One week at Guantánamo Bay, a land filled with stark contrasts

Davis Wright is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law (JD magna cum laude 2022). During his time in law school, Davis was: Executive Articles Editor for Vol. 50 of the Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law; co-founder and co-president of the Privacy, Security, and Technology Law Society; and participant in the 2021 Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. Additionally, he completed a semester-long externship in Norfolk, Virginia, in the legal department of HQ SACT, a leading unit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; his prior post on that NATO experience is here. This month, Davis will begin practicing law as an Associate at Jones Day in Atlanta. He would like to thank Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center for contributing funding to allow him to fly to Washington, D.C., in order to participate as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) observer in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba – an experience that he recounts in this post.

From September 9 to 16, 2022, I was granted the opportunity to be the National Institute of Military Justice NGO Observer at the U.S. Military Commission hearings at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB) in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in the case against the defendant known as Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, although he calls himself Nashwan al-Tamir.

During my time in Guantanamo, I found stark contrasts everywhere: internally, with how I viewed Mr. al-Hadi’s treatment, and externally, with all that I observed on NSGB.

Guantánamo Bay is a beautiful place. Flying into the airstrip of NSGB, you can see the stunning landscape of Cuba, with many mountains jutting out from the island.

After crossing the bay via ferry, surveying the views on water, I arrived at the area of the base that includes Camp Justice, the makeshift complex where the military commissions are held.

After completing check-in, passing through security, and being instructed on what I could and could not do while on base, I was given a tour of the base by my escort.

This was where I noticed the first contrast:

  • Initially, I was shown rocky beaches with clear blue water, breathtaking lookouts with 360-degree views, and lively wildlife that was all around, including iguanas, banana rats, deer, and guinea fowl.
  • But then I also was able to view Camp X-Ray, the hastily thrown together detention facility that housed the first of captives held at Guantánamo Bay in the United States’ war on terror. In this facility, and then in the more permanent Camp Delta afterwards, detainees were (and still are) held without charges, and many allege that they were tortured and abused. X-Ray is now unused and run down, poking out through the overgrown foliage that threatens to swallow it. Nevertheless, it casts a dark shadow and eerie presence over the otherwise idyllic landscape.

The next day, we were shown all that Guantánamo Bay has to offer. There are the aforementioned beaches, a bowling alley, an arcade, an Irish pub, a tiki bar, basketball, racquetball, and pickleball courts, mini-golf, and much more. And I took advantage, by eating, drinking, and enjoying myself on an island that displayed beauty everywhere I looked.

This was the next contrast.

Because while I had just enjoyed what was essentially a day of vacation on a Sunday in Guantánamo Bay, the next morning, behind layers of security, I was observing a U.S. Military Commission hearing for Mr. al-Hadi.

The pre-sentencing hearing that day focused on Mr. al-Hadi’s failing health. Mr. al-Hadi has previously endured 5 spine surgeries, due to a degenerative-spine disease. He needs a sixth. However, an MRI machine is needed to evaluate his spine, and the only one to which he has access at Guantánamo Bay has been broken since November 2021. Although the previous MRI machine had been provided via an awarded contract to a private company, the government failed to contract for maintenance, and, as a result, the machine demagnetized due to a catastrophic loss of helium. Mr. al-Hadi also needs a dexa scan, and the base does not have this capability.

The government has provided an estimate of December 2022 for the operability of a new MRI machine and download of software to the existing CT scan machine to make a dexa scan possible. However, the previous (and now broken) MRI machine took several years to finally make its way to the base and become operational. Due to this, the defense counsel expressed deep skepticism over whether the government’s timeline was realistic. Counsel asked to take the testimony of the Senior Medical Officer – the equivalent of Mr. al-Hadi’s primary care physician – to inquire into his current health situation. Defense counsel also asked to take the testimony of the chair of the Senior Medical Advising Committee, arguing that this individual likely has information regarding the procurement and administration of the MRI machine.

Who, exactly, is this defendant?

