COVID-19 FAQs for SMU Law

The coronavirus outbreak is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation. SMU will provide updated information and guidance on this site as it becomes available. 


We are receiving a high volume of inquiries about Law School events and request your patience as we provide information. For fastest answers to your questions, we recommend you check the information on this page. Still have a question, Submit it here.


ALL LAW STUDENTS: Email from Dean Yeager about Moving Forward Next Week at SMU Dedman Law 03/19/20

I hope you are taking very good care during this stressful and uncertain time.  The faculty and staff are all looking forward to seeing you again next week, even though it will be virtually for the time being.  I am writing to answer some common questions about how we will be providing support and services to you in light of the federal and city guidelines mandating the reduction of group gatherings and social distancing.  Individuals and teams have worked many hours to ensure we are protecting the health, safety and welfare of the members of our community, while offering you the best possible educational experience.  The purpose of this email is to inform you of our plans and ask for your assistance, understanding and patience as we work together to continue the important work of the law school.  Below are a number of updates:

  • Faculty: We are suspending face-to-face instruction and moving to virtual instruction, effective Monday, March 23 and through at least April 3.   Some of your professors will be teaching “live” via Zoom while others plan to use asynchronous methods of instruction.Some faculty are still working on the details of the remote teaching conversion.  If you have not heard your faculty member the day before your class about how to connect to the upcoming class, email your PROFESSOR first, not the senior associate dean.

    And please be patient.  It may be Sunday before you receive detailed instructions for your Monday class.

  • Meetings, Counseling Sessions and Office Hours with Faculty, the Dean, and the Assistant Dean of Students: For the time being, we will conduct meetings, counseling sessions and office hours with students via email, Zoom, phone or other electronic options.   We will be providing you with information to assist you in making your course selections for next fall, and will ensure you have the opportunity to ask questions and receive guidance before registration.  See the Registration section below.
  • Library: The digital resources of the law library will remain fully available to you.  In order to comply with the government’s guidelines regarding social distancing and ensure we are doing everything possible to protect your health, the Underwood Law Library building will close to visitors until at least April 6, but robust student support will continue remotely as described on the Library’s COVID-19 Updates and Resources page. That page explains how you can continue to consult with reference librarians, check out books, and request scans from the library’s printed publications. The library will open temporarily this Friday from 1:00pm-4:00pm, and next Monday from 9:00am until 1:00pm, so you can retrieve possessions from your library wall cabinet and check out library materials.
  • Registration: Registration for summer and fall 2020 will take place on April 6-7, 2020.  When made available, course schedules and instructions can be found on the Law School Registrar’s webpage.  We are also compiling some virtual guides and videos for you to use when selecting your courses and will be available to answer individual questions prior to registration.  You will register through my.SMU, as always.
  • Career Services: Counselors will be available during regular business hours by email and phone.  There will not be any interruption in appointment scheduling.   Please just set up the appointment as your counselor directs. All OCS appointments and programs will be virtual –  Zoom, Skype or by phone/Facetime.  During this time, OCS will not hold in-person meetings.  All on-campus recruiting events (interviews, networking, information sessions) will either be moved to a virtual platform or rescheduled for the time being.
  • Counseling Services: SMU’s Counseling Services will be providing mental health service by the Zoom platform or phone to current clients.  Those students with appointments for the weeks of 3.23.2020-4.6.2020 will be contacted by their clinician for assessment and rescheduling a ZOOM appointment as available.  Crisis services will be available 24/7 by calling 214-768-2277 and selecting the ‘speaking with a crisis counseling option’ for assistance. Additional assistance with referrals or other services can be obtained by calling the same number and selecting the option to speak with the clinical case manager.   Students interested in initiating new services:  Please call Counseling Services for assistance in getting your treatment needs met.   At this time, all workshops and groups are canceled but the facilitators will be in touch when they resume.
  • Well-Being Resources for Remote Living:  The State Bar of Texas along with the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program have created a webpage for attorneys and law students with Well Being Resources for Remote Living.
  • Community Support: Dean Collins and Dean Yeager will hold a Zoom listening session for students on Wednesday, March 25, at noon to hear how your first online classes have gone and answer any questions you may have.  We will send out the meeting invitation next week.  We know that everyone is feeling very anxious and uncertain, and we are considering various options to continue gathering as a community and provide opportunities for stress relief.  If you have a talent you would be willing to share, for example by leading a virtual yoga class or performing a short video concert, please let Dean Yeager know at
  • Grading:  We have heard from many students asking whether we plan to change our grading policies for the spring semester, in light of the decision of some other law schools to do so.  We know this is a very serious decision and one we will make only after careful deliberation and the opportunity to hear many different voices and opinions, including those of students.  We are putting together a faculty, staff and student committee to consider this issue and offer a recommendation to the faculty.  We will follow up with additional information about how you can share your input and ideas.    
  • Notary Services: Students who need a document notarized should make an appointment in advance with one of these three administrative assistants.  One of them will be available on Mondays and Thursdays between 1 and 3 pm.  Lisa Montes;  Gloria Zapata;   Vanessa Gonzalez
  • Virtual Mindfulness Session: Finally, Professors Metzger and Ruben will be holding a virtual mindfulness session next week for students.  Stay tuned for more information!

We know this has been a challenging period for everyone as we work collectively to support our teaching mission and to mitigate the potential impact of the coronavirus on our community. At the same time, all of us are concerned for our family, our friends, and for one another. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions or just need to talk.


ALL LAW STUDENTS:  I have an upcoming appointment with Career Services.  Will the Career Services office be open? 3/16/20

In order to align with SMU’s policy regarding limiting the spread of illness and to respond to the ever-changing and diverse policies from our employers regarding their own travel, events, and interviewing, the Office of Career Services  is taking the following steps until in-person classes resume (currently April 6).

  • Counselors will be available during regular business hours by email and phone.  There will not be any interruption in appointment scheduling.   Please just set up the appointment as your counselor directs.
  • All OCS appointments and programs will be virtual –  Zoom, Skype or by phone/Facetime.  During this time, we will not hold in-person meetings.
  • All on-campus recruiting events (interviews, networking, information sessions) will either be moved to a virtual platform or rescheduled.

Our office is committed to serving our students, employers, and Dedman Law community during this time of uncertainty and are taking all reasonable steps to minimize disruption to our operations.

Where can students obtain information about using Zoom? 3/16/20

You can obtain information about using Zoom on our law school’s Zoom Guide for Students, including video tutorials, a Zoom FAQ, and helpful hints.

