Zionsville Town Council President Jeff Papa returns from Guantanamo Bay

Jeff Papa stands at the entrance of Guantanamo Bay. (Submitted photo)

Jeff Papa stands at the entrance of Guantanamo Bay. (Submitted photo)

Commentary by Jeff Papa Zionsville Town Council President

I recently traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in order to serve as an observer of the military commission (view details of active commission cases at www.mc.mil) war crimes hearings concerning al Hadi Al Iraqi. The Program on International Human Rights Law at the Indiana McKinney School of Law has been designated as an official NGO observer organization, and I was nominated to represent PIHRL for this particular pretrial hearing.

The U.S. government has created this arrangement of allowing neutral NGO observers to view the hearings in order to ensure transparency and that critique and comment are publicly available in order help help ensure fair hearings where the rights of all are protected: the accused, the prosecution, the victims and their families, and the public at large.  The proceedings may only be viewed directly at Guantanamo or via secure CCTV link on designated US military facilities (I had traveled to Ft. Meade in April to view and report remotely on proceedings in the al Nashiri/USS Cole bombing case).

The NGO observers, and their reports (PIHRL’s are viewable at gitmoobserver.com), are important to the credibility of the proceedings in an otherwise closed system of hearings held on a secure military base in Cuba.

Al Hadi is charged with several war crimes, including: denying quarter (ordering that no coalition forces be taken alive on the battlefield), firing on protected property (ordering shots fired at a marked medevac helicopter which was attempting to remove casualties), Perfidy and attempted Perfidy (using deception – placing IEDs in civilian vehicles and bombs in civilian clothing and using the protected status of civilian to approach coalition forces and explode these devices causing death and injury), and conspiracy (conspiring with Osama Bin Laden and others).

Defendants in commission proceedings are provided with military JAG defense lawyers at no expense. Defendants also have the right to obtain private civilian lawyers (at no expense to the government in non death penalty cases; expert private defense counsel may be paid by the government in death penalty cases).  Professor George Edwards and the IU PIHRL program are making a significant impact on gauging the fairness of these proceedings beyond simple observation and reporting.  They have created a comprehensive checklist and source law document, The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Checklist, which national and global NGOs are rapidly beginning to utilize as the method of choice to understand and examine fairness in given commission hearings.

Al Hadi was arraigned in June 2014, and the proceedings I observed were the first pretrial discussions, and as such they centered around the types of evidence which will be allowed, ground rules for discovery, and the use of secret, sensitive and classified information. The proceedings seem very similar to a US federal court; a few major exceptions are liberal ability for the government to use hearsay evidence, and the lack of a requirement that a warrant have been issued or that the accused have been mirandized when captured (many were captured on the battlefield or by foreign governments and many were in CIA custody prior to being remanded to the military).

It was interesting to learn more about the history and status of the US base at Guantanamo Bay, which has a very interesting history and strategic role played for more than 100 years. Anyone interested in learning more about particular commission hearings or viewing the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Checklist may visit www.gitmoobserver.com and www.mc.mil.


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