Climate change innovation to be explored February 10 at Georgia Law’s 35th annual Red Clay Conference

“Climate Change Innovation: Stakeholders and Tools” is the title of the Red Clay Conference to be held Friday, February 10, 2023, here at the University of Georgia School of Law.

This will mark the 35th annual edition of the student-run conference, which was established to increase public awareness of environmental issues. Cosponsoring the event are the law school and its students’ Environmental Law Association, led this year by 2L Hannah Jellema and 3L Anna Scartz, president and vice president, respectively.

Here’s the program for the conference, which will take place in the Larry Walker Room on the 4th floor of Dean Rusk Hall:

➣ 9:15 a.m. Opening remarks

Opening the conference will be Melissa J. “MJ” Durkee, Associate Dean for International Programs, Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center, and Allen Post Professor at Georgia Law.

➣ 9:10 a.m. Panel 1, Roles of Humans

Addressing the impact of climate change on agriculture, urban environments, and environmental justice communities will be: Pam Knox, Director of the UGA Weather Network and an agricultural climatologist within the university’s College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences; Tawana Mattox, Director of Community Education & Empowerment and Neighborhood Sustainability Project Manager at the Athens Land Trust; and Professor J. Marshall Shepherd, the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor of Geography & Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Georgia. Shana Jones, Assistant Director of Strategic Operations & Planning Assistance at the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government, will moderate.

➣ 10:55 a.m. Panel 2, Rights of Nature

Examining how the rights-of-nature doctrine can be used to combat climate change will be: Chuck O’Neal, Speak Up Wekiva, Florida; Eduardo Salazar-Ortuño, Associate Professor of Law, University of Murcia, Spain (via Zoom); and Kekek Stark, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic at the Alexander Blewitt III School of Law, University of Montana. Georgia Law Associate Professor Christian Turner will moderate.

➣ 12:55 p.m. Peter Appel Honorary Keynote

Marilyn A. Brown, Regents’ and Brook Byers Professor of Sustainable Systems in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, will discuss her experience in policy work aimed at acceleration the implementation of sustainable energy sources and technology.

➣ 2:10 p.m. Panel 3, Responsibilities of Corporations

Exploring how corporate governance can reduce environmental externalities will be: Christopher M. Bruner, Stembler Family Distinguished Professor in Business Law at Georgia Law; Kelly Rondinelli, Associate – Environmental & Natural Resources at Vinson & Elkins LLP in Washington, D.C.; and Michael Vandenbergh, David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair in Law and Director of the Climate Change Research Network at Vanderbilt Law School. Melissa J. “MJ” Durkee, Associate Dean for International Programs, Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center, and Allen Post Professor at Georgia Law, will moderate.

➣ 3:25 p.m. Closing Remarks

Closing the conference will be Adam D. Orford, Assistant Professor of Law and Faculty Advisor of the Environmental Law Association at Georgia Law.

Attorneys licensed in Georgia can earn 4 CLE credits by attending the conference (pending approval by the state bar’s Institute of Continuing Legal Education).

Details and conference registration here.

Georgia Law 3L Collin Douglas on his D.C. Semester externship at NATO HQ SACT: “unique law school experience”

Pleased today to welcome this post by University of Georgia School of Law student Collin Douglas, who described his recently completed Fall 2022 externship in Norfolk, Virginia, in the legal department of HQ SACT, a leading unit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This externship forms part of Georgia Law’s D.C. Semester in Practice initiative, in partnership with NATO Allied Command Transformation. Collin arrived at Georgia Law with a background in international affairs, having earned master’s and bachelor’s degrees in that field from the University of Oklahoma. His law school experiences have included service as Executive Articles Editor of the Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law, internships at USAID and the Documentation Center of Cambodia, and work as a research assistant for a climate and security institute. Collin is due to receive his J.D. degree this May.

My time at the NATO Supreme Allied Command Transformation Office of the Legal Advisor was an incredibly rewarding and valuable experience. It was a completely unique law school experience, and allowed me to do work I could not do elsewhere.

In the wake of the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the mission of NATO has felt that much more vital. The invasion of Ukraine gave NATO a renewed focus and drive, and that fact was clear from the ever-quickening pace of work around NATO SACT. The Legal Advisor performs a wide variety of legal roles within NATO SACT to support the mission, and I was able to interact with all of those roles.