Is Law Prom cancelled? 3/16/20

In light of the CDC’s recommendation that all gatherings of more than 50 people be postponed for eight weeks and the restrictions associated with the city’s emergency declaration, we have no choice but to cancel it. We know how disappointing that is and we are truly sorry.

3/13/20, 4:26 p.m.

Events Status
Due to rapidly changing issues related to the spread of Coronavirus, SMU Dedman Law is cancelling or postponing the following on-campus gatherings:

  • Raggio Endowed Lecture Series (March 26) – postponed
  • APIL Auction (March 27) – transitioning to an online auction
  • Admitted Students Day
    • March 27 – postponed
    • April 17 – still hope to hold
  • Lynn Pinker Cox and Hurst Moot Court Competition (March 28) – canceled 
  • Crawfish Boil (March 28) – canceled (follow-up with SBA)
  • Together We Dine (March 30) – canceled
  • JLSA Presents: Mark Werbner (March 30) – canceled
  • The Professors Are In (April 1) – canceled
  • Air Law Symposium (April 1-2) – canceled
  • Haynes & Boone Inns of Court Olympics (April 2) – canceled
  • Executive Board and Emerging Leader Board Meetings (April 7) – postponed
  • Jackson Walker Moot Court Competition  (April 13-16) – Chief Justice meetings via Zoom; Zoom arguments if law school not back in session
  • Preparing for Graduation (April 14)will be presented in a different format if school is not back in session
  • 1L Inns of Court – Prepare for Recruiting – moved to April 20
  • Distinguished Alumni Awards (April 22) – postponed

We know a number of student organizations are planning to hold off-campus, school-sanctioned events that are subsidized with university funds.  We are awaiting guidance from the university about whether these also need to be canceled, especially in light of the city’s prohibition on large gatherings, and will provide you with updated information as soon as possible. 

Restricted library access beginning Saturday, March 14, 2020.
Only patrons with SMU IDs will be admitted. Adjusted hours below.

Sun., Mar. 15                             Noon – 6:00 p.m.
Mon.-Fri., Mar. 16-20             8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sat., Mar. 21                              9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sun., Mar. 22                            Noon – 10:00 p.m.



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Welcome to New Director of Alumni Relations

Christine P. Leatherberry

Director of Alumni Relations

We are pleased to announce that Christine P. Leatherberry ’06 has joined SMU Dedman School of Law as the Director of Alumni Relations

In this role, Christine will work to connect our alumni with the school and each other through networking gatherings, social events, opportunities for continuing legal education, mentoring and volunteer activities. She will also lead law school reunions and our alumni chapters throughout Texas and beyond.

Christine was named one of the Top 50 Up-and-Coming Women Attorneys in Texas for the past two years. In 2019, she was named to the Top 100 Up-and-Coming Attorneys in Texas. For the past five years, she was honored by Thomson Reuters on the exclusive list of Texas Rising Stars. She is also listed among the finest lawyers in the area by Best Lawyers in America. This month, D Magazine named Christine on the annual list of Best Lawyers Under 40 for 2020.

Christine is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and was a partner at Connatser Family Law before joining SMU Dedman School of Law.

Christine earned her Bachelor of Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin with high honors in 2003 and her Juris Doctor from SMU Dedman School of Law, graduating cum laude in 2006.

In Fall 2001, she interned in the White House for First Lady Laura Bush in the Projects Office supporting reading and early childhood cognitive development initiatives. In conjunction with that internship, she was awarded a fellowship in The University of Texas System Bill Archer Fellowship Program and later helped form the Archer Fellow Alumni Association.

Christine is a Barrister in the William “Mac” Taylor Inn of Court and served on the Inn’s Leadership Committee. In 2016, she helped create and chair the “Moms in Law” special interest group of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and Dallas Bar Association.

Christine’s office is in Storey Hall (130B). She can be reached at 214-768-3634 or Please feel free to reach out to Christine with your suggestions about how we can better engage and support our alumni!

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Oxford Study Abroad – 2018

By Samuel Fishman, 1L
Wednesday, June 27, 2018

We arrived in Oxford on Monday, June 25, 2018, and it has been a dream experience ever since. We started class on Tuesday; I am taking Comparative Free Speech with Professor Carpenter. Discussing political philosophy and ideas about personal liberties at Oxford just feels right. Last night, we had our first High Table dinner, a very formal occasion with Professors Carpenter and Coleman, as well as some of the Oxford tutors. It was a beautiful way to kick off the next six weeks (even though we were all pretty hot in our suits in the AC-less room).

I’m not a runner but I heard about the trail along the Christ Church Meadow so I had to go check it out. I never thought it would be possible, but I am actually excited to go run every day now. The setting is something truly out of a movie. Words and pictures cannot do it justice. The group has also checked out a few of the pubs for some lukewarm cask ales. The most noteworthy ones are The Eagle and Child, where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to hang out, as well as the Turf Tavern. I can’t wait to see what the next six weeks have in store!

SMU Dedman School of Law’s Oxford Study Abroad Summer Program takes place at University College, Oxford. Established in 1249 by William of Durham, University College, Oxford, is known to be the oldest college in Oxford or Cambridge.

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SMU Law Professor Nanasi and Students Assist Detained Women & Children in Karnes Family Detention Center

March 12, 2017

Instead of going to the beach over Spring Break, eight law students accompanied by Professor Natalie Nanasi head to the Karnes Family Immigration Detention Center near San Antonio to staff a pop-up clinic for immigrant women and children. Two students volunteered to document their experience on this blog. No photos are allowed inside the facility.


March 15, 2017
Joshua Karam – 3L, SMU Dedman School of Law

The Karnes City Family Detention Center could best be described as resembling a scene from “Orange is the New Black.” The detention center’s grounds contain fences, guards, large white cinder-block walls and windowless visitation rooms. However, instead of having Red cooking in the kitchen or Alex and Piper walking the grounds while Tasty and Crazy Eyes laugh about some outlandish joke, there are children present. Children of all ages can be seen here playing with toys and reading books in their native tongues. They are confused – they were told that upon arrival into our country they would be reunited with their families and be free from fear and danger. Yet here they are, detained. As they attempt to play, their mothers meet with volunteers and attorneys in multiple visitation rooms, pouring out their deepest and most disturbing memories of how they have been persecuted in their homelands and how their desire for a better life for their children drove them to flee their home countries. They are thrown into a process where they are unable to navigate our complex legal system and all they want is to be heard and helped. Helped by people who understand the process. Helped by those able to give them a voice and a fighting chance to seek what they so long for and desire – Freedom.

