Today is the day, we expect 50-year-old Ibrahim Al-Qosi to plead guilty - and, like every other journalist here, I plan to be in the courtroom when he does it. Al-Qosi has been here for 8 years. He was picked up in 2001 on the Afghan border and held for three years under President George W. Bush's executive order to create the camps here, finally charged in 2004 and then, after the Supreme Court decision, granting another inmate - Osama Bin Laden's driver - habeas corpus, Al-Qosi was charged in 2008 under the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
But now there's a new sheriff in town.
President Barack Obama's new Military Commissions Act of 2009 makes five changes to the law, regarding hearsay, the use of information that's been coerced and sentencing.
Al-Qosi is an accountant by trade, who allegedly followed Osama Bin Laden from the Sudan to Afghanistan. A guilty plea would allow us to find out so much more, and it would be the first such development since President Obama took office, promising to close the camps and the courts.
"What will it be like to be in the same room as a man accused of terrorism against my country who admits to these crimes?" I thought. "Will he seem like any other man? Or the monster he's accused of being?" I didn't find out.
In GTMO, there are rules galore. They are always changing, so much so that in the press briefing on the first day, the PAO joked, "We got some more rule changes...but I think you'll be happy with some of these."
Just because they are here doesn't mean they want us here. And even though their soul purpose is to prevent us from doing what we 'cannot' do and facilitate what we can, that doesn't mean mission accomplished either. There are always good apples and bad, but on this day, you had to wonder who was in charge.
Even though there's closed circuit television to view the courtroom in a media center, which would have allowed us to watch and type, most of us planned to be in the courtroom. We lined up when they asked us to at 9:15 for a 9:30 am gavel down: 12 journalists from all over the world and every form of media.
They took us in groups down and around signs and tents, through a magnetometer screening tent, and then we had to take golf carts up a hill to the court room, a total of 12 minutes to go into a building that we could have walked to in 3 from where we started. We missed court.
Infuriated and stunned, we packed ourselves back into those golf carts, rushed through the magnetometers we'd just come through and sprinted back to the media operations center so we could at least watch the proceedings on closed circuit television. Whether through incompetence or malice, it sure seems like the bad apples won the day.
Why is it important to be in court? Because the demeanor of a defendant, the flavor of the experience, the severity of the charges and the details that were discussed about Osama Bin Laden and his operation are so much more impactful, better described and reported when a journalist is close to the subject. Access allows us to give you more than words; we can give you the experience.
I would add one addendum here, lest you think it's just sour grapes. The PAO staff did make a good-faith effort to bring us to court in the afternoon. Once again, we almost missed court. If the judge hadn't taken longer than a 15-minute recess, it would have been like ground hog day.