By Lt. Alex Homme, Naval Legal Service Office Mid-Atlantic
We all know the lines, “I strenuously object!” or perhaps “You can’t handle the truth.” These are just a few of the memorable quotes from A Few Good Men, the iconic movie that made Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) famous. When offered the chance to practice law there, how could I not go?
I went to GTMO as an individual augmentee (IA) during the second half of 2011 and worked as an assistant staff judge advocate (SJA) at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay (JTF-GTMO). The role of the SJA office is crucial at the JTF. With the world’s eyes turned towards GTMO during commissions proceedings, the SJA faces immense pressure from multiple directions including those interests of defense bars, JTF Commanders, and political influences. In a given day, working with the detainees meant contacting the Office of Military Commissions, the Office of the General Counsel, the FBI, Southern Command, Department of State, and more.
In addition to the more typical SJA functions of conducting investigations, pursuing military justice, and maintaining ethics, my SJA office worked extensively on detainee issues. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the first detainees were brought to GTMO, signifying the beginning of detention operations. Over the years, these camps have changed, but the mission remains the same—the safe, legal, transparent, and humane care and custody of detainees while supporting the Office of Military Commissions (OMC).
My roles at the JTF included working as the liaison to the Joint Medical Group, liaison to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and supporting attorney to the Joint Detention Group. I started my IA working with the Joint Medical Group, researching health issues and regulations, preparing opinions, redacting medical records, and working with interested agencies in Washington D.C. Numerous health care concerns exist within a detainee population, and many novel issues arise and change over the course of time. Working on health care law proved to be an interesting study in Department of Defense regulations on medical care, and gave me the opportunity to learn a lot. This was a crash course in diplomacy and relationship-building where handshakes and promises often took the place of legal research.
Finally, I worked supporting the Joint Detention Group. This was the most fascinating aspect of my work, as it required hundreds of interactions with detainees. The SJA office is responsible for certain aspects of daily life for GTMO detainees, often coordinating administrative request for the detainees and their attorneys, both military and civilian. My job was primarily focused on helping the camps run as smoothly as possible.
Overall, the highlights of my time at JTF-GTMO were the ground-level exposure to front-page issues affecting national security and the opportunity to work in a great joint environment. I had fun, made friends in all branches of the military, and learned what it means to be an SJA. Playing even a small role in this historic legal process in this location left me feeling glad that I joined the JAG Corps. I would do this IA again in a heartbeat and highly recommend the tour to all those looking for a non-traditional IA.