Amidst a very politically charged time in our country, it is easy to get wrapped up in the political division. The question most are asked result in the categorization of people as either Democrat or Republican and Clinton or Trump. Regardless of which side of the spectrum you reside on, humanitarian aid is a belief that all can relate to. People seeking asylum in this country do not care whether you proudly boast red or blue, or whether you prefer donkeys to elephants – they just want to be treated like human beings. They just want to be spoken to with respect. They want help – they want to get their families and children away from living in constant fear.

Their fear is something neither you nor I could possibly comprehend. It is a type of fear that would propel someone to drop everything they have and leave behind the certainty and comfort of their homeland. Mind you, those fleeing are not just the poor and uneducated. Many women in this center are university educated – having studied languages, education, economics, finance, and even politics, before leaving their degrees and classrooms behind for fear of persecution. There are also the poorest of the poor detained in this center – women who left behind family homes that they’ve had for years, their only security, to escape the persecution that they faced daily. There are women with a large distrust toward strangers because of their past experiences of rape and violence. They are women living in constant and unimaginable fear.

This fear is a type that compels families to walk hundreds of miles through rainforests, drift across uncharted waters on small floatation devices, and even subject themselves to hours of discomfort by driving across multiple borders in the trunks of vehicles. Take a step back from politics. Take a step back from evaluating the economic response to these actions. And think about the fear that would drive families to uproot their lives and navigate through the unknown, unsure of what lies before them, but gambling everything they have because it is better and safer than what is behind them.

“Land of the free, and home of the brave.” We are surrounded by brave men and women every day. The men and women who give their life to protect our nation, teachers who devote their life to educating the public and doctors who give their all to aid the sick. We are a nation that proudly honors the brave. And what I have seen in Karnes City, Texas is bravery exhibited amongst women and children in a way that I have never witnessed before. I encourage you to come witness the bravery. I implore you to help in any way that you can – to help find a solution, whatever you believe that may be. I ask that you not try to push some political agenda, but to expose yourself to the true issues surrounding immigration – how to help human beings start over and attain safety. I encourage anyone and everyone reading this to become inspired to help these women and children during a time when they have no one advocating for them, a time of uncertainty and fear. Come spread hope. Hope for a new life; hope for safety; hope to be reunited with families and loved ones; and hope for one day, to legally attain safety and freedom in the United States of America.

March 17, 2017
Alyssa Morrison – 2L, SMU Dedman School of Law

Over spring break, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Karnes City, Texas. On Sunday, Professor Nanasi, seven  fellow students and I met at SMU, and departed from Dallas to travel 5 hours south to a family immigration detention center. If you google it you’ll find a website for the ‘Karnes County Residential Center.” In reality the facility, which is operated by the GEO group, is run more like a prison than a ‘residential center,’ and the women and children who find themselves there are certainly treated more like prisoners than ‘residents.’

Prior to our week on the grounds at Karnes, I felt prepared. I have worked on the humanitarian side of immigration law before, and I thought I was ready for the shock that we would feel and the stories that we would hear. Oftentimes, we don’t realize the importance of a moment or an experience until some-time after it has passed, but this was not one of those times. Although I had come into the experience feeling prepared, there was one moment that knocked the air out of my lungs and will forever serve as the lens through which I will remember this spring break. 

A significant part of our work at Karnes consisted of helping women prepare for their “credible fear interviews’”(CFIs). The credible fear interview is a process by which an asylum officer interviews the detained individual to determine if there is a significant possibility that they could, when the time comes, articulate a successful asylum claim. If the asylum officer gives a negative result in the CFI interview, then the individual seeking asylum can file a lengthy declaration that will be presented to a judge and request that the judge vacate the negative credible fear determination and replace it with a positive. On Tuesday, I was assigned a declaration for a woman from Central America. It was clear from the notes of her CFI interview that she had not adequately articulated her circumstances. She was exhausted, confused, and worried about her sick children, and she had left out the most crucial parts of her claim. It was also clear that she had not been permitted to fully explain certain answers.

A fellow student and I called her in and sat with her for several hours as she told us her full story, and we left the room feeling confident that we had a strong basis for a positive CFI determination. In the sometimes backwards world of asylum law, the worse the story, the better. Her story began with sexual assault as a child and was littered with continued sexual assault, severe physical violence, and threats on her life and the lives of her children.

We prepared our client for the next phase of her case and the sort of questions that the judge would almost certainly ask, and we prepared ourselves to give a closing argument in her defense. Notably, we would not be permitted to do any more than this closing argument; unlike other court settings, the judge was the only one permitted to question or conduct a “direct examination” of the client.

It was clear from the first question that the judge asked that the result was not going to be favorable. When the judge had finished questioning our client and closing arguments had been given, she spent several minutes building to why she would ultimately affirm the negative CFI result. This explanation made clear that the judge had misunderstood, or chose not to hear, key parts of our client’s circumstances, and for the rest of my life, I will never forget the moment that the judge issued her ruling, which would mean almost certain deportation for our client.

I watched another human being absolutely crumble in front of my eyes. She begged the judge to help her in her native Spanish language, and in response the judge hung up the video chat. This was one of the most raw moments of my life. This woman had just lost all hope of safety and providing a life for her young daughters that wouldn’t be filled with the same violations that she had endured since her early childhood.

This is why this work is important. If this woman is deported, which she almost certainly will be, she will face the very real possibility of death, or a life where her rights will continue to be violated in the most vicious of ways. She, like nearly all of the women detained with her, came to this country because after looking at her circumstances, it seemed safer to leave behind everything and everyone she had ever known, make a treacherous journey that claims the lives of hundreds of immigrants every year, and enter a country where by all appearances, she was not welcome. Think about that. Think about the fierceness of a mother’s protection and the desperation that a person must feel in order to make that decision.

This work is timely. We are living in an era of heated debate about immigration and the policies that surround it. It is easy to think of immigration in black and white terms – legal or illegal; good or bad. This approach makes things simple, and if you choose to take it you get to forget the incredible nuance of the situation and ignore the stories of the women who, like my client, deserve a chance at a safe life and a little bit of basic human decency and understanding. It is a righteous endeavor to give a voice to the voiceless and it is absolutely crucial that we continue to strive to tell these women’s stories, and that we refuse to stop telling them until the world is willing to listen.

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Understanding Armed Conflict’s Environmental Impact

United Nations headquarters, New York City

United Nations headquarters, New York City

Chris Jenks of SMU Dedman School of Law was invited to discuss “Protection of the Environment: An Operational Perspective” at the United Nations in New York City Oct. 24. This is his second of two blogs; for his first one, go here.

