Bali Bomb Case Starts in Guantanamo 18 Years After Capture

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
August 30, 2021 Updated: August 30, 2021

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba—Three prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center had their first day in court Monday after being held by the United States for 18 years without charge in connection with the deadly 2002 Bali nightclub bombings and other plots in Southeast Asia.

Indonesian prisoner Encep Nurjaman, known as Hambali, and two Malaysians started their arraignment before a military commission at a nearly five-hour hearing inside the U.S. base in Cuba, facing charges that include murder, conspiracy, and terrorism.

Slowed by problems with the courtroom interpreters, the military commission was unable to finish the long-delayed arraignment and it was expected to resume Tuesday.

“It’s almost 20 years later, witnesses have died, the landscape has changed dramatically,” said Brian Bouffard, a lawyer for Malaysian defendant Mohammed Nazir bin Lep. “In my view, it’s fatal to the ability to have a fair trial.”

The arraignment went off course early as the Malaysians challenged the adequacy of the courtroom interpreter, who seemed to speak haltingly in both English and Malay. Their lawyers also revealed that another interpreter working with prosecutors had worked with the defendants during an earlier appearance before the equivalent of a parole board at the detention center.

“He has confidential information that he may be sharing with the prosecution right now,” said Christine Funk, a lawyer for Mohammed Farik bin Amin.

Lawyers for bin Lep also said they intended to introduce an affidavit in which the Indonesian interpreter is alleged to have been overheard saying “I don’t know why the government has spent so much money on these terrorists; they should have been killed a long time ago.”

Nurjaman was a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida. The U.S. government says he recruited terrorists, including bin Lep and bin Amin, for jihadist operations.

Among the plots that al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah carried out were the October 2002 suicide bombings of Paddy’s Pub and the Sari Club in Bali, Indonesia, and the August 2003 suicide bombing of the J.W. Marriott in Jakarta, Indonesia. The attacks together killed 213 people, including seven Americans, and injured 109 people, including six Americans. Dozens of victims were foreign tourists, mostly Australians.

Prosecutors allege bin Lep and bin Amin served as intermediaries in the transfer of money used to fund the group’s operations.

All three were captured in Thailand in 2003 and transferred to CIA “black sites,” where they were brutalized and subjected to torture, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report released in 2014. In 2006, they were moved to Guantanamo.

It’s unclear why it’s taken so long to charge them before the military commission. Military prosecutors filed charges against the men in June 2017, but the Pentagon legal official who oversees Guantanamo cases rejected the charges for reasons that haven’t been publicly disclosed.

The case has many elements that make it complex, including whether statements the men made to authorities can hold up in court because of the abuse they experienced in CIA custody, the fact that people have already been convicted, and in some cases executed, in Indonesia for the attack, and the long time it has taken to bring charges.

Some of these same issues have come up in the case against five Guantanamo prisoners charged for planning and aiding the Sept. 11 attacks. They were arraigned in May 2012 and remain in the pretrial phase, with no trial date yet scheduled.

Funk predicted a lengthy period of defense investigation that will require extensive travel, once the pandemic is over, to interview witnesses and look for evidence. Still, she said, her client is “anxious and eager to litigate this case and go home.”

The Associated Press
The Associated Press