Law student goes to Gitmo

Seton Hall Law student Jason Stern, who will graduate in May 2014, was one of 13 observers from across the U.S. to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for a week and sit in on a pre-trial motion for three al Qaida members accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Stern said every year people are chosen to go to Guantanamo and he was picked as a fellow of the Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Policy and Research. He was there from Saturday, Sept. 14 to Saturday, Sept. 21.

“We (students of the center) do work examining government actions in the post-9/11 world,” Stern said.

He said they study areas such as the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the recent NSAA findings concerning Edward Snowden.

The Center chose Stern to go to Guantanamo based on his re- search, class standing (his age) and his level of commitment.

“The Law School doesn’t want to send anyone on spring break,” Stern said.

He said since not everyone can go, he has to write about his experiences.

“So few people get to go, so it’s important for those who do, to share,” Stern said.

Stern said the first few days he was in Guantanamo, he toured around the island, but one of the most exciting moments of the entire trip was the first day court was in session.

“The type of trials in Guantanamo are very different than here in the United States, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Stern said.

Guantanamo is host to military commission trials, not civilian trials, such as the ones in America, according to Stern.

Stern said because this was a military commission trial, the judge had to ask the three detainees that were on trial if they understood their right to be present in court.

He said the first and second detainee said yes, they understood, while the third had a more “combative” response. The third detainee said no he does not understand and stood up, arguing with the judge. He was saying that he had a right to speak, which the judge was arguing had nothing to do with what he asked.

“There were like 50 guards in there and they swarmed the third detainee and took him away,” Stern said.

According to Stern, this was only the second time in the history of the al-Qaida trials where a detainee had to be forcibly removed from court.

He said the detainee was yelling “this is a hoax” as he was being taken from court, which Stern said made him wonder what this accused person meant.

“It was shocking to see that,” Stern said. “I was like ‘Wow only five minutes have passed and this is happening, what else is in store?'”

Stern is in his third year of law school and went to the University of Michigan for his undergraduate degree. After graduating from Michigan, he worked for Teach for America, a two year program where recent college graduates teach in underprivileged schools as a way to give back. Stern taught ninth-grade English in Southern Texas and now is the recruitment director of the organization.

According to the Navy’s website for Guantanamo Bay, this 45 square miles of land in Cuba, leased to the U.S. in 1903 for a fueling station, is now a base for the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard ships and the Department of Homeland Security.

Lindsay Rittenhouse can be reached at

Author: Lindsay Rittenhouse

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