News: JTF Guantanamo Military Commissions
Story by Sgt. David McLean
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba —News correspondents from around the world report from Camp Justice, a part of Joint Task Force Guantanamo at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay during military commissions, pre-trial motions, and hearings as recently as Oct. 8.
The court support teams, prosecution, defense and other government officials make the long trip from Washington, D.C. to Cuba when court is in session. These individuals play an important role in the mission of transparency for Joint Task Force Guantanamo and the Office of Military Commissions.
Three distinct groups of people travel here to observe the trials: media, Non-Governmental Organizations and victim family members. Their presence helps promote openness with the rest of the world outside of Guantanamo Bay.
"They help to ensure our proceedings are transparent for all the multiple viewpoints on both sides of the debate," said Marine 1st Lt. Nicholas Mann, assistant plans officer for JTF operations, and escort for NGOs during commissions. "It is not just one side, but both sides giving their opinions of what is happening here."
Regardless of the opinion they hold, these groups are commonly found around military and civilian courtrooms in the United States.
The NGOs include the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch. Members of these organizations attend the hearings, press conferences and other activities, and are there simply to observe the process.
"Their role is to observe the trials to see if they are based on a legal standpoint," Mann said. "They want to know if we are conducting all of this in a legal fashion. They report back to their organizations to see if our trials are done fairly."
Like the NGOs, the media also reports back to the rest of the world what is happening here during the commissions hearings. Video news outlets like Fox News, CNN, Associated Press, AFP, BBC and Al-Jazeera, and major print publications like the Washington Post, the Toronto Star and the Miami Herald come to observe firsthand and give an account of what transpires here.
Both media and NGOs are invited by the Office of the Secretary of Defense to attend hearings based on space available both on the flights and in housing on the island.
Family members of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. embassy attacks and the USS Cole bombing are invited to attend the Sept. 11 co-conspirator hearings by lottery through the OMC. Family members have a chance to be one of five individuals selected for each session. They can bring a guest with them for support, and are invited to attend and speak at press conferences after the hearings.
"The main purpose of their visit is to see the hearings of the Sept. 11 group," said Army Lt. Col. Nelson Del Valle, the Commission Support Group deputy director.
Del Valle said for those family members not selected in the lottery, there is an opportunity to view the hearings back in the United States. A live, closed-circuit television feed of court proceedings is broadcast back to the states.
Whether watching in the courtroom, or on television in the United States, the world is able to see what is happening here and how we carry out the mission.
For more information about Joint Task Force Guantanamo, visit the Web site at www.jtfgtmo.southcom.mil.