2014 Archives

Law Prof. Chris Jenks: The Gitmo conundrum

August 28, 2014

SMU Dedman School of Law Assistant Professor Chris Jenks, director of the Criminal Justice Clinic, visited Naval Station Guantanamo in Cuba in mid-August 2014 on behalf of the National Institute of Military Justice. While there, he observe — and blogged about — military commission proceedings involving detainees alleged to have planned the 9/11 attacks.

Following is Jenks's interview with WFAA News about his experiences in Guantanamo and an excerpt from his blog.

Blog Excerpt

Ostensibly I traveled to Gitmo to observe the military commission proceedings against five members of al-Qaeda who allegedly planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Included among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who once boasted, “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z.”

I say “ostensibly” because although the military commission was to be in session Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., we were in court a total of six hours. For the week.

The only thing I saw accomplished was that the military judge reconsidered an earlier ruling he’d made to break the case of one of the 9/11 planners away from the other four. As a result, all five are back in one joint 9/11 case, which is another way of saying the case has returned to square zero.

It’s difficult to convey all the time and effort that goes into having the prosecution, defense, translators, analysts, etc., at Gitmo. And the security involved in moving someone like Mohammed and the other 9/11 planners is what you would expect: A massive undertaking that basically shuts down the entire place. Yet when everyone is present in court and there’s an opportunity to resolve issues and move toward a trial, little, if any, progress is made.

I didn’t talk with the victims’ families. I don’t know what their expectations or goals were in traveling there. But if it was to achieve some kind of closure, they have to have left bewildered and disappointed.

The question everyone asks is why is this taking so long? The short answer is that this is the largest case in U.S. criminal justice history, with 2,779 victims and hundreds of thousands of documents, witnesses and evidence across many continents. Also consider that while only a small percentage of the evidence is classified, that’s a small percentage of hundreds of thousands of documents. That’s a lot of classified documents. Add to that the manner by which the U.S. government determines what information is classified: Put mildly, said process is quirky, cumbersome and slow.

Read the blog.