As soon as I began working, I was treated as an equal member of the team and trusted with important work. One of the responsibilities of the Office of the Legal Advisor is to provide legal aid support to the international military staff of NATO SACT. This support ranges from advising on how to handle speeding tickets to coordinating with the State Department on visa issues. Within a few weeks of starting work, I was the first person who greeted any legal assistance client who walked in the door, of which there were 10-20 every day. Talking with NATO personnel from 32+ different countries exposed me to 32+ different legal perspectives and cultures. This fact gave the legal assistance portion of the work its own international perspective, as we often had to anticipate things like the Norwegian perspective on landlord-tenant issues, the German perspective on automobile sales, Albanian frustration with the visa process, or simply whether someone fully grasped the legal aspects of something they were involved with.

The Office of the Legal Advisor also performs the more typical general counsel duties of any other large organization, but with the added (and interesting) layer of being an international organization. This work covers contracting, employment intellectual property issues, and much more. This work does not differ significantly from that of a general counsel’s office in a large corporation. Where it does differ is the immunity that NATO receives under the treaties that make up the NATO system. I was able to support this work by researching and helping to articulate NATO’s view on its own immunity. Doing work of this kind for an international organization is such a rare opportunity, and I jumped on the chance to contribute to it.

My externship at NATO was part of the UGA Law Semester in D.C. program, led by Professor Jessica Heywood, so I took part in two classes that greatly contributed to my time at NATO. As part of this program we heard each week from a different lawyer working in Washington, D.C. This provided an excellent opportunity to learn about the many career paths available to attorneys who want to work in the nation’s capital. I also had a weekly class session with other students doing similar externship experiences; this allowed me to better understand my strengths and weaknesses in the workplace and to grow as an individual.

I am extremely grateful for my time at NATO SACT. There is no other law school experience that compares to it. I want to thank my amazing colleagues Monte DeBoer, Mette Hartov, Theresa Donahue, Kathy Hansen-Nord, Vincent Grassin, Butch Bracknell, Madeleine Goddrie, and Galateia Gialitaki.

India trip launches partnership with Georgia Law, Jindal Global Law School

A University of Georgia School of Law journey abroad has cemented a partnership – launching a student exchange and planning a range of other collaborative initiatives – with India’s top-ranked private law school.

Georgia Law Dean Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge and Sarah Quinn, Associate Director for Global Practice Preparation at Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, traveled in December to O.P. Jindal Global (Institution of Eminence Deemed to be University) Law School in Sonipat, a city about 40 miles north of India’s capital, New Delhi.

While there, Rutledge and the Vice Chancellor of Jindal Global University, Professor C. Raj Kumar, signed a memorandum of understanding (at a ceremony pictured above right). The agreement establishes the semester-long exchange of the two law schools’ students, and further plans for faculty exchanges, research collaborations, seminars and workshops, and outreach. Dual-degree offerings also are being discussed. As previously posted, at Georgia Law all these initiatives will be administered by the Dean Rusk International Law Center.

During their visit Rutledge and Quinn also took part in a campus tour and met with several law school and university professors, deans, and administrators, including Malvika Seth, Sahibnoor Singh Sidhu, S.G. Sreejith, Arpita Gupta, Indranath Gupta, and Atharva Sontakke. (Above left, Sarah Quinn, Sahibnoor Singh Sidhu, and Bo Rutledge at Humayan’s Tomb, Delhi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Launched in 2009, O.P. Jindal Global University is a nonprofit global university established by the government of the Indian State of Haryana, and recognized by India’s University Grants Commission. The QS World University Rankings has named it India’s top private university.

This initiative joins Georgia Law’s ongoing partnership with institutions including Bar-Ilan University in Israel (prior posts), and the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies at KU Leuven University in Belgium (prior posts).

Scholars and practitioners of space law to speak at Georgia Law as part of new international law course led by Center’s Director, Professor MJ Durkee

Leading scholars and practitioners of space law will speak here at the University of Georgia School of Law as part of a new semester-long course in international law taught by Professor Melissa J. “MJ” Durkee, the law school’s Associate Dean for International Programs, Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center, and Allen Post Professor.

