Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pay Attention

In mid-December I traveled to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba with 11 other NGO observers, representing law schools, human rights organizations, and the American Bar Association, to observe and monitor pre-trial motion hearings in the 9/11 case. My role as an NGO observer is to be an independent, objective witness to help ensure that a fair and transparent legal process is occurring. As the eyes and ears of the outside world and, most importantly, the American public, I took this honor and responsibility very seriously. I did a substantial amount of “homework” to enhance my understanding of not only the content of the case and the motions to be heard, but also of military commission procedure, international human rights law, and the right to a fair trial. Because the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released what is now known as the “Torture Report” two days before I left, I read that report as well. In retrospect, nothing could have fully prepared me for the experience, even though I have been working with the Military Commission Observation Project here at the Indiana University McKinney Law School for more than six months.

My last important obligation is to share my findings as broadly as possible.The importance of this obligation has been reinforced by how frequently people respond with surprise when I tell them why I went to Guantánamo Bay. They say, for example: “Is that still going on? What is it? Isn’t that over yet? Aren’t they guilty? Why is the government spending all that money?”

As one way of sharing broadly, I decided to offer an executive summary of my findings in this forum as to whether a fair and open process is occurring at Guantánamo Bay. You can find additional thoughts in my posts at The Gitmo Observer

The executive summary is four short sentences:
  • The Military Commission is the process we are using at this time to determine innocence and guilt, and ultimately, any sentences to be imposed on the defendants.
  • The government and judiciary have determined that the best place for the Military Commission process to be conducted is Guantánamo Bay.
  • It is currently anticipated that the 9/11 trials will begin no earlier than 2018; as such there are and will be many more actions that will work to deny fair trials to the defendants.
  • It is imperative that we as Americans pay attention to ensure that fair and transparent legal proceedings occur.
A recent New York Daily News op-ed piece written by a member of a 9/11 victim’s family vehemently and passionately objected to the release of the Torture Report because in her opinion the Torture Report made the detainees into victims. In the author’s opinion the committee was influenced by “a narrative written by anti-American ideologues in thrall of international human rights activists with no allegiance to nations.”

I disagree. The victim of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program described in the Torture Report is our Constitution. If we fail to ensure that each of these individuals is afforded a fair trial, we will have failed our Constitution and ourselves. If, and that is a very big if, we are to salvage any aspect of process going forward, we must ensure that the voice of our Constitution resonates as loudly and passionately as the other voices.

As members of the legal community, we stand in a unique position that enables us to question and evaluate the process. We deal with the law and the fair and judicious application of the law every day. We are trained to question, reason, and identify the incongruities. We have an obligation to stand firm to the principles of our Constitution when horrific actions tempt peaceful people to act outside the law. In my opinion, there is currently no better place to exercise that obligation than in reference to the monitoring and evaluation of the legal process occurring at Guantánamo Bay. All we need do is take the time to pay attention.

We cannot rely on others or even the press to pay attention and question on our behalf. On this trip, only four press agencies were present: Miami Herald, The Daily BeastThe Washington Free Beacon,
and Berliner Beitung. Currently, the Miami Herald provides comprehensive and, in many instances, the only coverage of the proceedings at Guantánamo Bay. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald has been on the story since the first detainees arrived in Guantánamo Bay in January 2002.

Fortunately it is remarkably easy to “pay attention.” The Gitmo Observer
project, as well as others such as Human Rights First and the American Civil Liberties Union, report on the legal proceedings and activities at Guantánamo Bay. Rosenberg maintains a twitter feed (@carolrosenberg), and there is an extensive archive and resource collection at\guantanamo.

This untitled poem by Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a Protestant pastor who spoke out against Adolf Hitler and spent seven years in a concentration camp, reflects my experience at Guantánamo Bay and informs my call to speak on behalf of our Constitution:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. 
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. 
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Catherine. Great poem also. It is so easy to forget history...