One Week in Gitmo

Last week I flew down to Guantanamo to observe the trial of Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi. Originally I was set to spend two weeks on the military base, but we were sent home early when the remaining proceedings were canceled. Of the time I did spend there, barely three hours were spent observing an actual courtroom. The rest of the time was waiting, and more waiting. Here’s how I filled my time.

19 July 15 – Sunday

0445- Awake. In Washington, D.C.

0510- Get in an Uber to make my way to Andrews AFB.

0600- Arrive at the Andrews AFB Visitors Center. Await a representative from the DOD to arrive.

0615- Met by escorts, and shuttled to the terminal in a van. Meet the eight other NGOs that will also be observing the hearings. They represent bar associations, universities, and many other elements of civil society.

0700- Check in at the terminal, and check my bags. Wait for departure.

0740- Realize that I have time to grab a coffee. Go with my escorts to grab a coffee at a nearby shop.

0745- Arrive at closed coffee shop.

0800- Coffee shop opens. Get coffee.

0815- Arrive back at the terminal. There are about 100 personnel in the terminal now waiting for the flight. Some are in uniform, some are in what looks like beach wear. More waiting.

0845- Initial boarding is announced and security screening starts. We go through security just like at an airport.

0915- Everyone is through the security checkpoint, and we wait in a secondary area.

0930- We are ferried to a 737 waiting on the tarmac.

0940- Embark on Sun Country Air. It oddly reminds me of a chartered flight that I’ve taken for a vacation.

1000- Plane departs Andrews AFB with NGOs, prosecution, defense, analysts, DOD reps, mil, civ, all on the same 737.

1300-The landing is filled with twists and turns. We arrive in GTMO.

1320- We are in-processed by members of the base and get in a van. All eight NGOs are in the same van. We are briefed on areas that we are and are not permitted to take photos of. We are specifically told not to photograph the ‘golf balls’ (radar domes).

1330- We embark on a ferry that takes us from the landing strip to GTMO and I have a brief conversation with Brigadier General Martins, the Chief Prosecutor.

1400- We arrive at GTMO, begin to disembark and organize ourselves in the assembly area.

1430- All eight NGOs are dropped at the tents which we will stay in. I begin to unpack and organize myself. The tents are rubberized with plywood walls between beds for some privacy. The inside is kept extremely cold in order to keep wildlife out. The floors are wooden, and there is a small fridge in the back near the gigantic AC unit and air flow tubes.

1500- All NGOs depart the tents. Briefings and other administration begins. I find the myriad of rules slightly confusing, even as someone that is relatively familiar with military bases.

1630- We are taken through pass control, photographed, and given our escort only passes to the expeditionary legal complex (the place where the commissions are held).

1700- Arrive back at the tents to get changed and continue organizing ourselves.

1715- Depart for the Navy Exchange which is a Wal-Mart-esque military shopping center to purchase basic necessities. I am surprised at the variety of items that are available.

1730- Drive back to the tents to drop off items that we purchased. Soon we are back in the van and are departing for an orientation to the grounds and the base. We drive around the island which is surprisingly brown and dry. I see a driving range, different shops, married quarters, individual quarters, and a McDonalds. We drive by camp X-Ray and see the various beaches and facilities. We drive by the current detention facility, which is only a small part of the base and is surprisingly distant from the other.

1830- Arrive back at the tents to grab cash and other items in preparation for dinner.

1900- Depart the tents for O’Kelly’s, the local Irish bar for dinner.

1920- Arrive at O’Kelly’s and sit down for dinner. After about half an hour there, we are informed by our escorts that the hearings are not going forward tomorrow as scheduled. We are confused and are not given a reason for the delay. We all eat dinner together.

2100- Arrive back at the tents.

2130- I split from the group and make a few calls back to the United States.

2200- Night routine. I am extremely glad I brought three blankets because the tents are freezing and the thin cotton sheet provided definitely wouldn’t cut it.

20 July 15 – Monday

0545- Wake up. My NGO roommates went for a run. My sleep was ok, but loud and cold. The AC unit looks and sounds industrial. I’m not sure why I’m up so early because the commission is not going forward today.

0600- Head to the shower. The showers are in tents that are kept even colder than the tents where we sleep. The water is very warm however.