I was at the United Nations in New York City to participate in a seminar on protecting the environment during armed conflict. The seminar’s sponsors included the permanent missions to the United Nations of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, as well as Rutgers University’s International Union for Conversation of Nature World Commission on Environmental Law.

The Nordic countries are very interested in a host of environmental issues, depending on what you mean by “environment.” As I learned, defining what seems like a basic term is not so easy. (While the Nordic countries are very progressive in a number of environmental areas, in others, notably whaling, several of them are decidedly less so.)

In addition to the Nordic countries’ general interest in the environment, the International Law Commission included protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict in its program of work in 2013. As I mentioned in the first blog, the ILC is an offshoot of the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, which deals with legal matters.

The ILC appointed Dr. Marie Jacobsson, the principal legal adviser on international law at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to facilitate the ILC’s work. Dr. Jacobsson hosted the seminar, designed to discuss the relevant laws and gaps, and how they should be addressed.

The United Nations headquarters is in midtown Manhattan. Solidifying that I don’t know New York City well, I elected to stay at Fort Hamilton, a U.S. Army post in the southern part of Brooklyn (literally under the Verrazano Bridge). It’s less than 12 miles away, but that’s 12 New York City miles, so that means an hour and a half or more on a series of subways, or an expensive cab ride.

Swedish flag

Swedish flag

Finding the right entrance at the U.N. was a challenge, but fortunately the Swedish mission had positioned someone outside, holding a mini Swedish flag, to help.

Security-wise, actually entering the U.N. is similar to entering a U.S. airport, with the same take-out-your-laptop, limited-liquids approach.

I found my way to the conference room where our seminar would take place. The U.N. General Assembly was, and is, in session, so our seminar was one of any number of meetings on a wide range of topics happening at the same time. For example, here is this week’s schedule of General Assembly meetings.

The U.N. is, of course, international. What that means is that some signs and almost all U.N. documents are in all of the official U.N. languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). It also creates challenges for the restaurants and snack bars there. On a early morning coffee break, I was able to chose from a bagel — or sushi.

The seminar’s attendees included representatives from governments, the U.N., the International Committee of the Red Cross, scientists, environmentalists, and of course, most important of all, university professors.

The seminar operated under the Chatham House Rule. Named after a policy institute in London, the rule means that participants are free to use the information they receive at the meeting but may not link what was said to who specifically said it. It’s a rule designed to encourage openness and candor in sharing information.

The seminar included a host of presentations on numerous topics related to protecting the environment during armed conflict, including one focused on Iraq’s marshlands, how the Eritrea-Ethiopian Claims Commission handled issues, protecting the environment in the 21st century and how militaries determine if it’s legal to use a certain type of weapon.

I came away from the seminar with a lot more questions than I had when I started it. This is a very challenging area of the law.

Issues include:

• How do you define the environment? Most international groups cannot agree on a definition. I think if we all tried to define the environment with family or friends, the same outcome would result. Does the definition include cultural property? You can probably guess what came next — how do we define cultural property?

Why do we want to protect the environment? Is it protection of the environment as such or only as the environment impacts people? Imagine the dropping of a 2,000-pound bomb in the middle of barren desert. If you’re protecting the environment as such, you probably have concerns about the bomb. If your concerns are about impacts on people, and none are here, you probably don’t have concerns about the bomb.

One of the main challenges in my view is that the law of armed conflict only regulates a small percentage of environmental harm — direct harm — and only in a small percentage of armed conflicts.

The Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions state that “care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage.”

The first problem is the lack of agreed-upon meanings of “widespread,” “long-term” and “severe.” The second problem is that the prohibition only applies to international armed conflict (IAC), one or more countries fighting one or more countries. It does not apply in non-international armed conflict (NIAC), where one country is fighting a civil war or insurgency. The law not applying to NIAC is particularly unfortunate as the vast majority of the armed conflicts that have occurred in the last 50 years have been NIAC. Most estimates are that about 90% of conflicts are internal or NIAC, and 10% or less are interstate or international.

On the issue of direct harm, the law restricts people from literally targeting the environment: Blowing up a dam, drying up a marsh to drive out people living there or dropping dangerous chemicals like agent orange to defoliate forests and destroy crops. This obviously can and does happen; “60 Minutes” has done a couple of stories about what Saddam Hussein did to Iraq’s marshlands and the people who live there.

But the limited law we have doesn’t regulate passive harm to the environment. Passive harm is not intentional, it’s the incidental effects of military operations; for example, think tens of thousands of military armored vehicles driving up and down roads. Over time, that’s bound to have some effects on the environment. Those effects aren’t intentional, but they nonetheless exist.

Also consider when the U.S. military operated burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan; service members often burned pretty much everything, including things that were toxic. So again, no one was intending to harm the environment, but that was an outcome, as was thousands of U.S. veterans who now have serious skin, eye and respiratory issues.

Passive or incidental harm likely constitutes the vast majority of the harm to the environment during armed conflict. But the international community hasn’t been able to do much with prohibiting (and punishing) those who directly and intentionally harm the environment during armed conflict, so the more serious problem of confronting passive harm seems a ways off.

I left the seminar glad to have participated, but as I mentioned earlier, with more questions than when I arrived. My sense is there is a huge gap between the rhetoric of people and governments talking about protecting the environment during armed conflict versus agreeing on even what the terms mean.

Perhaps protecting the environment during armed conflict is now on the global radar screen, similar to land mines and cluster munitions 20 years ago.

For many years the focus was on raising awareness and educating people about the problems land mines and cluster munitions pose. Eventually the international community established several conventions that regulate and in some cases prohibit their use. If that’s the case with the environment, there’s a long road ahead — and I’m not sure when we will meaningfully start the trip. — C.J.

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U.N. Organization & Involvement in Environment Protection

United Nations headquarters, New York City

The United Nations headquarters, New York City

Chris Jenks of SMU Dedman School of Law was invited to discuss “Protection of the Environment: An Operational Perspective” at the United Nations in New York City Oct. 24. This is the first of two blogs; for the second  one, go here.

Before discussing the seminar, I thought some general background information on the United Nations might be interesting. I also can explain how the U.N. is involved in protecting the environment during armed conflict.

