Mason Law Students Visit GITMO as JAG Interns

Entrance to Camp JusticeThree Mason Law third-year day students traveled to Guantánamo Bay Naval Base during the last week of July as guests of Joint Task Force Guantanamo on a trip arranged by the Department of Defense (DoD) for about two dozen Army and Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps summer interns.  

Juli Porto, Natasha Clay, and Steve Fugelsang left Andrews Air Force Base on Monday, July 27, on board a contracted civilian aircraft bound for GTMO (the DoD abbreviation for the naval base). Until their departure from Guantánamo Bay on July 30, the three were billeted in air conditioned military tents featuring plywood floors and partitions at Camp Justice on the base.

The primary purpose of the trip was to tour the base facilities and legal operations, which included a visit to the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC), built for the Office of Military Commissions (OMC), including the state-of-the-art courtroom and holding cells in which Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other detainees in the War on Terror were tried by military commission. The visit allowed for briefings on the history of military commissions, as well as the background and present status of the military commission process, and included discussions with a prosecutor, a defense counsel, and a military commissions judge for a full perspective on the commissions process.

A bus tour of Camp Delta allowed the group to visit six of the detainee prison camps on base, viewing the exteriors of the camps and disembarking for a closer view of one portion of the prison area. The chief of detainee investigations and a representative from the detainee medical corps charged with overseeing the health and well-being of the 230 prisoners on base briefed the interns during their visit.

An additional destination was the Marine Corps East Gate to Cuba, the designated Cuban-American border area where U.S. and Cuban officials conduct monthly meetings to discuss issues pertaining to the American presence on the island.

“It was an intense and sobering experience,” said Porto, an Army JAG intern at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia. “I gained a perspective of the legal and practical issues facing the United States regarding how to manage the Guantánamo Bay detainees that I don’t believe can be gleaned from second-hand reports.”

Fugelsang echoed Porto’s sentiments, saying, “After seeing the unrivaled dedication and professionalism of our uniformed men and women at Guantánamo, I’m more committed than ever to serving our country in the Armed Forces." 

An Air Force JAG intern at the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals at Bolling Air Force Base over the summer, Fugelsang currently is participating in an externship with the Army Litigation Division (Torts Branch) in Arlington, Virginia. He will join the U.S. Army JAG Corps after graduation.

Clay, an Air Force JAG intern at the Eleventh Wing Base Legal Office at Bolling Air Force Base, comments that, “I had an incredible experience, and I’m really looking forward to applying to be an Air Force JAG after graduation.”

Students Clay, Porto, and Fugelsang at Guantanamo

Clay, Porto, and Fugelsang stand in front of the Marine Corps East Gate to
Cuba. In the photo at the top of the page, Fugelsang and Clay flank the sign
at the entrance to Camp Justice, where the trio stayed in military tents during
their visit.

(Special thanks to Steve Fugelsang for assembling photographs and detail for this story.)