0630- Depart for breakfast. There are septic trucks outside the front of the dining facility that have a strong and unpleasant odor. The food was ok, nonetheless.

0720- Depart the meal hall to go back to the tents.

0740- Arrive at the tents, and the path forward isn’t clear. We do not have internet connectivity yet.

0755- Someone in the group realizes there is a coffee shop and asks for a coffee run. I hear what sounds like trumpets – but I disregard it.

0800- We are now on our way to coffee. The trumpet sound happens again. The sound is coming from loud speakers, and the trumpets are immediately followed by the U.S. national anthem. Our escorts stop the vehicle and get out while the anthem plays. It sounds like each of the many loudspeakers across the base are on a slightly different timing, so there is an eerie echo effect.

0815- Arrive at coffee shop. Get coffee.

0830- Back to the tents. Wait. The path forward is still unclear.

0900- Head to our makeshift offices which consist of a few desks in a common area. Internet and IT support arrives to set up our wired internet connections. There is no WIFI that we are allowed to use near the tents. I begin working on answering emails, and writing a blog. Some members of the group opt not to pay the $150 connection price for wired internet.

1130- Depart for Subway on the base for lunch. We are informed our original meeting with the Chief Prosecutor has been moved up by a day and we will see him at 1700 today.

1245- Driven back to the NGO offices to eat lunch.

1300- I continue work on my blog, and begin further research on the hearings we are supposed to see.

1530- Blog is complete, but my emails have piled up. I attempt to answer them despite the sporadic internet.

1610- Leave the NGO area to get changed at the tents for our meeting with the prosecutor at 1700.

1630- Head back to the conference room in my suit in what feels like 100 degree heat, to begin drafting questions for the Chief Prosecutor with the remainder of the group.

1700- Begin our Chatham house rules session with Brigadier General Martins, the Chief Prosecutor.

1815- Q+A session wraps up, and I head back to the tents to get changed out of my suit.

1900- All of the NGOs get in the van to go to the Jerk House (a base restaurant that serves jerk chicken and ribs out of a window). We make a stop at the navy exchange on the way.

1930- Arrive at the Jerk House. Jerk house is closed on Mondays. Leave Jerkhouse.

1945- Arrive at O’Kelly’s for dinner. Escorts and NGOs dine together.

2100- Arrive back at the tents after dinner, connect to the internet and read comments from the Human Rights First team on my blog. Revise my blog and make a few phone calls.

2145- Resubmit blog.

2200- Night routine.

21 July 15 – Tuesday

0630- Up and shower. Unclear what we will do today.

0700- Depart for breakfast at the dining facility. Our escorts inform us that they have arranged some activities for us in light of the hearing delays.

0800- Get coffee. Hear base wide national anthem for a second time.

0830- Return to tents to pick up those members of the NGO group that didn’t go to breakfast. Depart for Radio GTMO.

0900- Arrive Radio GTMO, which has a gift shop. Their inventory includes: coozies, shirts, lanyards, and many many other things including a Castro bobble head. Profits go to charities like wounded warriors.

1000- Make an internet stop where WIFI is available for those that didn’t purchase the wired internet near our tents.

1030- Arrive back at tents, get changed for upcoming meeting.

1045- Meeting with manager of military commissions commences. Candid Chatham House discussion.

1200- Return to the tents. Attempt to unsuccessfully access email. Get changed into swimsuit. Leave tents for marina.

1230- Stop at Subway for lunch.

1300- Arrive at marina, meet our escorts that will show us the Northern Gate between U.S. and Cuba, Hospital Island, and various other historical points of interest around Guantanamo.

1445- Jump off the boat for a swim in the ocean.

1500- Arrive at the Marina and disembark the boats.

1600- Arrive back at the tents. Go in to check email, answer emails and organize for the next day.

1800- Depart for Jerk House. We eat together. There is wifi here.

1920- Depart for the tents, and make a stop at the NAVEX on the way back for items members of the group forgot, such as soap.

2000- Arrive at the tents and go to check emails in the NGO office space. Reread hearing materials.

2100- Night routine.

22 July 15 – Wednesday

0555- Wake up, shower, get ready. Hearings today.

0630- Depart for breakfast. The group asks to meet with the defense, and other officials. Our escorts indicate they will attempt to arrange working meals or appointments.