The international community established the U.N. on Oct. 24, 1945, by ratifying the United Nations Charter. The U.N.’s formation followed two world wars that claimed millions of lives within 25 years of each other. Unsuccessful efforts to ensure peace following World War I included the League of Nations, an intergovernmental organization designed to maintain world peace, and the Kellog-Briand Pact’s idealistic ban on warfare.

Something here

A new building housing the United States Mission to the United Nations, across from the U.N. headquarters, was dedicated in 2011.

While the UN’s formal establishment was not until the Charter’s ratification after the conclusion of World War II, some 50 countries signed the Charter in San Francisco in June 1945 when the war with Japan was still ongoing. China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States developed the Charter the preceding summer, 1944 — roughly a year before the end of the war with Germany.

United States Mission to the United Nations, across from the U.N. headquarters

The structure was designed by lead architect Charles Gwathmey, responsible for the 1992 renovation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

The U.N. Charter established six principal parts of the United Nations: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. Over time the U.N. also has formed 15 agencies and numerous programs and bodies.

The U.N. headquarters is in New York City pursuant to an agreement between the U.N. and the U.S. And while much of the U.N. is in NYC, there are U.N. offices in a host of countries around the world. Not counting peacekeepers there are more than 80,000 U.N. employees.

The organization’s annual budget exceeds $5 billion (U.S.), which is derived from assessments on member countries. A complicated formula determining the amount each country pays to the U.N. is based on a host of factors, including gross national income. The result is that the U.S. assessment constitutes 22% of the U.N.’s budget. From there the next highest contribution is about 11% from Japan, and the contributions drop off from there.

The General Assembly is the main deliberative body of the U.N. and includes all member countries, each with one vote. Currently there are 193 member countries in the U.N., with South Sudan being the most recent addition in 2011. Each member country has delegates who operate out of offices known as missions, ones that are located in New York City, generally close to the U.N. (The U.S. mission is across the street.)

The U.N. Security Council is the organ that can authorize the use of force.

Not surprisingly when you think about the U.N.’s formation, it was the major allied powers from WWII — the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, France and China (the P-5), that received permanent seats on the Security Council — and the ability to veto any proposed action. In addition to those five permanent members, 10 other countries are represented on the Security Council, with slots rotating among the world’s other countries. After the U.N. recently held elections, Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela were elected to serve a two-year term as non-permanent members of the Security Council, joining the P-5 and other non-permanent members Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria, whose terms expire at the end of 2015.

The Security Council’s primary responsibility is to maintain international peace and security. To authorize the use of force — say, a peacekeeping mission — requires affirmative votes by nine of the 15 Security Council members and the absence of a veto by any of the five permanent members. (Thus the permanent members can’t dictate when the U.N. will deploy peacekeepers, but they can dictate when it won’t.)

It’s interesting to think that in our grandparents’ lifetimes, the permanent members of the Security Council all fought as allies on the same side during WWII. Yet since the start of the Cold War less than five years after the U.N.’s formation, permanent members frequently fight among themselves (bureaucratically and ideologically, at least). Indeed disagreement between various combinations of those former allies is viewed by many as one of if not the largest obstacle to the U.N. taking effective action. Most recently these challenges have been cited when examining the Security Council and the opportunity to end the ongoing civil war in Syria.

The Economic and Social Council coordinates the U.N.’s economic and social work. This means coordinating the actions of a host of agencies and programs, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and programs such as the U.N. Development Program, the U.N. Children’s Fund and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The U.N. Charter established the Trustee Council to supervise the administration of Trust Territories, former colonies or dependent territories. Since its creation, the Trustee Council has assisted more than 70 former colonies in gaining independence. The last territory to do so was Palau in 1994. Since then the Trustee Council voluntarily suspended its activities, though it remains able to meet and act as needed.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the U.N.’s judicial branch and located in The Hague, Netherlands. The ICJ only deals with disputes between countries, not individuals — and countries must agree to be subject to ICJ’s jurisdiction.

Presiding over ICJ cases are 15 judges, from different countries around the world, who serve nine-year terms. The U.S. withdrew from the court’s jurisdiction in 1986 following a ICJ decision that the U.S. violated international law by supporting rebel groups that opposed the Nicaraguan government. More recently the U.S. and the ICJ have disagreed over America’s obligations to advise Mexican nationals on death row about their rights to contact the Mexican consulate.

The last U.N. organ is the Secretariat, which comprises the international staff. With more than 16,000 global civil servants, the Secretariat administers the programs and policies of the other UN branches. Heading the Secretariat is the Secretary General (currently Ban Ki Moon from South Korea), who is appointed by the General Assembly for a five-year term.

The General Assembly may discuss any matter arising under the U.N. Charter, excluding topics currently being considered by the Security Council. Decisions on admitting new member countries and the U.N. budget are decided by a 2/3 majority. Other issues are decided by a simple majority. In addition to member countries, two entities have a standing invitation to participate as observers in the work of the General Assembly and maintain a mission at the U.N. headquarters, the Holy See (an ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church) and Palestine.

The U.N. General Assembly

The General Assembly, where 193 members of the U.N. discuss international issues.

The General Assembly meets for debate and discussion, but deals with many of the substantive issues through six main committees:

  • First Committee (Disarmament and International Security): Concerned with disarmament and related international security questions
  • Second Committee (Economic and Financial): Concerned with economic questions
  • Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural): Concerned with social and humanitarian issues
  • Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization): Handles a variety of political subjects not dealt with by the First Committee, along with decolonization
  • Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary): Deals with the U.N.’s administration and budget
  • Sixth Committee (Legal): Deals with international legal matters.

How does this relate to my traveling to the U.N. headquarters to speak on armed conflict and the environment? Remember that the General Assembly does much of its work through the six committees mentioned above. The Sixth Committee is the legal committee dealing with international legal matters. In the second session of the U.N. General Assembly in 1947, the committee recommended, and the General Assembly approved, establishing an International Law Commission (ILC) to promote “the progressive development of international law and its codification.” In 2013 the ILC decided to consider the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts. — C.J.

Next up: My thoughts on the seminar.

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Jenks’ U.N. Talk on Armed Conflict & the Environment

Jenks thumbnailMilitary Law expert Chris Jenks, an assistant professor at SMU Dedman School of Law and director of the Criminal Justice Clinic, spoke Oct. 24 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. His topic, “Protection of the Environment: An Operational Perspective,” was part of a seminar on armed conflict and the environment hosted by a Special Rapporteur for the U.N.’s International Law Commission.

Lt. Col. Jenks (U.S. Army-ret.) is a decorated military officer who has served as a Judge Advocate in Korea and Iraq and also as chief of the Army’s International Law Branch at the Pentagon. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisJenks_SMU.