Mr. al-Hadi was captured in Turkey in late 2006 and held at a CIA black site for 5 to 6 months. After this time, he was transferred to the detention facility at NSGB. As described in an article by New York Times reporter Carol Rosenberg, this past June Mr. al-Hadi pleaded guilty to the “war crimes of attacking private property – a U.S. military medevac helicopter that insurgents who answered to him failed to shoot down in Afghanistan in 2003 – and of treachery and conspiracy connected to insurgent bombings that killed at least three allied troops, one each from Canada, Britain and Germany.” Many of his fellow detainees are accused of other war crimes; they include Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who allegedly orchestrated the attacks on the USS Cole, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is alleged to have been one of the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks.

This is yet another contrast.

It is hard to feel sympathetic for the detainees, including Mr. al-Hadi, because most have legitimately committed heinous crimes against the United States. Yet – unlike others who have also committed heinous crimes but were convicted in U.S. courts – detainees at Guantánamo Bay were held for lengthy periods of time without charges. Many detainees allege that they were tortured either before coming to or during their time on base. These men are also aging and facing increasing health problems, which the government, to date, has inadequately addressed. It is easy to want to ignore these injustices when faced with the war crimes that were committed by those held in Guantanamo Bay. But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And although that quote may be cliché, the United States (and those keeping it accountable) must fight to the urge to allow the crimes of the accused to determine the quality of the legal process they receive.

After the Monday hearing, Tuesday was a classified session, which NGO observers were prohibited from attending, presumably because the judge granted one or both of the defense counsel’s motions for new testimony. And the Wednesday through Friday hearings were either cancelled or classified as well.

This led to the final contrast that I observed. While I got a few more days of relaxing in the sun on the government’s dime, I was flown down to Guantanamo Bay on a charter flight, housed, and provided an escort all for no cost, it remains to be seen whether Mr. al-Hadi ever gets his MRI and dexa scan from that same government.

Georgia Law Dean Bo Rutledge, co-author Gary Born publish “International Civil Litigation in the United States” (7th ed.)

The seventh edition of International Civil Ligitation in the United States has just been published by its co-authors, Gary B. Born (bottom left), a London-based lawyer who is chair of the International Arbitration Practice Group at the global law firm WilmerHale, and Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge (top left), who is Dean and Talmadge Chair of Law here at the University of Georgia School of Law.

Here’re the details from Aspen Publishing:

“Examining every topic discussed in competing texts with extensive narrative, unparalleled notes, and detailed citations, this book covers the gamut of international dispute resolution, whether judicial jurisdiction, sovereign immunity, extraterritoriality, conflicts of law, parallel proceedings, discovery disputes, service, judgment enforcement, and international arbitration. This Seventh Edition includes excerpts and updated discussions of recent U.S. court decisions and legislation relating to a wide range of private and public international law topics.” 

Included in this edition are a critique of the Restatement (Fourth) of the Foreign Relations of the United States (American Law Institute 2021), as well as developments in: litigation under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act; sovereign immunity law following several landmark Supreme Court decisions; and extraterritorial application of federal law in the wake of landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Georgia Law Professor Diane Marie Amann interviewed on international law and developments in Ukraine-Russia war

An international law analysis by Georgia Law Professor Diane Marie Amann on recent developments in the Ukraine-Russia war is quoted in an article published Sunday by Voice of America Russian Service.

The Russian-language article, Юристы по международному праву: аннексия, проведенная Путиным, юридически ничтожна (that is, International Lawyers: The Annexation Carried out by Putin Is Legally Null and Void), was written by Evgenii Komarov. In addition to Amann, who is Regents’ Professor of International Law, Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law, and Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center here at the University of Georgia School of Law, Komarov interviewed international law professors Lea Brilmayer and Zakhar Tropin, from, respectively, Yale Law School and the Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, Ukraine.

The article related particularly to last week’s assertion by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country had annexed four regions of Ukraine that Russian troops had occupied in the months following their February 2022 invasion of the country.

Amann analyzed this development in light of international law norms set out in agreements to which Ukraine and Russia both belong, including the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and human rights treaties. She also discussed the potential for accountability and international pressure, through, for instance, economic sanctions and geopolitical isolation, UN treaty bodies on human rights and anti-discrimination, the International Criminal Court, and proposals for a special tribunal.

Komarov wrote:

“The effectiveness of international law ‘depends on political will, and I think that the countries that make these decisions weigh the benefits and costs,’ states Diane Marie Amann. This leads to the fact that justice is moving very slowly.”

