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Camp Justice at Guantanamo

Chelsea Perdue '15 on location at Guantanamo

Observing proceedings as breaking news actually breaks


Chelsea Perdue '15 is at Camp Justice, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, representing Seton Hall Law as a non-government organization (NGO) observer -- Seton Hall Law is the only law school with NGO status. She is observing the hearings of the five men accused of masterminding and carrying out the planning for the attacks of September 11, 2001. On February 9, she witnessed a news-making event at the start of the hearings: defendants recognize one of the translators serving at the hearing as having been with them at a CIA "dark site," where they were tortured  -- as detailed by the Senate Intelligence Committee Report of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. Here is Perdue's report:

It started off like any other procedurally weighted bureaucratic machine: slowly. NGO (non-government organization) observers filed in, media filed in (including representatives from Fox News and NPR), victims’ families were escorted into the back of the courtroom. Attorneys by the dozen trickled in, overwhelming the left side of the room. An intolerable while after that, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin al Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (aka Anmar al-Baluchi), and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi were escorted in, two soldiers apiece. Instead of the typical prosecution team, however, the Special Review Team huddled on the right side of the room.

Judge Pohl kicked off the morning session: “The Commission is called to order.” In less than five minutes we would be recessed for a quarter of an hour. When counsel began stating their names for the record, a military attorney for Bin al Shibh announced his imminent retirement, requesting permission to withdraw from the case. Bin al Shibh, upon being asked whether he consented to this replacement, proclaimed in an agitated manner that he did not trust his interpreter, claiming the interpreter participated in his torture at a CIA dark site. Literally, jaws dropped.

Suddenly, Bin Attash’s attorney stood up and stated that they had the exact same problem: “We just learned about this three minutes ago.” Judge Pohl exited the courtroom, granting the defendants’ counsel time to discuss the new development. Dozens of the country’s best legal minds swarmed to the front of the room, standing and debating in a circle three people deep.

By 9:25, the judge was back. Al-Baluchi’s learned counsel, James Connell requested an adjournment until the prosecution team could be brought into the courtroom.

At 10:35, the hearing resumed. Again, “Commission is called to order.” Brigadier General Martins stood to introduce his team, sure to mention that the special counsel for the 292 matter was absent. He began by stating that “there was no attempt to put someone on the defense team in an untoward way.” He proposed that both teams introduce written filings, acknowledging that a closed session may be necessary. BG Martins also acknowledged that this affected more than one detainee.

Before Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s counsel, David Nevin, began his rebuttal, Judge Pohl warned him that this was an open session, implying the use of extreme care not to disclose classified information. Nevin requested that the interpreter be required to stay on the island for the purpose of investigation.

Judge Pohl said that the normal filing session was three weeks long, with a note of skepticism in his voice, but BG Martins assured him that they could have something filed by the end of today. Judge Pohl expressed his will that this not turn into a time-consuming issue, but admitted, “I never anticipate spending a lot of time on many of the things I spend a lot of time on.” Judge Pohl decided that the teams would meet Wednesday morning “to see where we’re at.” The judge also expressed that the interpreter may not wish to be interviewed by the defense, but he will be made available to the defense team should he wish to be interviewed.

Cannell raised a concern that this issue could spiral into a long-term filing process, and BG Martins did not deny that this could evolve into an ex parte proceeding. They will reassess this at a later time.

Before dismissing for the day, Bin Attash’s counsel, Cheryl Bormann, took the podium. She stated that this was either the “biggest coincidence ever” or that this was “part of the systemic infiltration of the defense teams.” She requested that BG Martins’ prosecution team not be involved in this investigation, but instead requested a Special Review Team. She stated that her client was “visibly shaken today” and that this is an “ongoing problem.”

After reading the detainees their right to be present, as is customary on the first day of a proceeding, the group was dismissed. Rumor at the watercooler was that this interpreter was the interpreter chosen to replace the problem linguist from December.