I am scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a nominee of the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which is part of Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law. (Read more about the MCOP here).
I am a student at IU McKinney Law, and I am eligible to be nominated for Guantanamo travel, as are all IU McKinney students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Indiana University McKinney School of Law (IU McKinney) – because the Pentagon granted special “Observer” status to this IU McKinney Program.
Here you can read more about me, IU McKinney Professor George Edwards who founded this Guantanamo project, how I came to be involved in the Guantanamo project, the selection / nomination process, all the paper I had to fill out to participate, and the hearings I am scheduled to monitor at Guantanamo the week of 23 – 30 July 2022 (against Mr. al Nashiri, who allegedly plotted the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen).
Meeting with the Director and Acting Deputy Director
On 28 June 2022, Professor Edwards and MCOP Acting Deputy Director Professor Charles Dunlap held a zoom meeting with me and several other people scheduled to travel to Guantanamo Bay in the month of August. During that meeting, the Directors stressed the importance of complying with requirements of the “Guantanamo Agreement Checklist” that was provided to me and the other travelers by Professor Edwards. The Checklist requires filling out paperwork on time, communicating with the Directors in a timely manner, responding to emails, informing the Indiana University Office of International Affairs of our travel plans, getting health insurance for foreign travel, immediately informing the Directors of any correspondence coming from the Pentagon, and many other requirements.
My first blog post
MCOP travelers to Guantanamo post about their experiences on a blog on this website: Gitmo Observer – www.GitmoObserver.com. We post about the selection and nomination process, preparing for travel to Guantanamo Bay, experiences during the hearings, and impressions after returning to the United States.
Professor Edwards asked me to share my initial draft blog post with his edits and comments with the August travelers via email so that they could have an idea of what an informative first post could look like. After the meeting, I sent the blog post with the edits to the other travelers.
On 30th June 2022, I received an invite from WordPress to post to the blog on GitomoObserver.com. The next day, 1st July, I posted to the blog for the first time.
Booking my flight from Indiana to DC
The first round of paperwork I received from the Pentagon informed that travelers to Guantanamo Bay will leave from Joint Base Andrews near Washington, DC.
I began tracking flights from Indianapolis International Airport to Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC the first week of July in preparation for leaving the last week of 23-30 July 2022. On 5th July, I sent a prospective flight itinerary to the Project Director, Professor Edwards, which is required according to the Guantanamo Agreement Checklist. That same day, Professor Edwards approved the prospective itinerary, and I purchased the flight, round trip. I planned my flights to arrive in Washington, DC early on 22nd July, the day before my scheduled departure from Joint Base Andrews on 23rd July, and to return to Indianapolis from DC on 31st July, the day after returning to DC from Guantanamo Bay. I inquired to Professors Edwards and Dunlap regarding a potential scholarship to help cover the costs of flights and travel to and from Washington, DC, as that expense had in the past been the responsibility of the individual observers. I was informed that the parameters of the scholarship are still in development, and that I would be informed of the scholarship’s availability when that information is available.
Forms for the Indiana University Office of International Affairs
Having confirmed my flight itinerary to Washington, DC and back to Indianapolis, I uploaded a PDF screen shot of the itinerary including times, airline (American Airlines in my case), and flight numbers to the iAbroad system. iAbroad is the system that the Indiana University Office of International Affairs uses to send and compile necessary paperwork and forms required for students to travel internationally. By that time, I had already completed an initial set of forms that I had submitted through iAbroad, which were sent to me in the days immediately following the day I informed the Office of International Affairs that I would be participating in the MCOP at Guantanamo Bay.
After the first set of forms is complete, iAbroad sends a second set of forms. The flight itinerary was the last requirement in the second set of documents iAbroad requires. However, I waited to submit that last section of the documents because I did not yet have confirmation of the flights from Joint Base Andrews to Guantanamo Bay and back. I did not want to submit the section with incomplete information, but when I checked iAbroad the following week (11 July), my forms were all submitted and the itinerary section was no longer available to edit. This concerned me, as I hadn’t included information about the flights to and from Guantanamo Bay.
On 14th July, I drove to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) campus, which is where IU McKinney is located, for two reasons; to pick up a physical copy of the GeoBlue Insurance Card that I was informed the first week of July would be waiting for me at the Study Abroad Office, and to talk to someone at the Study Abroad Office or the Office of International Affairs about my problems uploading Guantanamo flight information to iAbroad. I received my copy of the GeoBlue Insurance (it isn’t necessary to have the physical card but given the option I felt safer having it with me) and met with Ms. Stephanie Leslie from the Office of International Affairs. She confirmed that my Washington, DC flight information had been properly uploaded and asked me to email her the information that I currently had about the Guantanamo Bay flights. I emailed her the flight estimates that were included in the first email from the Pentagon back in May and told her that I would keep her updated with future information as it comes my way. Ms. Leslie said that would be fine. She asked if I was ready and prepared with everything else, and I told her that I was except for the requirement to have a PCR covid test within 72 hours of arrival at Joint Base Andrews. She suggested I ask the University if they were still conducting covid tests. More on trying to get a PCR Covid test below.