Georgia Law Professor Cohen discusses developments in international trade law as part of plenary opening ASIL interest group conference at Texas A&M Law

Harlan Grant Cohen, who is Gabriel M. Wilner/UGA Foundation Professor in International Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center here at the University of Georgia School of Law, took part in last Thursday’s opening plenary of the Biennial Conference of the American Society of International Law International Economic Law Interest Group.

On the opening plenary panel entitled “Sustainable Development and the Multiple Aims of Trade Law,” Cohen (above, 2d from left) primarily discussed the new competition to define international trade’s purpose, as well as the increasing enmeshments of trade and national security.

Organizer of the plenary was Nicolas Lamp, Queen’s University, Ontario (above, with Cohen to his left). Other panelists included (l to r): Ernesto Fernández Monge, Pew Charitable Trusts; Olabisi Akinkugbe, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University; Kathleen Claussen, University of Miami School of Law; Tony VanDuzer, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law; and Maria Panezi, University of New Brunswick School of Law. (photo credit)

The overall theme of the conference, which took place September 22 to 24 at Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth, Texas, was “Energy, Sustainability, and International Economic Law.”

Georgia Law Professor Amann publishes “International Child Law and the Settlement of Ukraine-Russia and Other Conflicts” in International Law Studies

Georgia Law Professor Diane Marie Amann has published, in the century-old, peer-reviewed international law journal of the U.S. Naval War College, an article analyzed international child law in order to imagine ways that peace processes may engage with children and ensure that children’s issues are addressed in future peace agreements.

Entitled “International Child Law and the Settlement of Ukraine-Russia and Other Conflicts,” the article appears at 99 International Law Studies 559-601 (2022) and is available here.

Amann, who is Regents’ Professor of International Law, Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law, and Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center here at the University of Georgia School of Law, she served from 2012 to 2021 as the Special Adviser to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict.

She undertook research on this topic while a Visiting Academic at University College London this past summer. An earlier version of her research forms part of the Ukraine Peace Settlement Project of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. (prior post)

Here’s the abstract for Amann’s just-published article:

The Ukraine-Russia conflict has wreaked disproportionate harms upon children. Hundreds reportedly were killed or wounded within the opening months of the conflict, thousands lost loved ones, and millions left their homes, their schools, and their communities. Yet public discussions of how to settle the conflict contain very little at all about children. This article seeks to change that dynamic. It builds on a relatively recent trend, one that situates human rights within the structure of peace negotiations, to push for particularized treatment of children’s experiences, needs, rights, and capacities in eventual negotiations. The article draws upon twenty-first century projects that examine the lives of children in armed conflict by synthesizing international child law. The projects’ syntheses have influenced the work of certain international organizations bodies but not, to date, the work of peace settlements.

To demonstrate their relevance to conflict resolution, the article first outlines two syntheses by the United Nations and by the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor. After mapping child rights and conflict harms, it examines the treatment of children in Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement and a 1999 agreement related to Sierra Leone. The article concludes by proposing child-inclusive options for peace processes and eventual peace agreements.

Georgia Law Appellate Clinic team briefs, argues, wins Convention Against Torture case before Second Circuit in New York

One week after oral arguments put forward by students in the University of Georgia School of Law Appellate Litigation Clinic, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today ruled on behalf of a Clinic client, whose immigration case involved the 1984 Convention Against Torture, an international treaty that the United States joined in 1994.

The client, a gay transgender rights advocate from the state of Guerrero, Mexico, and the petitioner in Case No. 20-1693, Santiaguez v. Garland, seeks deferral of removal pursuant to the treaty’s provisions respecting non-refoulement, or non-return. Specifically, the client asks not to be sent back to his home country, where his brother, also gay, recently was killed due to sexual orientation.

Georgia Law 3L Noah Nix (pictured above) argued on behalf of the client last week at the Second Circuit’s New York courthouse. He challenged prior rulings in the case, in which both the Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals had agreed that no Mexican public official would likely acquiesce to the Clinic’s client being tortured if he returned. The Board of Immigration Appeals also had found that the Immigration Judge did not violate the client’s due process rights when refusing to allow a country conditions expert to testify at the client’s merits hearing.