The Spring 2023 Space Law Speaker Series will feature (pictured above, left to right):

January 20, “Space Law Fundamentals”: Christopher Johnson, Space Law Advisor for the Secure World Foundation, Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., and member of the Paris-based International Institute of Space Law

January 25, “Contemporary Space Governance”: Tanja Masson-Zwaan, Assistant Professor and Deputy Director of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and President Emerita of the International Institute of Space Law

February 10, “Customary Law Principles in Space Law”: Timiebi Aganaba, Assistant Professor of Space and Society in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, also affiliated with ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative, Global Futures Lab, and Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

February 17, “Regulating Space Junk”: Kathleen Doty, Advisor for Non-Proliferation Treaties & Agreements in the Global Security, Technology, and Policy group at the Seattle-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and former Director of our Dean Rusk International Law Center

Presentations will be open to all at Georgia Law. Students enrolled in the for-credit course will draw from knowledge gained during the speaker series to pitch solutions to a space law problem – the issue of debris in space, known colloquially as “space junk.” Working with them will be Professor Durkee. She too is a scholar in this area, having published “Interstitial Space Law” and “The Future of Space Governance,” the latter an essay in a Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law symposium issue on the subject.

Supporting the speaker series as part of their work on Georgia Law’s Graduate Certificate in International Law – for which this is a required course – are the staff members of the Center’s Global Practice Preparation portfolio, Sarah Quinn and Catrina Martin.

Georgia Law coursework begins for new class of students seeking Graduate Certificate in International Law

3L Nishka Malik (far left) and 2L Andrew Arrington (second from far right) introduce Georgia Law’s Alexander Campbell King Law Library to new Graduate Certificate in Law students; from left, Hayley Worsfold, Michael Parks, Benjamin Maurice Roy, and Angela Mossgrove

This New Year marks the arrival of the second class of Graduate Certificate in International Law students here at the University of Georgia School of Law.

Through the initiative of the law school’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, postgraduate students from other disciplines within the university will earn this academic certificate following their successful completion, in classes alongside J.D., LL.M., and M.L.S. students, of fifteen credit hours chosen from among the law school’s rich comparative, transnational, and international law curriculum; courses include Public International Law, International Human Rights, International Trade Law, Immigration Law, International Law Colloquium, and Global Governance.

Joining the first cohort, this second class of five students includes:

Three doctoral students, all from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences: Thomas Kingsley, a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics who is researching the effects of significant language contact, primarily in the Balkans and Central Asia; Angela Mossgrove, a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics focusing on Syntax; and Benjamin Maurice Roy, a Ph.D. candidate in History, whose research focuses on the cognitive history of tobacco in the nineteenth century.

Two master’s students, both from the School of Public and International Affairs: Michael Parks, a candidate for the M.A. in International Affairs, and Hayley Worsfold, a candidate for the Master of International Policy degree.

Details on application of and matriculation toward the Graduate Certificate in International Law are available here and by contacting the initiative’s administrator, Sarah Quinn, Associate Director for Global Practice Preparation at the Dean Rusk International Law Center, squinn[at]uga.edu.

Scholarly achievements, vibrant initiatives highlighted in newsletter of Dean Rusk International Law Center, University of Georgia School of Law

For a recap of the year’s research and global practice accomplishments, have a look at the newly published newsletter of the Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law. Features include:

Scholarly achievements of our Center Director, Melissa J. Durkee, and our many other globally minded faculty, including Diane Marie Amann and Harlan G. Cohen, our Center’s Faculty Co-Directors, as well as Zohra Ahmed, Christopher Bruner, Jason Cade, Nathan Chapman, Walter Hellerstein, Thomas Kadri, Jonathan Peters, Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge, Tim Samples, and Laura Phillips-Sawyer.

► The exceptional performance of the Georgia Law students who competed in the 2022 Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, placing second in the United States, competing through octofinals internationally, and tying for best overall oralist through the International Advanced Rounds.

► Our International Law Colloquium in Spring 2022, a course featuring works-in-progress conversations with international law scholars based in Latin America and Europe as well as the United States.

► Recent events, including our day-long conference on “The Law of Global Economic Statecraft” cosponsored with the Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law and other University of Georgia entities, our Consular Series of talks with diplomats, presentations by distinguished lawyers on issues including the Ukraine-Russia war, and participation in panels at meetings of the American Branch of the International Law Association, the American Society of International Law, and other global entities.

► Initiatives aimed at preparing our J.D. and LL.M. students for global legal practice, including our NATO Externship, our Global Externships, and the Global Governance Summer School we host in partnership with the Leuven Centre for Global Governance at Belgium’s University of Leuven (plus additional partnerships with O.P. Jindal University in India and Bar Ilan University in Israel).

The full newsletter is here.

Video available for “The Law of Global Economic Statecraft,” conference held October 24 at Georgia Law

Anyone who missed our October 24 University of Georgia School of Law conference entitled “The Law of Global Economic Statecraft” are most welcome now to view the event online.