Correspondence with Previous Travelers
On Wednesday 23rd July I went to the IU McKinney School of Law to meet with Ms. Madison Sanneman, who works for the Law School and recently traveled to Guantanamo (read her blog posts here). I have had an email correspondence going with Madison since early June; she has been an amazingly helpful resource in my preparations for Guantanamo. I met with her that Wednesday to go over some last-minute questions I had about the facilities at Guantanamo, proper clothes to bring, anything I may be overlooking, what to pack, what the court proceedings were like, what the food was like, and her overall impressions of the trip. Again, Madison provided me with wonderful information that sincerely helped relieve some of the stress and anxiety I was feeling about the trip.
During June and July 2022, I also had an ongoing text correspondence with Mr. Collier O’Connor (read his blog posts here). I had initially reached out to Collier to thank him for his detailed posts on the Gitmo Observer blog, and followed up with several questions as the weeks went on. He always replied to me in a timely fashion and with helpful information.
It is a requirement of the Guantanamo Agreement Checklist to contact previous travelers. Aside from that requirement, I would highly suggest that it is essential to correspond with and meet in person if possible previous travelers in order to have a smooth and complete preparation for travel to Guantanamo Bay.
Getting a Covid PCR Test
The Pentagon requires a negative PCR covid test to be presented at Joint Base Andrews before boarding the plane to Guantanamo Bay. The test must have been administered within 72 hours of boarding the plane. On Wednesday the 20th July, I received the final instructions from the Pentagon including flight details stating that we would be departing Joint Base Andrews bound for Guantanamo Bay at approximately 10:20 AM Saturday 23rd July and as the Covid test results needed to be printed and brought with, I would need the results well before that time.
Although Indiana University had been administering covid-19 tests to students for free during the pandemic, it turns out that Indiana University was (and is) no longer administering Covid tests to students. I do not know when they stopped, or why. However, I had to look outside school to find a testing facility. I scheduled to take a test at CVS Pharmacy in Indianapolis (the Beech Grove location) which said on its website that PCR test results are typically returned within 1-2 days of testing.
I was very worried about taking a Covid test and then having the Guantanamo flight leave later than I was anticipating, so I made the decision to get tested closer to my date of departure to be sure that my test would be within 72 hours of boarding the plane. That was a mistake. I got my Covid test at CVS Pharmacy on Thursday 21st July at 11:50 AM, approximately 46 hours before I was scheduled to board the plane bound for Guantanamo Bay at Joint Base Andrews, Saturday 23rd July at 10:00 AM.
However, the test at CVS was self-administered and they do not send the tests straight to the lab – I was instructed to place the test in a drop box on the side of the CVS building to be picked up at a later point in time. The pharmacy tech at the window told me that test results are typically returned within 2-4 days. That made me very anxious, as that time frame would mean there was a strong possibility that I would not get my covid test results back until I was already scheduled to be on a plane to Guantanamo.
I scrambled to try and get another PCR covid test that would get me results at a quicker time. I tried Methodist Hospital, but they, and all IU medical facilities, would not administer a Covid PCR test for travel without an order from a doctor. I called my doctor’s office, but they would not end up getting back to me until Friday July 22nd (with the very unhelpful information that the doctor would not provide an order for a PCR test for travel purposes). I found a private lab facility, GenePace, that would administer a PCR test and guarantee the results by 6:00 PM the next day (which would be Friday the 22nd, giving me enough time to get the results printed to take to Joint Base Andrews on Saturday the 23rd). The test cost $119.00 and I had to drive to Carmel to get it. It was not a pleasant experience. Now that Federal funds for Covid testing seemed to have dried up, it is apparently difficult to get a PCR test with quick results for travel without paying for them or waiting on a pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens.
In hindsight, I should have asked previous travelers when the best time to get tested was, or I should have voiced my concerns to Professor Edwards or Professor Dunlap about a possible delay in the flight schedule from Joint Base Andrews and what that would mean for the 72 hour testing window. Future travelers should ask questions of the Directors or previous travelers if they have concerns.
For the record, my $119 GenePace test was emailed to me with a timestamp at 5:05 PM on Friday 22nd July, and my free CVS test (they may charge $25 to my insurance company, but I am not sure yet) in an e-mail time-stamped 9:19 PM on Friday 22nd July.