Today the Second Circuit panel, composed of Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston, Judge Barrington D. Parker Jr., and Judge Eunice C. Lee, ruled on behalf of the Clinic’s client. Specifically, reasoning that the agency had not properly considered the client’s evidence, the panel issued an order vacating the agency’s decision and remanding the case for further proceedings.

Assisting in brief-writing in the case were two Georgia Law students who have since graduated, Jared Allen and Olivia Hunter. The team worked under the supervision of Thomas V. Burch, the Clinic’s Director.

Five University of Georgia-based scholars present at 2022 annual conference of the European Society of International Law

Well represented at last week’s annual conference of the European Society of International Law were scholars from the University of Georgia.

Presenting at the conference were 4 professors affiliated with the University of Georgia School of Law – along with one researcher at the University of Georgia Digital Humanities Lab, sponsored by the Willson Center for the Humanities, and two scholars who earned their first degrees at the University of Georgia.

The 2022 ESIL conference took place at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, home institution of a recent Visiting Researcher at the Dean Rusk International Law Center here at Georgia Law, Professor Brianne McGonigle Leyh. Designed to explore the theme “In/Ex-clusiveness of International Law,” the conference began with Interest Group workshops on Wednesday. It concluded on Saturday

University of Georgia scholars’ presentations were as follows:

► Professor Diane Marie Amann (pictured above left) gave an online talk entitled “Absent at the Creation? Women and International Criminal Justice” as part of a Saturday hybrid session exploring “In/Ex-clusiveness of the Legal Construction of Justice.” The presentation drew on her research into the experiences of women professionals at post-World War II international criminal trials. Amann is Regents’ Professor of International Law, Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law, and Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center here at the University of Georgia School of Law; additionally, she serves on the Coordinating Committee of ESIL’s Interest Group on International Criminal Justice. Also participating on this agora session were scholars from the Netherlands’ University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University, and also from the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland-Galway.

► Professor Harlan Grant Cohen (second from left), who is Gabriel M. Wilner/UGA Foundation Professor in International Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center here at the University of Georgia School of Law, presented twice:

► Professor Melissa J. “MJ” Durkee (center), who is Associate Dean for International Programs, Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center, and Allen Post Professor here at the University of Georgia School of Law, likewise gave two presentations at the ESIL conference:

  • She presented “The Technology of Inclusion in International Climate Law,” a talk that drew from her forthcoming Yale Journal of International Law article The Pledging World Order, at a Wednesday workshop session entitled “Just Energy Transition – the International Human Rights Law Perspective.” The workshop’s overall title was “In/Ex-clusiveness in the Energy Transition and Climate Action”; host was the ESIL Interest Group on International Environmental Law. Also on Durkee’s panel were scholars from Leiden University in the Netherlands and from the China Institute of Boundary & Ocean Studies and Research Institute of Environmental Law of Wuhan University, China.
  • Durkee explored “The Logics of Inclusion and Exclusion in International Participatory Structures,” at a Thursday workshop entitled “International Organizations, Elites, and Masses: Perspectives on In/Exclusion,” and sponsored by the ESIL Interest Group on International Organizations. Her talk concerned an early-stage project that organizes perspectives on the inclusion and exclusion of nonstate actors in the activities of international organizations. Presenting other papers were scholars from the University of Hong Kong, the University of Melbourne in Australia, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law & International Law in Germany the University of Hamburg in Germany, and the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in China.

Meanwhile, Professor Tim R Samples (second from right), Associate Professor of Legal Studies at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business who has a courtesy appointment at Georgia Law, took part in three presentations.

  • Professor Samples and Dr. Katie Ireland (right), who recently joined the university’s DigiLab, spoke at two ESIL workshops along with their co-author, Caroline Kraczon, a Georgetown University Law Center 3L who earned her first degrees at the University of Georgia. Their paper, “Terms of Use Agreements and Social Platforms,” discusses their interdisciplinary project based on an original dataset of 75 digital platforms’ terms-of-use and core policies. The trio presented this research at the Wednesday workshop of the International Law & Technology Interest Group, on “Algorithmic and Technological Modes of In-/Exclusion: International Legal Method and Critique,” and also at “‘In/Ex-clusiveness through the Lens of International Business and Human Rights’” the Thursday workshop of the International Business & Human Rights Interest Group.
  • In addition, Samples co-presented Investment Law’s Transparency Gap, an article forthcoming in Cornell International Law Journal, with co-author Sebastian Puerta, a Ph.D. student in Economics at the University of California-Berkeley who earned his first degrees at the University of Georgia. Their work uses predictive modeling to estimate missing claims and awards in investment treaty arbitration. They spoke at a session of ESIL’s International Economic Law Interest Group, “In/ex-cluding Civil Society in Investment Law-making and Arbitration.” Also taking part in this session were scholars from the Institute of International Relations in Czechoslovakia, Ghent University and Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, University of Vienna in Austria, University of Trento in Italy, and Carleton University in Canada.