As posted, an interdisciplinary and international range of speakers came together to address the intensifying geopolitics of sanctions, economic pressure, economic competition t this annual conference of the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, which was cosponsored by the Dean Rusk International Law Center, and other University of Georgia units: Willson Center for Humanities & Arts; Georgia Law students’ International Law Society; the Center for International Trade & Security, School of Public & International Affairs; the Department of History, Franklin College of Arts & Sciences; and the Department of Economics, Terry College of Business.

Keynoting the conference was a book discussion with Cornell University historian Nicholas Mulder, author of The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War (Yale University Press 2022).

The video link is here. Times and descriptions of each panel are as follows:

00:07 Panel 1: How We Got Here, with Zohra Ahmed, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Georgia School of Law; Mona Ali, Associate Professor of Economics, State University of New York-New Paltz; Harlan Grant Cohen, Gabriel M. Wilner/UGA Foundation Professor in International Law and  GJICL’s Faculty Advisor; Nicholas Mulder, Assistant Professor and Milstein Faculty Fellow, Cornell University Department of History.

01:31 Panel 2: Where We Are, with Lauren Brown, Associate, Squire Patton Boggs, Washington, D.C.; Sarah Bauerle Danzman, Director, Tobias Center for Innovation in International Development, and Associate Professor, International Studies, Indiana University-Bloomington; Maryam Jamshidi, Associate Professor of Law University of Florida Levin College of Law; Tom Ruys, Professor, Faculty of Law and Criminology, Department of European, Public, and International Law, Ghent University, Belgium; and Jan Zahradil, Member, European Parliament.

02:53 Panel 3: Where We’re Headed, with Melissa J. “MJ” Durkee, Associate Dean for International Programs, Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center, and Allen Post Professor, University of Georgia School of Law; Elena Chachko, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School; J. Benton Heath, Assistant Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law; Henry Farrell, SNF Agora Institute Professor of International Affairs at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University; and Mona Paulsen, Assistant Professor of Law, London School of Economics Law School, England.

04:17, Keynote Book Discussion of The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War, with (pictured above, from left) author Nicholas MulderLaura Phillips-Sawyer, Associate Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law; and Scott Reynolds Nelson, Georgia Athletic Association Professor at the University of Georgia Department of History.

In court and in Congress, Georgia Law clinics continue efforts on behalf of immigrant women alleging abuse, retaliation while in ICE detention

University of Georgia School of Law clinics’ faculty and students have continued to press forward– both in court and in Congress – in challenges they have brought on behalf of women clients who are challenging the abuses they endured while in U.S. immigration detention.

As previously posted, Georgia Law’s Community HeLP Clinic and First Amendment Clinic have pursued administrative, judicial, and advocacy paths in support of women who had been in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Irwin Detention Center, a privately run facility in south Georgia. While there, the women were subjected to nonconsensual, gynecological and other medical procedures; those who spoke out were met with retaliatory acts, including attempted or actual removal from the United States.

For more than two years, the Georgia Law clinics have represented some of these women in judicial and administrative proceedings. Associate Dean Jason A. Cade, Director of the Community HeLP Clinic, and Professor Clare R. Norins, Director of the First Amendment Clinic, are among co-counsel in Oldaker v. Giles, a class action complaint pending before Judge W. Louis Sands, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. Assisting them have been Staff Attorney Kristen Shepherd, Legal Fellow Lindsey Floyd, and many law students.

The Oldaker litigation took a new turn last Monday, when Judge Sands granted a contested motion and thus added two new named plaintiffs, both of them represented by the Georgia Law clinics.

Congressional action occurred earlier last month, when the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a hearing on “Medical Mistreatment of Women in Ice Detention,” on November 15 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

That same day, the subcommittee – led by its Chairman, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia), and Ranking Member, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), simultaneously released a 103-page Staff Report (pictured above) based on its 18-month investigation of the issue. The report recounted many incidents on which the Oldaker suit is based, and further incorporated information provided by six plaintiffs, one of them represented by the Georgia Law clinics. Among other key findings, the report stated that:

  • The women detainees “appear to have been subjected to excessive, invasive, and often unnecessary gynecological procedures” by one of the center’s physicians; and
  • ICE “did not employ a thorough vetting process,” and, before hiring the physician in question, “was not aware of publicly available information regarding medical malpractice suits” and other complaints against him.

“Law of Global Economic Statecraft,” October 24 Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law conference, to feature book keynote discussion with Nicholas Mulder

This year’s annual conference of the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law will consider a highly topical question: “The Law of Global Economic Statecraft.” Featured will be a keynote discussion by Cornell University historian Nicholas Mulder, author of The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War (Yale University Press 2022), as well as panels including more than a dozen experts from around the world.

