9.29.2009

Law Student Tours Guantanamo Bay During JAG Internship

This past summer, Regent 2L Terah Gaertner was privileged to attend three-days of training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as part of her U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) internship.

She spent most of her summer internship at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia where she drafted memos, researched law, and observed court proceedings at Langley Air Force Base and the Federal Magistrate Court. “I was immersed in issues ranging from DUI cases, to ethics issues, to the law of war and what the military must do legally in order to apprehend a perceived hostile,” said Gaertner.

The highlight of her internship, however, was an invitation from the Office of the Judge Advocate General in Washington, D.C., to travel with a select group of students to Guantanamo Bay.

Selected JAG interns from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia took three days to tour the facilities and learn about the base’s military operations. They spoke with doctors, lawyers, translators, guards, and high-ranking military officials. They also teleconferenced with Justice Crawford, who was appointed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as the convening authority for the Guantanamo military commissions.

“I learned more in those three days than I can articulate in this short article,” said Gaertner. Her days were packed with informative lectures and activities designed to both encourage students to think seriously about JAG upon graduation and to inform their perspective on “Gitmo.”

“The detention facilities at Gitmo have received a lot of negative press recently,” she said. “In the past few years the military has made changes in order to give detainees a better quality of life and is working hard to balance national security with respect for human dignity.”

Through conversations with detainees’ doctors (who also give care to the men and women who are stationed at the base), Gaertner gained insight into the complicated task facing those who care for detainees under the eye of a watchful media.

While gaining this firsthand experience on internationally debated issues, Gaertner familiarized herself with the history and purpose of the base. The primary mission of Guantanamo Bay, she learned, is to serve as a strategic logistics base for the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet and to support counter drug operations in the Caribbean.

According to Gaertner, however, the most important lesson she learned at Guantanamo was that there are two sides to every story.

“One must be careful when judging leaders, as they usually face pressures and process information we as the general public are not privy to,” Gaertner said. “I have taken my responsibility to pray for leaders to be men and women of integrity and solid moral character more seriously since my time at the base.”

Gaertner plans to write a student note for the Regent Journal of Law and Public Policy based on the familiarity she gained with issues that face this strategic and hotly contested detention base.