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The Long, Costly Road Ahead


Gitmo exteriorSMU Dedman School of Law Prof. Chris Jenks visited Naval Station Guantanamo Aug. 11-15. This is the fifth and final blog of the series.

Ostensibly I traveled to Gitmo to observe the military commission proceedings against five members of al-Qaeda who allegedly planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Included among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who once boasted, “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z.”


Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003, left, and in early 2012.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's red beard as shown in this courtroom sketch.

Mohammed has undergone a radical transformation. And since spring 2012, he’s been dying much of his beard henna-red, as shown here.

I say “ostensibly” because although the military commission was to be in session Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., we were in court a total of six hours. For the week.

The only thing I saw accomplished was that the military judge reconsidered an earlier ruling he’d made to break the case of one of the 9/11 planners away from the other four. As a result, all five are back in one joint 9/11 case, which is another way of saying the case has returned to square zero.

It’s difficult to convey all the time and effort that goes into having the prosecution, defense, translators, analysts, etc., at Gitmo. And the security involved in moving someone like Mohammed and the other 9/11 planners is what you would expect: A massive undertaking that basically shuts down the entire place. Yet when everyone is present in court and there’s an opportunity to resolve issues and move toward a trial, little, if any, progress is made.

I didn’t talk with the victims’ families. I don’t know what their expectations or goals were in traveling there. But if it was to achieve some kind of closure, they have to have left bewildered and disappointed.

I didn’t talk with the victims’ families. I don’t know what their expectations or goals were in traveling there. But if it was to achieve some kind of closure, they have to have left bewildered and disappointed.

The question everyone asks is why is this taking so long? The short answer is that this is the largest case in U.S. criminal justice history, with 2,779 victims and hundreds of thousands of documents, witnesses and evidence across many continents. Also consider that while only a small percentage of the evidence is classified, that’s a small percentage of hundreds of thousands of documents. That’s a lot of classified documents. Add to that the manner by which the U.S. government determines what information is classified: Put mildly, said process is quirky, cumbersome and slow.

Another oft-asked question is why military commissions? Military commissions fill a space between traditional military courts-martial and federal court trials. The exigencies of combat limit the ability of the military to collect and process evidence in a way that would be admissible in a traditional setting.

For instance, if four U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan capture a member of al-Qaida you can expect they’ll immediately try to question him while pointing loaded weapons at him. That’s simply a battlefield reality and necessity. Admittedly, pointing a weapon at someone while yelling a series of questions is coercive, and likely not admissible at a courts-martial or federal court. In addition, the manner in which the soldiers collect evidence is not as rigorous as the FBI and CSI.

But some Gitmo detainees were captured by the FBI or CIA, not the military. In some minds that undermines the rationale of military commissions. To others, the issue of who is captured where doesn’t matter: the U.S. is fighting members of al-Qaida wherever it finds them.

A key factor in all this is the manner in which the U.S. treated some of the detainees — a manner that went well beyond the inherent coercion of battlefield capture and questioning. As President Obama recently acknowledged, “We tortured some folks.” And if the actions didn’t constitute torture, they may have included cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment (CIDT), which violates the Geneva Conventions.

As President Obama recently acknowledged, “We tortured some folks.” And if the actions didn’t constitute torture, they may have included cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment (CIDT), which violates the Geneva Conventions.

It’s unclear how the military commission will account for the accused 9/11 planners potentially having been tortured. It’s important to know that military commission rules don’t allow the government to use, directly or indirectly, any statement obtained through torture or CIDT. A notable result of that: What would have been a joint 9/11 trial of six al-Qaida members is now a trial of five.

The U.S. treatment of the sixth accused 9/11 planner, Mohammed al-Qatani (who purportedly tried to be the 20th hijacker), included severe isolation, exposure to cold, sleep deprivation and forced nudity — all of which, according to the U.S. government, left him in a “life-threatening situation.” Given that, and the fact that most of the evidence against al-Qatani was the product of torture or CIDT, the U.S. decided to not send his case to trial.

We’re reminded of this awkward fact by how the military commissions’ courtroom is outfitted within the $12 million Expeditionary Legal Complex. When the courtroom was built, the plan was to have the 9/11 trial include al-Qatani. Thus there are six defense tables, with one left conspicuously empty.

The military courtroom at Camp Justice.

The military courtroom at Camp Justice.

Our group, including members of the media, non-governmental organizations and 9/11 victims’ family members, witness the proceedings in a small sound-proofed room separated by a clear partition at the back of the courtroom. Though a couple of TV monitors allow us to see the proceedings in real-time, the most challenging aspect of observing the commissions is, for security reasons, having to get the audio on a 40-second delay.

While were there, four of the five 9/11 planners on trial are wearing head scarves in support of Palestine in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We watch a weird moment unfold during a break, when one of the accused offers an extra headscarf to the planner not wearing one. A lot of confused gesturing unfolds across the defense tables, leading some in our group to liken it to a situation in which one person obviously didn’t get the company’s dress memo.

We also see that 9/11 planner has several detailed military defense counsel, as well as “learned counsel” — an attorney experienced in death penalty cases.

By the week’s end the military judge recessed the commission until October. Its unclear whether the next time it convenes the proceedings will transpire any differently than what weve observed. If history is any indication, the answer is, unfortunately, no. Like Sisyphus, doomed to perpetually push the same boulder up the same hill every day, there’s a kind of “road to perdition” aspect to all this.

When we weren’t in court (which was the vast majority of time), we met with counsel for both the defense as well as the prosecution, and both were very generous with their time. We also sat in on two press conferences. This reminds me of my largest takeaway from the week: How press conference content is delivered and how the media seems to perceive and process it.

As it stands now, the defense and their attorneys, who are arguing for liberty and American values, are in sole position of the moral high ground, despite the fact they are representing individuals alleged to have killed nearly 3,000 people.

 As it stands now, the defense and their attorneys, who are arguing for liberty and American values, are in sole position of the moral high ground, despite the fact they are representing individuals alleged to have killed nearly 3,000 people.

When not discussing the detainees’ trial and/or treatment, we have time to take in the setting. The water around Gitmo is amazing, with two and three different shades of blue. In the absence of a city setting, the skies at night are filled with stars, and with a certain type of plankton in the water there, it almost looks like fireflies are dancing under water. But then the reality of where we are returns.