0640- Arrive at mess hall. Eat. Depart.

0730- Arrive at tents. Do final preparation for the day, ensure I have no items that will be screened out by security.

0800- Meet up with the rest of the NGOs. Our escorts and the four drivers take our Subway order for the day as we will not have time to leave the facilities and go to the dining hall. Hear anthem.

0830- Enter the rear area of the court room through a security screening point. You are not permitted to have any electronics. We arrive in the gallery area and are assigned seats. There is thick plexiglass between all observers and the commission room. You can see the goings on in the court room in real time, but you can’t hear anything. There is an audio and video feed of what’s in front of you but is delayed by 40 seconds. There is an odd almost surreal effect because of this.

0900- The hearing begins.

1000- A potential conflict of interest issue arises that seems to necessitate extensive consultations and will potentially delay the hearings.

1200- The hearing recesses for an unspecified time due to the potential conflict of interest issue. We wait to hear about next steps.

1300- Lunch in the NGO room. Subway.

1330- I begin conducting admin to the extent possible with the quality of the internet.

1600- Depart for the navy exchange. We quickly return to the tents.

1700- Depart tents for dinner. Arrive at the Galley. Breakfast is definitely the best meal here.

1800- Depart the Galley, and arrive at the Jerk House. There is wifi here.

1900- Return to tents. We have no further news on when proceedings will resume.

2000- Night routine.

23 July 15 – Thursday

 0650- Awake.  Unclear what we will do today.

0700- Depart for Galley. Eat. I overhear a story about a senior official going for a grueling run with commission staff in the morning. Apparently the run included a scramble up rocks and pushups in the ocean. I wonder if this is a good or bad sign regarding the hearings.

0800- We return to the tents and I am now used to anthem in the morning.

0820- No further information on where proceedings stand. We depart with our escorts to get coffee and wifi. The group inquires about our request to meet with the defense, and other officials. Our escorts indicate they have not been successful in arranging further meetings.

1000- Returns to camp. I connect to my wired internet and tend to my emails.

1015- Word reaches us that OMC has called off the sessions. It is unclear how long we will be on the island. Our return flight was originally scheduled for 1 August.

1030- The group decides that we are sick of food from the galley so we buy some charcoal and depart to cook our food near the ferry terminal.

1130- Arrive at the ferry terminal. We cook burgers and reflect on the 3 hours of hearings we saw.

1430- The group returns to the tents. I check emails as I can based on the internet. The frequent disconnections make communication laborious.

1700- The group departs for the Jerk House for those that need wifi.

1745- Our group splits. Half decide to go to galley, half go to O’Kelly’s to have dinner.

1830- Group reconvenes. We are informed that there will be a flight this Saturday to return to Andrews AFB.

1900- Night routine.

24 July 15 – Friday

0655- Awake. Unclear what we will do today.

0700- Depart for breakfast. Eat.

0800- Return from breakfast.

0830- Check emails, reflect on life.

0930- Depart for wifi area for those that don’t have wired internet.

1030- Make final stop at GTMO Radio for souvenirs. We make a stop at the Navy Exchange. I purchase a supply bag that can be left on the island for my Human Rights First colleagues that are here in the future. The first item I buy is a blanket. The tents are freezing.

1130- Return to tents. Begin packing.

1230- Depart tents for lunch at the galley. Eat.

1330- Return to tents.

1345- Pack. Conduct personal admin.

1600- Meet escorts for further instructions on departure tomorrow.

1730-Depart for dinner and wifi at the Jerk House. Eat.

1915- Depart Jerk House.

1935- Arrive at tents. Collect ID and travel orders.

1945. Depart tents to do precheck-in for the next day’s flight.

2045- Arrive back at tents.

2100- Personal admin and final packing.

2200- Night routine.

25 July 15 – Saturday

0530 – Awake. Shower.

0600- Depart for breakfast. Eat.

0700- Arrive back at tents. Wait.

0800- Load up luggage. Walk through of our quarters by our escorts to ensure it was left in decent state. Depart tents in a van.

0830- Arrive at ferry loading point.

0900- Board ferry.

0930- Ferry departs for airfield.

1000- Waiting at terminal for 1300 flight time.

1300- Departure from GTMO

1600- Arrival at Andrews AFB.

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Published on July 28, 2015

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