UNM School of Law Students Receive Once-in-a-lifetime Opportunity to Observe Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay

The UNM School of Law recently began offering its students the chance to observe military commissions at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Guantanamo is one of the most controversial places in the world. It is where the United States detains suspected terrorists, and it is the site of two active military commissions. The UNM School of Law is one of only four educational institutions–and one of only eighteen non-governmental organizations total–that may send legal observers to attend these military commissions at Guantanamo.

Martin Juarez (left) stands next to General Mark Martins, the lead prosecutor in the 9/11 case.

Martin Juarez (left) stands next to General Mark Martins, the lead prosecutor in the 9/11 case.

Third year law student Martin Juarez was the first student to observe military commissions in Guantanamo on behalf of UNM School of Law.

From August 19th through the 23rd, Juarez attended the military commissions held against Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and four others charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks.

"One of the most unique moments was when the defendants began praying during court," Juarez reflected. "I had never seen proceedings halt in a federal or state courtroom to allow the defendant time to pray. Apparently, the detainees do not pray in court often. Our escort later told me that he had never seen the defendants pray in any of his twenty previous trips to the base."

Juarez says that the ability to observe military commissions at Guantanamo is an opportunity to see legal history being made. "That opportunity," he continued, "is beneficial to any student."

The commissions implicate various legal disciplines, including constitutional law, national security, foreign affairs, and human rights. "This experience is meant to expand students' understanding of the law in these and other critical areas of domestic and international law, and will enable them to assess, based on first-hand experiences, whether the commissions comport with legal guarantees and traditions," added Professor Dave Sidhu, who teaches National Security Law. Professor Sidhu obtained approval from the convening authority of the Office of the Military Commissions for the law school to send legal observers and himself to attend military commissions at Guantanamo.

Given Guantanamo’s historical importance and the continued interest in closing the base, the chance to observe military commissions is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students. For more information on being a legal observer, please contact Professor Sidhu.

December 13, 2013