The European Society’s 2023 annual conference, themed “Is International Law Fair?,” will begin with Interest Group workshops on August 30, and run through September 2, in Aix-en-Provence, France.

Georgia Law Professor MJ Durkee moderates online ASIL discussion of book on globalization of legal education

Professor Melissa J. “MJ” Durkee, Associate Dean for International Programs, Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center, and Allen Post Professor here at the University of Georgia School of Law, moderated an online book discussion sponsored by the American Society of International Law.

Discussion centered on The Globalization of Legal Education: A Critical Perspective, published last month as an open access Oxford University Press title. Featured speakers were the co-editors, Bryant Garth (pictured above, upper right) and Gregory Shaffer (lower right), along with Swethaa Ballakrishnan (lower left), all of them professors at University of California-Irvine School of Law. Md. Rizwanul Islam (upper left), a professor at North South University Bangladesh, was the discussant.

Cohosting the event were ASIL’s Teaching International Law Interest Group and also its International Legal Theory Interest Group, of which Durkee (top, center) is Vice-Chair and another Georgia Law professor, Harlan G. Cohen, is Chair.

Video of the book discussion is available here and on YouTube.

Georgia Law Professor Usha Rodrigues in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung article on special purpose acquisition companies

Usha Rodrigues, University Professor and M.E. Kilpatrick Chair of Corporate Finance & Securities Law and the University of Georgia School of Law, serving currently as the University of Georgia Interim Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, recently was featured the German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The article by reporter Von Roland Linder was entitled “Für hunderte Spacs tickt die Uhr,” or “The clock is ticking for hundreds of spacs” – the last term an acronym for “special purpose acquisition companies,” a corporate law phenomenon about which Rodrigues has written and frequently is quoted.

Professor MJ Durkee publishes essay on legacy of 1972 Stockholm Declaration in special issue of Georgia Journal of Comparative and International Law

Professor Melissa J. “MJ” Durkee, Associate Dean for International Programs, Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center, and Allen Post Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, published “International Environmental Law at Its Semicentennial: The Stockholm Legacy” in 50 Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 748 (2022), available at the journal’s website as well as SSRN.

The publication reflects upon issues raised at, the journal’s October 2021 conference, “The 1972 Stockholm Declaration at 50: Reflecting on a Half-Century of International Environmental Law.” (Prior posts and links to panel videos here)

Here’s the SSRN abstract of Professor Durkee’s essay:

“The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment produced the Stockholm Declaration, an environmental manifesto that forcefully declared a human right to environmental health and birthed the field of modern international environmental law. The historic event powerfully “dramatized . . . the unity and fragility of the biosphere,” sparking a remarkable period of international legal innovation and cooperation on environmental protection in the decades to come.

“The Stockholm Declaration can be rightly celebrated for putting environmental issues on the international legal agenda and driving the development of environmental law at the domestic level around the world. At the same time, the Declaration’s distinctive framing of environmental problems and solutions deeply influenced these abundant subsequent laws, and here its legacy is mixed. This special issue, in celebration of the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law’s 50th anniversary volume, evaluates the legacy of the Stockholm Declaration and the legal movement it launched.”

Published in the same journal issue were: “‘In Countless Ways and On an Unprecedented Scale’: Reflections on the Stockholm Declaration at 50” by Rebecca Bratspies, Professor of Law and founding Director of the Center for Urban Environmental Reform at CUNY School of Law; and “Legal Rights for Rivers” by Katie O’Bryan, Lecturer and Member of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Faculty of Law, at Monash University in Australia.