During the day, our escorts continue to drive us around Gitmo — mostly to the dining facility or navy exchange store. We meet locals who talk about what a safe place Gitmo is for raising a family, which is an odd thought, especially as I see a little girl, eyes beaming, leave the exchange with a new doll. Afterward we pass green energy sources while traveling to meet with a defense counselor in an office of the Gitmo gym. It occurs to me then that Gitmo is an onion of sorts, with layer upon layer of the surreal.

Despite the time and cost expended on this place thus far, the American people don’t realize the commissions really haven’t even started. They don’t realize how much more is still to come, how long that will take and how expensive it will be, at least if detention and commissions remain at Gitmo.

Despite the time and cost expended on this place thus far, the American people don’t realize the commissions really haven’t even started. They don’t realize how much more is still to come, how long that will take and how expensive it will be, at least if detention and commissions remain at Gitmo.

For example, the 9/11 trial won’t be for at least another year. Then, the appeals that are certain to follow will take more than a decade. Now consider that the detainee population at Gitmo ranges from as young as 30 to as old as 67. That means that the U.S. may be detaining members of al-Qaida for 50 years to come. And at a staggering cost.

According to recent government reports, the cost per year to operate just the detention facilities at Gitmo is $454 million a year (and so far has cost the U.S. more than $5 billion). That breaks down to $2.7 million per detainee per year. Compare that to the roughly $78,000 a year to incarcerate someone in a maximum security prison in the U.S.

In anticipation of increasing medical needs of the aging detainees, the Department of Defense is requesting about $11 million for a medical facility best equipped to offer geriatric care for aging al-Qaida members from now until beyond 2050.

Does the U.S. really want to continue down that path? And, more important, does it even recognize the path it’s on? — C.J.

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Camp X-Ray: From Cuban Refugees to Al-Qaida & Taliban Detainees

Guantanamo overview SMU Dedman School of Law Prof. Chris Jenks visited Naval Station Guantanamo Aug. 11-15. This is the fourth blog of the series.

Before the 9/11 attacks, if someone knew about Naval Station Guantanamo Bay it was likely for one of two reasons:

  • The 1992 movie “A Few Good Men,” in which Jack Nicholson, playing the part of Marine Col. Nathan Jessup assigned to Gitmo, spoke of eating breakfast “300 yards from 4,000 Cubans trained to kill me” and whether Tom Cruise could or couldn’t handle the truth.
  • The role Gitmo played as refugee camps, first for Haitians and later for Cubans from 1991 to 1996.

Haitian refugees, 1991

While “A Few Good Men” was entertaining, Gitmo’s role as a refugee camp was more significant, since it established the conditions for future detention of al-Qaida and Taliban members.

In 1991, a military coup d’etat in Haiti prompted thousands of Haitians to flee the country in hopes of reaching the U.S. The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted some 41,000 of them and redirected them to Gitmo. As a result, the U.S. constructed a series of camps at Gitmo to house the refugees while considering the Haitians’ asylum claims.

The U.S. deemed many of the refugees to be economic migrants, not political refugees, and returned them to Haiti. Even more controversial was the status of the refugees who qualified for asylum but were denied entry into the U.S. because they were HIV-positive. This generated considerable backlash, and ultimately litigation. It wasn’t until late 1993 that the Clinton administration agreed to close the camp and allow the remaining Haitian refugees to enter the U.S.

Refugee camp at Gitmo, 1990s

Refugee camp at Gitmo, 1990s

About a year after the detainment camp closed, it was reopened, this time for an influx of Cuban refugees. After a series of anti-government protests in Havana, Fidel Castro allowed anyone wanting to leave Cuba to do so. Some 100,000 Cubans did just that, and headed to Gitmo on homemade rafts, boats, even inner tubes — traveling there by sea to avoid the landmines separating Gitmo from the rest of Cuba. (Interesting aside: Both the U.S. and Cuba have planted 55,000 mines along the perimeter of Gitmo, making it the largest minefield in the western hemisphere and second-largest in the world [Korea being the largest]. In 1998 President Clinton directed the removal of U.S. mines. The Cubans have yet to remove their mines.)

With the U.S. again in the business of housing and processing refugees at Gitmo, a series of camps were built. The military, ever fond of the phonetic alphabet, named the first camp “Alpha,” then “Bravo,” “Charlie,” etc. There were camps for families, camps for single men, camps for kids without parents. There was even a camp for those who caused problems in the other camps: Camp X-Ray.

Camp X-Ray, 2002

Camp X-Ray, 2002

Unlike the communal-style refugee camps, Camp X-Ray was a tougher confinement facility, with barbed wire atop chain link fences, guard towers and chain-link housing areas for the refugees. After the Cuban refugee crisis was resolved, the U.S. closed the camps in 1996. But fast-forward to January 2002 — three months after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks: With the U.S. fighting in Afghanistan, and in the process capturing enemy belligerents, the question of where to house the detainees arose. The answer, for reasons we may never fully understand, was Gitmo.

So, here we are.

Capturing enemy belligerents is part and parcel of armed conflict. Each side’s military may capture and detain the other side’s combatants for the duration of the conflict. And typically, housing those who are captured away from the battlefield doesn’t pose a problem. During World War II, America housed hundreds of thousands of German and Italian prisoners of war in camps in the U.S.

In this case, real problems arose when the U.S. unwisely (and incorrectly) decided that no part of the Geneva Conventions applied to or protected members of al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Geneva Conventions form the basis of military regulations, training and manuals for detention operations, so excluding them created both a legal and practical void, one later recognized as incorrect or impermissible by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. military filled this void with “enhanced interrogation techniques” that allowed for a variety of actions against the detainees, including stripping them of clothes, 24 straight hours of interrogation and stress-inducing exploitation of their phobias. Even worse, the CIA introduced a host of other techniques that included waterboarding, per the guidance of the Department of Justice. While some of this mistreatment occurred outside Gitmo, some of it most assuredly occurred at Gitmo, beginning at Camp X-Ray.


Detainees at Gitmo’s former Camp X-Ray

One of the iconic images from the “Global War on Terror” (above) shows detainees at Camp X-Ray, which the U.S. initially utilized to hold al-Qaida and Taliban detainees for four months. (So now if you see the upcoming movie “Camp X-Ray,” starring “Twilight” actress Kristen Stewart, and hear about the plan to house detainees there for eight years, you’ll know that’s not correct.)

During this time the U.S. purportedly so abused Saudi detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani, who allegedly tried to participate in the 9/11 attacks, that he was left in a life-threatening situation. This led to the first U.S. government acknowledgment of torture at Gitmo. And it raises the difficult issue of what to do with al-Qahtani. Since 2002 and the short-lived use of Camp X-Ray, the U.S. has built a series of more permanent (and more expensive) “camps” to house al-Qaida and Taliban detainees.

