By John Bechtel
The Guantanamo prisoner accused of masterminding the 2002 Bali bombings and two Malaysian men are scheduled to appear in a U.S. military courtroom on Feb. 22 to answer terror-related charges, the Office of Military Commissions announced this week.
An order filed on Tuesday set the date for Indonesian national Hambali, whose real name is Encep Nurjaman, along with Malaysians Mohammad Nazir Lep and Mohd Farik Bin Amin, to be arraigned at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“The arraignment is tentatively scheduled for 1400 hours, Monday, 22 February 2021. All parties shall make the necessary arrangements to be present,” the order said.
Col. Charles L. Pritchard, the judge assigned to the case, set Saturday for any motions seeking to delay the arraignment, and Monday for response to such motions, if filed.
Ron Flesvig, spokesman for the Office of Military Commissions, said the defendants were expected to appear in court and to issue a plea to the charges against them.
“Following the pleas the judge will schedule the trial accordingly,” Flesvig told BenarNews.
The men, who have been incarcerated at the infamous prison facility since 2006, face charges linked to deadly bombings in Bali and Jakarta in 2002 and 2003, the U.S. military said this week.
Hambali faces eight charges while the Malaysians face nine, according to charge sheets uploaded by the Office of Military Commissions on Jan. 21, the day authorities announced they would push to try the trio.
A U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) profile of Hambali described him as an operational mastermind for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda – the group that carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Indonesian authorities blamed JI for carrying out bombings that killed 202 people in Bali in October 2002.
Pentagon officials, meanwhile, allege that Hambali helped plan that attack and the 2003 bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that left 12 dead.
All three are charged with conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, terrorism, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, and destruction of property, according to the DoD. The two Malaysians also face a charge of accessory after the fact – “all in violation of the law of war.”
U.S. authorities said the charges do not carry the death penalty.
Flesvig said reporters would be able to attend the proceedings.
“This is the first time media will be on the island during the COVID-19 environment,” he said.
Last week, Achmad Michdan, an Indonesian lawyer who represents Hambali, said he would like to see the trial moved from Cuba.
“It seems that the U.S. military did not know what to do with him, even though we had discussed that a trial should not take place there,” he told BenarNews.
He said he had been in contact with Hambali via Maj. James Valentine, a U.S. Marine attorney who is representing Hambali in the military court. Recent plans to visit Hambali were scotched by the pandemic, Michdan said.
He added that when the administration of President Barack Obama was pursuing plans to shut Guantanamo, Hambali “could have confessed and negotiated for his return home, on a condition that he would not talk about torture.”
Hambali and the two Malaysian men were arrested in Thailand in 2003 and sent to a secret CIA prison network before being moved to Guantanamo in September 2006. A U.S. Senate report on CIA detentions of terrorism suspects and interrogation techniques in years following the Sept. 11 terror attacks confirmed the use of torture.
According to that report, Hambali was not waterboarded, but other “enhanced interrogation techniques” used included long stretches of being shackled in painful positions and being slammed into a wall or being kept in the nude and confined in a coffin-like box.
Asked what strategy lawyers would pursue now that the U.S. military is prosecuting Hambali, Michdan said, “We want to negotiate. If possible, we want him to be extradited.”
The Indonesian government, for its part, has stated in the past that Hambali was stateless, according to Michdan, and did not hold a national ID card when he was arrested in 2003.
Indonesian officials indicated in 2016 that if Hambali were to be released, they would be reluctant to accept his repatriation for fear that his return could spur a revival among domestic terror cells.
But Malaysia’s counterterror chief last week welcomed the U.S. decision to refer charges against Hambali and the two Malaysian Guantanamo Bay inmates to a military tribunal, saying justice would be served by trial proceedings.
“It’s a good move by the U.S. – they [the defendants] will now have the opportunity to argue their case in court,” Malaysian counterterror police chief Normah Ishak told BenarNews.
“Justice will be served and seen [to] be served through a court trial,” she said.