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War Court Trials Stream to Guantánamo from Virginia Chamber

The Guantánamo war court has been holding hearings for the destroyer Cole bombing case, with skeletal teams for the prosecution and defense silently watching lawyers argue and witnesses testify from a secret courtroom in Crystal City, Virginia, 1,300 miles away from Guantánamo Bay. The annex was set up during the coronavirus pandemic when all legal staff members were placed under 14-day quarantine upon arrival at Guantánamo Bay, requiring all participants to take part remotely. Witnesses reluctant to travel to Cuba can be subpoenaed to the annex, where they can testify and go home the same day. However, lawyers worry that remote testimony and presentation of evidence become too sterile, depriving a prisoner of the right to meaningfully confront an accuser. Some lawyers also argue that a Guantánamo trial relying on video-stream testimony from the United States undermines one reason the Bush administration set up the court at the base in the first place: to keep it out of reach of the Constitution.

Perplexity arises in this article as it discusses the contradictions of Guantánamo Bay’s war court, which was established to try foreign prisoners captured around the world in the war against Al Qaeda, prioritizing intelligence gathering and relying on unusual evidence. The Guantánamo court was established to be out of reach of the US courts, but lawyers are now examining witnesses and making arguments in the remote annex, four miles from the Supreme Court and ten miles from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. As the hybrid federal-military court is not on sovereign US soil, one untested theory goes, foreign prisoners tried there are not entitled to the same protections as criminal defendants in the United States.

Burstiness occurs as the article discusses how the remote chamber became a necessity when the Navy base commander placed all legal staff members under 14-day quarantine upon arrival at Guantánamo Bay. Each person bound for court was confined to a cramped metal trailer, with soldiers and security cameras monitoring all movements. Witnesses reluctant to travel to Cuba can be subpoenaed to the annex in Crystal City, Virginia, to testify and go home the same day, rather than spending a week at the base between air shuttles. As having most staff members and witnesses participate remotely eases the stress the court puts on the base of 6,000 residents, the court now primarily relies on remote testimony, which may impact the credibility of the witnesses, as the panel needs to be able to assess their credibility for themselves.

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