MCOP

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

U.S. Department of State travel warning for Cuba

On 29 September 2017, the United States Department of State issued an advisory that “warns U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba”. Indiana University prohibits its students from traveling to countries for which the State Department has issued such travel warnings, unless IU grants an exemption.Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 11.19.36 PM

On Tuesday, 4 October 2017, the IU Office of (OSAC) granted an exemption thus permitting IU students to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to continue to participate in the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the IU McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

Why the Cuba Travel Warning?

The State Department warning stated that in recent months, “numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees have been targeted in specific attacks. These employees have suffered significant injuries as a consequence of these attacks. Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.”

The warning noted that neither the U.S. nor Cuban government has “identified the responsible party, but the Government of Cuba is responsible for taking all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on our diplomatic personnel and U.S. citizens in Cuba. Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba.”

The warning noted that “[a]ttacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens.”

The warning further noted that on September 29, the U.S. “ordered the departure of nonemergency U.S. government employees and their family members to protect the safety of our personnel.”

Indiana University travel ban and exemption

The Indiana University Overseas Study Advisory Council (OSAC) must approve international activity, such as the law student Guantanamo travel, and monitors such programs. OSAC “supports the Standards of Good Practice of the Forum on Education Abroad” and “endeavors to use” those standards “as a guideline when creating, monitoring and evaluating IU programs”.resources-trident

When a travel advisory is issued for a country, OSAC requires IU student travel to cease to that country, unless OSAC grants an exemption.

The Cuba travel warning was issued on the 29th of September. On 3 and 4 October the Guantanamo project submitted to OSAC a 4-page document explaining the Guantanamo program, mentioning the distance between Havana (where the referred to medical issues were said to have happened) and Guantanamo Bay, that fact that IU students traveling to Guantanamo are confined to the U.S. military base there and have no access to the rest of Cuba, and that the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica handles consular matters for Guantanamo Bay, and not the U.S. Embassy in Havana, followed by an 86-page supporting document. OSAC granted the exemption on Tuesday, 3 October 2017, clearing the way for IU McKinney School of Law students to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba later this month.

Upcoming IU McKinney law student travel to Guantanamo Bay

 The next student scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay in the IU McKinney program is Ms. Sheila Willard, a third-year law student, who is scheduled for a Guantanamo mission from 14 October 2017 to 21 October 2017 to monitor pre-trial hearings in the case against the 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The five defendants face the death penalty for a series of war crimes associated with the attack that killed almost 3,000 people on 9/11.

At Guantanamo bay, Ms. Willard will be seated in the rear of the courtroom in the observation gallery, along with other monitors, media, and victims and family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks. She will be joined by representatives from various other NGOs from around the country to observe the hearings.

Ms. Willard traveled to Guantanamo Bay once before, to monitor the case against Hadi al Iraqi, an alleged high-ranking member of Al Qaeda. She also traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where she monitored the case of the 5 alleged masterminds, in the case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, et al., viewing the proceedings via CCTV from the Guantanamo Bay courtroom.

OSAC Requirements for travel to Guantanamo Bay

Any IU McKinney Affiliate (student, faculty, staff member, graduate) wishing to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a representative the Military Commission Observation Project is required to sign an exemption document that among other things contains a liability waiver. All MCOP monitors are also required to have insurance (e.g., covering health / accidents), which his offered to students through the Office of International Affairs, is already provided for faculty and staff, and is easily obtainable for graduates who may not have such insurance already.

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Military Commission Observation Project at IU McKinney

 On 28 February 2014, the Pentagon granted NGO observer status to the Indiana University Program in International Human Rights (PIHRL). Since then, PIHRL created the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which nominates potential observers from an interested pool of students, faculty/staff, alumni, and affiliates to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or Ft. Meade, Maryland to observe in the high-profile cases against detainees that are charged with terrorism-related offenses.

MCOP representatives may travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to attend, observe, analyze, critique, and publish materials on the hearings. Travel may also be to the Ft. Meade, Maryland military base where the same Guantanamo Bay hearings may be viewed via secure video-link.

Interested in traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or to Ft. Meade, Maryland?

As mentioned, travel through the Guantanamo project is available to faculty, staff, students and graduates of the IU McKinney School of Law. Information about registration for possible travel can be found here [though dates for the last quarter of 2017 and the first half of 2018 may not yet be posted on the website].

More information about the project can be found at 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

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.

AAFB - Air Terminal - 13 Feb 2016 - Paul Schilling

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).

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

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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