IU McKinney School of Law project provides 'windows' into military trials for 9/11 and USS Cole attacks

  • April 24, 2014


INDIANAPOLIS -- Participants in an Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law project have a critical, unique role in the pursuit of justice and the rule of law in trials of the people accused of responsibility for the 9/11 World Trade Center attack and the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole.

Working under the Military Commission Observation Project, which is part of the Program in International Human Rights Law at McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, law school students, alumni, faculty and staff are attending, observing and reporting on the pretrial proceedings of the military trials of suspects in both cases.

"We are windows of the world into the proceedings of Guantanamo Bay," said program director and McKinney School professor George E. Edwards. "We are meant to sit and watch and determine whether rules are being followed. We are the eyes and ears into the world of what is going on at Guantanamo Bay."

The Pentagon’s Guantanamo Bay Convening Authority has granted "NGO Observer Status" to the Program in International Human Rights Law at McKinney School which is located on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus.

The program's observer status allows IU McKinney representatives to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to attend, observe, analyze, critique and publish materials on the hearings. The representatives may also travel to the Fort Meade, Md., military base where the same Guantanamo Bay hearings may be viewed via secure video link.

The Program in International Human Rights Law is one of 19 NGOs with observer status regarding the trials. The law school program established the Military Commission Observation Project to carry out its responsibilities as a trial observer.

Although project participants are under strict rules regarding what they can publicly report from the court proceedings, their campus blog provides an important view of their experiences.

"You, and what you are able to convey (through words and photos), will be the closest that most people will ever get to a U.S. Military Commission," Edwards said in an email to a three-person cohort that left Monday for a round of USS Cole hearings at Fort Meade and Guantanamo Bay. "So, it is up to you to be able clearly to share with the rest of us what you see, hear, feel, touch and experience generally."

Jeff Meding, a December 2013 McKinney graduate, returned Monday from a week spent observing the 9/11 hearings in Guantanamo.

"The ability to witness the 9/11 (military commission) hearings was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Meding posted in an April 18 blog entry. "There is no doubt that the MC is a very divisive issue, especially after the news this week that the FBI allegedly questioned a member of the defense team of Ramzi Binalshibh and had the team member sign a non-disclosure agreement. This latest involvement by the government halted the proceedings because it potentially created a conflict of interest issue between the defense attorneys and their clients. Until this issue is resolved, nothing else is going to move forward in the 9/11 case."

This week, McKinney graduates Jeff Papa and Luke Bielawski are attending USS Cole hearings at Fort Meade. Attending this week's hearings at Guantanamo Bay is Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Riley, also a McKinney graduate. Graduates Hattie Harman and Jeff Kerner were in Fort Meade for 9/11 hearings last week.

The Military Commission Observation Project has taken a neutral stance in the proceedings, Edwards said.

"The Pentagon appears to seek some level of transparency, and they chose us to help further that," Edwards said. "It is my belief that any reports should be accurate, thoughtful and thorough, and reflect the perspective of the individual who is writing the blog post, posting a photo or giving an interview to the press. The MCOP is not taking any position on one side or the other, and participants are expected to report their own truths."

The project is now accepting applications for upcoming hearing dates in May and June:

  • May 28, 29 and 30 and June 2 and 3 -- The USS Cole case
  • 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 -- The 9/11 case

McKinney affiliates interested in participating in the Military Commission Observation Project at Fort Meade or Guantanamo Bay should fill out the forms on the Program in International Human Rights Law website.

Jeff Meding in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Jeff Meding in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Print Quality Photo

Diane Brown