Packing and Building my Binder
After running around trying to get Covid tested for a large part of my Thursday, I started to pack my bags. I received a phone call the afternoon of Thursday the 21st July from a Pentagon official. She said it was her job that day to contact travelers bound for Guantanamo on our flight 2 days later to make sure they have everything in order. She also provided me with contact information for the person that would pick me up from the Visitor Center at Joint Base Andrews when I arrived at 6:00 a.m. Saturday. I confirmed that I had all of the documents that I needed except for the pending Covid test result. I thanked her for the information.
I added my printed documents to the binder I put together for the checklist and Fair Trial Manualand Know before you Go manual. I made sure my passport and covid vaccine card were tucked away safely in my backpack. I packed and unpacked and repacked my clothes several times. I booked a hotel room at the Quality Inn across the street from Joint Base Andrews. At about 11:00 PM I set my alarm for 3:30 AM and went to sleep.
A Day in Washington, DC
My wife gave me a ride to Indianapolis International Airport early in the morning on Friday 22nd July; I arrived at approximately 4:05 AM for my American Airlines flight scheduled to leave at 6:22 a.m. I passed through security, and reached my gate by approximately 4:35 AM, even with TSA pulling me to the side, making me go through the body scanner, and patting me down. I boarded the plane for DC at 5:55 AM, and we took off on schedule at 6:22 AM, arriving in DC at 8:00 AM. We had to wait for an open gate until about 8:15 AM.
I downloaded the DC Metro SmarTrip card to my Apple Wallet and loaded it with $10.00. My iPhone actually prompted me to do this when I stepped off the plane and turned off airplane mode on my phone. I did not know if downloading that app was a useful or appropriate thing to do, so I simply googled if I could use SmarTrip on Apple Wallet to use the Metro, and the answer was definitively “yes.” With the app downloaded, you can just load money directly from a checking account and tap your phone on the pad to open the fare gates to get to the train platforms.
Google Maps told me which lines to take. I posted on this blog a map of the lines.
The D.C. Metro is very simple to use, and there are plenty of people around and security guards and signage to point you in the right direction if you get confused. I took the Metro to L’Enfant Plaza, which is near the center of DC where all of the Metro lines intersect, then walked 7 minutes to a location I had booked to hold my luggage for a small fee for the day. I booked it through Vertoe.com, and it cost a little over $7.00 to have my bag securely held while I explored DC for the day.
After dropping off my bag at approximately 9:45 AM, I walked around the outside of the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court, and through the US Botanical Gardens and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden and explored inside the National Museum of Natural History. The Gardens and the Museum are free to enter and are located near the National Mall.
I also wandered around adjoining neighborhoods talking to my wife on the phone and searching out food. I ate at a delicious hole in the wall called Burrito Brothers at around 12:00 PM. I spent the remainder of my afternoon walking around the National Mall, visiting the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Reflecting Pool.
Around 3:30 PM I took the Metro from the Smithsonian station to L’Enfant Plaza, then walked back to the location where my luggage was being held and picked up my bag. I then walked back to L’Enfant Plaza and took the train to the farthest south station, the Branch Ave. Station. From there I ordered a Lyft to take me the rest of the way to my hotel, which is directly across the street from the Joint Base Andrews Visitor Center. It was about a 10
A Short Stay at the Hotel
I received my PCR covid test back in an e-mail from GenePace time-stamped 5:05 PM. My Covid test results came back negative. I asked the hotel front desk clerk to please print three copies of the results for me, and she did. After that I walked to a Hispanic Grocery store called La Colonia and bought some food for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. I got plenty to eat for just over $9.00.
I chose to stay at the Quality Inn across the street from the base because I did not want to have to deal with the stress of relying on a taxi/Uber/Lyft early in the morning and risk being late to meet the escort. The room cost $118. The website says breakfast is complimentary, but the dining room has been closed since Covid. The room was nice and clean with a desk and free Wi-Fi. The reviews on Google for the Quality Inn are not great, but I have no complaints. The front desk staff was very courteous and helpful.
Getting to Joint Base Andrews in the morning
Tomorrow, I will plan to walk over to Joint Base Andrews to arrive at the visitors center by 6:30 AM to be picked up by my escort. Google maps shows that it will only be a 7 minute walk from the front desk of the Quality Inn where I’m staying to the front door of the Visitors Center.
My next blog post will cover checking in at Joint Base Andrews, the flight to Guantanamo, and my first day at Guantanamo Bay.
J.D. Candidate 2025
NGO Observer, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)
Indiana University McKinney School of Law