The U.S. is well past the chain-link fence origins of Camp X-Ray: “Camps” are now state-of-the art facilities similar to maximum-security prisons in the U.S. Depending on each detainee’s security classification and how “compliant” that person is, current conditions at Gitmo include allowing them access to DVDs, television and a new $744,000 soccer field.

Meanwhile Camp X-Ray, while closed, still exists. Well, kind of. The U.S. government had planned to demolish it but a federal district judge ordered it preserved as potential evidence of cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment or torture of the detainees once housed there. Currently Camp X-Ray is slowly rotting away in the Cuban heat.

Camp X-Ray

Camp X-Ray’s deterioration

While the U.S. has released or transferred more than 600 detainees, some 149 remain. Some are being tried by military commission, some are awaiting military parole-type hearings, and some have been cleared for transfer but can’t leave due to issues between the U.S. and the country where they would go. And then there are those whom the U.S. has no plans to transfer or prosecute. — C.J.

Next Up: Military Commissions and the Road Ahead: The Cost of Justice.  

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Guantanamo: Why the U.S. Has a Naval Base in Cuba


1st Marine Battalion raising the U.S. flag at Guantanamo Bay on June 10, 1898

Guantanamo_Bay_mapSMU Dedman School of Law Prof. Chris Jenks is visiting Naval Station Guantanamo Aug. 11-15. This is the third blog of the series.

Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (“Gitmo,” for short), at the southeastern tip of Cuba, is not only the United States’ oldest overseas military base but it’s also the only one to exist in a country with which the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations.600px-Guantanamo

The story behind the U.S. presence there dates to the 1898 Spanish-American War.

Given U.S.-Cuban relations now, it’s worth remembering our country’s invasion of Cuba at that time was in support of a Cuban insurgent movement rebelling against their colonial occupiers: Spain. Following the war, the U.S. helped establish the new Republic of Cuba. In turn, in 1903 Cuba agreed to lease 45 square miles of area now comprising Gitmo in exchange for $2,000 in gold coins per year. In response the U.S. agreed to use Gitmo as a coaling and naval station, and also allow free passage of vessels engaged in Cuban trade.

Three decades later the agreement was further outlined in the 1934 “Treaty Between the United States of American and Cuba” signed by President Roosevelt and his Cuban counterpart. As part of the revised terms, the payment (rent, actually) was recalculated on what $2,000 in 1903 gold coins would be worth in 1934, or roughly $4,085 — a fixed amount the U.S. has paid ever since.

Given our countries’ mutual dislike of each other, how this treaty manages to exist as-is lies in the treaty itself, specifically Article III, which notes that the treaty is to remain in effect “[u]ntil the two contracting parties agree to the modifications or arrogations.” So in essence the U.S. has a rent-controlled lease with a mutual break-up clause.

Following the Communist revolution and Fidel Castro taking power in 1959, Cuba’s attitude toward the U.S. and its Gitmo lease has changed, to put it mildly. Specifically, the Cuban government has refused to cash its U.S rent checks for more than 55 years. Castro literally has stuffed the un-cashed checks in his desk drawer (though he does acknowledge accidentally cashing one in 1959).

In early 1961, the U.S. terminated diplomatic and consular relations, with President Eisenhower issuing a statement that the termination had “no effect on the status of our Naval Station at Guantanamo. The treaty rights under which we maintain the Naval Station may not be abrogated without the consent of the United States.”

The U.S.-sponsored Bag of Pigs invasion of Cuba that same year and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 didn’t exactly improve relations between our countries. Accordingly, it’s interesting to think that during those two dangerously dramatic events there were several thousand U.S. service members stationed at Gitmo, which Castro called “a knife stuck in the heart of Cuba’s dignity and sovereignty.”

In 1964, in response to the U.S. fining Cubans for fishing too close to Florida, Castro cut off Gitmo’s water supply for three days. (Apparently sponsoring an invasion of Cuba didn’t warrant turning off the water, but Cuban fishermen being fined crossed the line.) Castro then turned the water back on, but claimed the U.S. had been stealing the country’s water. Afterward, Gitmo’s base commander John Bulkeley devised a simple solution to that: He cut off Gitmo’s water supply lines from Cuba. Out of necessity this led to Gitmo becoming self-sufficient, ultimately creating its own systems to collect and convert sea water to fresh water. [Military history aside: Vice Admiral Bulkeley had received the Medal of Honor in World War II and commanded the PT boat that evacuated Gen. Douglas MacArthur from the Philippines.]

Over the years, many military and diplomatic escalations have occurred between the two countries. And while political difficulties continue, the military relationship has stabilized. But this wasn’t always the case.

Early on, the Cuban military began throwing rocks onto the tin roofs of the U.S. Marines’ sleeping barracks, prompting the Marines to build a 40-foot high fence. The Cubans then hung metal objects on the fence to clatter in the wind, prompting the Marines to add barbed wire to the fence. Both sides then erected ever-taller flagpoles, with Cuba technically winning that competition by planting a giant flagpole on a significant ridge.

In addition, the Cubans also enlisted a high-powered spotlight to shine into the windows of the Marines’ barracks. In turn, the Marines erected a giant tent as a light shield. (Or so the Cubans thought.) Thirty days later, when the Cubans turned on the spotlight, the Marines dropped the tent, revealing a giant Marine Corps globe and anchor symbol on a concrete slab. Needless to say, the Cubans turned off their spotlight.

Cuba began availing itself of the media to complain about the U.S. presence at Gitmo. In the mid-1970s the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs published an 86-page booklet, “Guantanamo: Yankee Naval Base of Crimes and Provocations.” Shortly thereafter, during a 1977 Barbara Walters interview with Castro, discussion of the 1934 treaty led the Cuban leader to argue “when one mentions an undetermined length of time in a legal contract, it’s understood that it means 100 years.” Regardless, both Cuba and the U.S. understand that the agreement will continue to exist until both sides agree to modify or repeal it.

More recently the Cuban government has complained to United Nations human rights organizations that the U.S. use of Gitmo as a detention facility is itself a human rights violation. That’s a rather odd complaint coming from Cuba, since while Gitmo is used to hold al-Qaida and Taliban detainees, Cuba first used the place to detain thousands of Cuban “excludables” or refugees. — C.J.

Next Up:
Camp X-Ray: From Cuban Refugees to al-Qaida and Taliban Detainees

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