Group from IU McKinney Gets NGO Observer Status to Visit Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commission Hearings
The Pentagon’s Convening Authority for Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commissions has awarded nongovernmental organization (NGO) observer status to the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. This new status will permit PIHRL to send students, staff and faculty to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to observe, study, and critique criminal hearings of Guantanamo’s U.S. Military Commission.
“The Pentagon selected IU McKinney because we have the ability to observe, assess, and draw informed conclusions about the Guantanamo Military Commission system,” said Professor George Edwards, director of PIHRL. “Our program’s pledge is to present findings based on what we observe, and not based on any preconceived views. Our students will be better judges after this type of Guantanamo Bay experience. One of McKinney’s goals is to expose our J.D., LL.M. and other students to experiences that will help those students achieve their post-degree career goals. Participating in a Guantanamo mission will help students prepare for their profession.”
(In the photo above: Professor Edwards, far left, is on board the U.S. military plane that flew him from Andrews Air Force Base to Guantanamo Bay in 2007. Next to him are, center, Professor Tim McCormack of the University of Melbourne School of Law and, far right, Australian lawyer David McLeod.)
PIHRL hopes to send representatives to Guantanamo Bay to observe trials in April. A procedure is being established for selecting IU McKinney students, faculty and staff to join these Guantanamo Bay missions. In addition to traveling to Guantanamo Bay, students may travel to the military base at Ft. Meade, Maryland to view the proceedings via live video-feed in a secure theatre. Professor Edwards has also traveled to Ft. Meade for these hearings.
The Pentagon grants observer status to NGOs based in part on a group’s academic or practical work involving international human rights law in the context of armed conflict and criminal trials, the group’s mission to advance human rights through advocacy, the group’s respect for the rule of law, and the group’s ability to reach large audiences around the globe. Among the 18 other groups with this Guantanamo Bay Status are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Bar Association.
Professor George Edwards, who is founding faculty director of the Program in International Human Rights Law, first became involved with Guantanamo Bay in 2003, soon after the Pentagon appointed the first Chief Military Defense Counsel for detainees. The chief asked Professor Edwards, the PIHRL, and J.D. and LL.M. students to conduct research on the right to a fair trial afforded during military tribunals at Nuremberg and Tokyo following WWII. It was contended that at a minimum, the then 800 detainees at Guantanamo Bay should have been afforded fair trial rights like those provided for WWII alleged war criminals.
Professor Edwards served as expert witness on the case of Australian David Hicks, a Guantanamo detainee who was the first person since WWII to be convicted in a U.S. Military Commission. Professor Edwards testified by affidavit in two rounds of Guantanamo proceedings, and traveled to Guantanamo Bay for Hicks’ trial and sentencing. Edwards also provided assistance on the case of Canadian Omar Khadr, a detainee who was 14 years of age when taken to Guantanamo Bay.
Professor Edwards is the Carl M. Gray Professor of Law at IU McKinney, and is the author of LL.M. Roadmap: An International Students Guide to U.S. Law School Programs, a resource for LL.M. students, graduates, and applicants around the world.