The daylong conference will take place on Monday, October 24, in the Larry Walker Room of Dean Rusk Hall at the University of Georgia School of Law.

Sponsoring along with GJICL, a 50-year-old student-edited journal, is the law school’s Dean Rusk International Law Center. GJICL Executive Conference Editor, 3L Claire Kimbrell, and Senior Conference Editor, Sarah Grace McCord, worked closely with Catrina Martin, the Center’s Global Practice Preparation Assistant, and with GJICL’s Faculty Advisor, Professor Harlan Grant Cohen, who is Gabriel M. Wilner/UGA Foundation Professor in International Law and one of the Center’s Faculty Co-Directors.

The University of Georgia Willson Center for Humanities & Arts is a cosponsor of the keynote event. Additional conference cosponsors include these University of Georgia units: Georgia Law students’ International Law Society; the Center for International Trade & Security, School of Public & International Affairs; the Department of History, Franklin College of Arts & Sciences; and the Department of Economics, Terry College of Business.

Registration for all aspects of the conference (to be livestreamed for online registrants) here.

Here’s the concept note:

“The global economy has been weaponized.  It’s not clear when it happened, or whether it’s even something new, but watching the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made it impossible to ignore.  With breathtaking speed, a full phalanx of sophisticated economic tools was mobilized against Russia that threatened to sever it from the global economy.  For its, part, Russia demonstrated the continued force of its own economic weapons – its control over substantial supplies of oil and gas.  But the speed with which these tools were amassed was in fact testament to years of experiments and practice.  Economic tools that had been developed to isolate “rogue states,” to fight terrorist networks, and to punish human rights abusers had begun to show how the carrot of the global market could quickly become a lever of influence and a forceful stick.  But these tools gained new prominence as they were refined and redeployed for use in the intensifying economic and geopolitical rivalry between China, the United States, and Europe.  

“Is international law prepared for this reality?  Until recently, tools of economic pressure have been left largely to the margins of the discipline, treated at best as the preferred alternative to more regulated fields of military activities, at worst as exceptional tools that could largely be ignored – even in the face of critiques from the Global South and regarding human rights.  While every international law textbook has chapters on the regulation of military activity and economic cooperation, few have standalone sections on sanctions.  International economic law regimes meanwhile struggle to adapt to the realities of ‘geoeconomics’ and ‘weaponized interdependence,’ in which, structures designed to encourage economic cooperation are repurposed as tools of competition and rivalry.

“A reconsideration is long overdue.  This symposium surveys the current state of economic statecraft – the tools in use, their purposes, and their targets.  It explores how they are or should be regulated.  But most importantly, it seeks to put today’s economic statecraft in historical, political, and legal context asking critical questions about the international order they reflect and the international order they might require.”

The day’s events are as follows:

9-9:10 am Welcome

  • Melissa J. “MJ” Durkee, Associate Dean for International Programs, Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center, and Allen Post Professor, University of Georgia School of Law

9:10-10:30 am How We Got Here

Speaking on this 1st panel:

  • Zohra Ahmed, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Georgia School of Law
  • Mona Ali, Associate Professor of Economics, State University of New York-New Paltz
  • Henrique Choer Moraes, Minister-Counsellor, Embassy of Brazil in New Zealand
  • Nicholas Mulder, Assistant Professor and Milstein Faculty Fellow, Cornell University Department of History

10:45 am-12:05 pm Where We Are

Lauren Brown, Associate, Squire Patton Boggs, Washington, D.C., will moderate this 2d panel. Speaking will be:

  • Sarah Bauerle Danzman, Director, Tobias Center for Innovation in International Development, and Associate Professor, International Studies, Indiana University-Bloomington
  • Maryam Jamshidi, Associate Professor of Law University of Florida Levin College of Law
  • Tom Ruys, Professor, Faculty of Law and Criminology, Department of European, Public, and International Law, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Jan Zahradil, Member, European Parliament

1:05-2:25 pm Where We’re Headed

Speakers on this 3d panel:

  • Elena Chachko, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School
  • J. Benton Heath, Assistant Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law
  • Henry Farrell, SNF Agora Institute Professor of International Affairs at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University
  • Mona Paulsen, Assistant Professor of Law, London School of Economics Law School, England

2:40-3:55 pm Keynote Book Discussion on “The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War”

3:55 pm Thank You

  • Courtney Robinson, Editor-in-Chief, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law

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.