatants.   It felt a little odd swimming and relaxing below a detainment facility (even a closed one), but such is the way of Guantanamo Bay: one night you pick up a Big Mac at McDonald’s and listen for a minute to the school’s band playing marches in the McDonald’s playground before you go to see “The Big Short” at the huge outdoor theater. While a few hours earlier you heard testimony from a detainee who alleges he is regularly and professionally tortured by some of the same men and women who are likely eating next to you at that same McDonald’s and sitting next to you at the movie. I’m not making any judgement as to the veracity of Bin al Shibh’s claims, but the contrast between the very friendly, pleasant and safe feeling that one has on the base perhaps belies the great seriousness in that there are numerous claims in the media and from NGOs that torture did take place here not terribly long ago and also that America’s most vilified and allegedly most dangerous enemies are detained here.

On a lighter note, I apparently did a poor job of applying sun screen as my splotchy sun burns are so bad, my roommates asked me if I have a skin disease. We made our way from the beach to three spots for souvenirs on the island: Radio GTMO, the post office and “Personalized Services,” a little gift shop by the Navy Exchange store.

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Holding a copy of “The Doors: Setting the Record Straight” from Radio GTMO’s vinyl collection with part of the collection visible in the background

We made our way to Radio GTMO first. A friendly radio engineer service member took us on a tour of the small station. There is a green room, broadcasting room, CD room, server/broadcasting room and a storage room where, tucked away in a corner, is the third largest vinyl collection at any US military base in the world. The vinyls are hidden away for a reason; the radio station employees, who recognize their value and play them regularly (including for throwback Thursdays), try to keep the vinyl’s in a place that is less prominent in the station so they don’t get picked for disposal to free up space. Carol Rosenburg wrote an interesting story about the attempted destruction of the 20,000 or so records. I picked up a few souvenirs including a Fidel Castro Bobblehead with the Radio GTMO logo on the base: “Rockin’ in Fidel’s Backyard.” The visit to the small post office and the Personalized Services store were less exciting, but I was able to pick up a couple souvenirs for friends and family. We had lunch at Subway and

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I am very happy with my Fidel bobblehead.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in the NGO lounge catching up with the outside world, preparing posts for this blog and killing time until our meeting with the Hawasawi defense team after the closed hearing in the 9/11 case let out.

By Matt Kubal, JD, Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Travel to Guantanamo Bay

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My passport and boarding pass. The boarding pass destination originally said New Orleans, but the gate agent was able to change it to NBW (Guantanamo Bay)

This morning I traveled from Andrews Air Force Base (Andrews) to Camp Justice at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to attend hearings in the 9/11 case. I arrived at the terminal at Andrews at 6 AM this morning. I was bleary eyed, but excited to finally get a chance to travel to Guantanamo. My last three trips were cancelled prior to departure and I told my wife when she dropped me off to make sure her cell phone was on in case we found out that the hearings were cancelled or delayed. I walked in and found five or six people in the waiting room. I was a little nervous that I was in the wrong place (the e-mail we received said to arrive at 6 and no later than 7) and the first thing I did is to confirm with at the check-in desk that this was the the passenger terminal (it was). About 30 minutes later, our escort, Mark, arrived with most of the observers. Everyone else had been dropped off at the visitor center and had been waiting there for Mark to bring them to the terminal.
After introducing myself to the other 10 observers, I distributed copies of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual and I has happy to see most of the observers reading through the Manual over the next hour or so until it was time to check-in. I am proud that the Gitmo Observer and Professor George Edwards created the Manual as I believe it is an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to better understand the Military Commissions and to ascertain whether a fair trial is being had, has been had or can possibly be had under the Military Commision judicial system. In the short-time prior to the flight, several observers mentioned that they skimmed the Manual and believe it will be useful throughout this upcoming week.

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Prior to departure after being dropped off at Andrews Air Force Base. The brown bag is full of copies of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual

My fellow observers are roughly 60% law students and 40% practicing attorneys hailing from everywhere from California to Virginia and, based on our brief conversations thus far, seem an interesting mix of backgrounds including a deputy prosecutor, former members of the military and and a lawyer that works in poverty law. A few folks napped while we waited in the terminal for our 10am departure. My excitement was tempered only slightly by my drowsiness.

 

We checked our bags at around 8:15 AM and other than a prohibition against open-toed or open heeled shoes on the flight, the check-in process was similar to previous flights I have taken. We took a shuttle bus out to the tarmac and boarded our chartered Sun Country Airlines 737-800 plane at roughly 10am and left shortly thereafter. While boarding one of the observers asked whether the first class seats were available. We were told they are reserved for victim’s family members. I later found out that there were 10 victim’s family members that traveled with us to view the hearings.

The flight was pleasant, with a large meal and plenty of space as there were enough empty seats that everyone got their own row (and there were still empty rows left over). I estimate that there were roughly 60 people on flight. I had never heard of Sun Country Airlines, but according to their flight map in my seatback pocket, almost all of their flights depart from Minnesota. I spent most of the roughly three hour flight reviewing the fair trial manual and a summary of the motions for the upcoming week from an e-mail I received a few days ago.

My next post will cover my arrival at Guantanamo Bay, summarize my second day and provide a brief introduction to the AE400 motion scheduled for tomorrow.