When I told a friend that I was going to Cuba as an observer for the military commission hearings, she commented that it was a great opportunity to see the country. Well, Guantanamo is not the Cuba of beautiful beaches; lovely musical rhythms; and walks along the Malecón, the famous five-mile esplanade and roadway along the Havana coast. Guantanamo is a military base in every sense of the word.
I have had the occasion to travel twice to Guantanamo Naval Air Station (GNAS) — Gitmo — as a nongovernmental observer (NGO) on behalf of the American Bar Association, once in 2013 and again in 2019. Each visit was intended as an opportunity to observe motions in the case known as United States v. KSM — KSM being Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged to be the operational mastermind of the September 11 attacks and the alleged killer of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. (KSM is not on trial for the murder of Pearl.) In addition to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the other codefendants are Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi and Mustafa al Hawsawi.
Observers are sent to Guantanamo to fulfill, in some very limited way, the requirements of a public trial. ABA observers are chosen primarily from the ranks of the Criminal Justice Section because extensive knowledge of criminal law is essential. The ABA reimburses its observers, although some of the other organizations do not. The observers all report back to their respective organizations and hope that these reports help shed some light on what would otherwise be a very secretive proceeding.