After 16 years in Guantanamo, will Hambali get a fair trial? | Prison News

Medan, Indonesia – Nasir Abbas, a former member of the Indonesian hard-line group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) describes his co-recruit Encep Nurjaman as “quintessentially Javanese”.

Nurjaman, who is better known by his war name Hambali as well as the pseudonym of Riduan Isamuddin, was “polite,” “gentle” and “decent,” Abbas told Al Jazeera, recalling the time the two men were doing. part of one of the most formidable groups in Southeast Asia.

Hambali and Abbas both trained in military combat in Afghanistan together in the 1990s, before joining JI which was labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States government after the group claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Afghanistan. across Indonesia in the early 2000s, including the 2002 Bali bombing, which killed over 200 people.

“He was so articulate and so intelligent. You couldn’t help but get a good impression of him, ”said Abbas, who cooperated with authorities after his arrest and is now working on de-radicalization programs for the Indonesian government.

The United States did not feel that way.

Hambali, who is now 57, has spent the past 16 years at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and has been described by former US President George W Bush as “one of the deadliest terrorists in the world”.

Then US President George W Bush hailed Hambal’s capture and called him “one of the deadliest terrorists in the world” [File: Rick Wilking/Reuters]

Twenty years after the first detainees were sent to Guantanamo, Hambali remains one of 39 men still detained there.

Of the 800 incarcerated at the facility since it opened, only 12 have been charged with war crimes and have been or will be tried at the facility’s Camp Justice before a military commission. Hambali, who is accused of murder, terrorism and conspiracy, is one of them.

“The position of the government of the United States is that the individuals who are in Guantanamo in general, but also when they are indicted in the military commissions, are a category of what one calls illegal combatants”, declared Michel Paradis, lawyer specializing in human rights, national security law. scholar and lecturer at Columbia Law School in New York.

“According to the government, Hambali is a fighter in the war on terror and, as such, can be prosecuted for war crimes. “

In court documents seen by Al Jazeera, these war crimes relate to the Bali bombings of 2002, which targeted people enjoying a night out in the island’s bustling Kuta area, and a 2003 attack on the JW Marriott hotel in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, in which 12 people were killed. Hundreds of people have been injured in Jakarta and Bali.

Hambali will stand trial along with two Malaysians and alleged “accomplices” – Mohammed Nazir bin Lep and Mohammed Farik bin Amin – but some wonder if they will be able to get a fair hearing.

“A recurring feature of the war on terror has been the invocation of terrorism as an unprecedented and exceptional act. This despite the fact that this is a recurring strategy used by various groups, movements and governments throughout history, ”Ian Wilson, senior lecturer in political and security studies, told Al Jazeera. Australian University Murdoch.

“This ‘exceptional’ nature has been used to streamline measures that circumvent or nullify existing legal and rights frameworks, including those enshrined in constitutions such as due process rights and the presumption of innocence. This “state of emergency” in response to the perceived risk and threat of terrorism has resulted in a significant deterioration of the rule of law and major shifts towards illiberalism in democratic states. “

Wilson says Guantanamo Bay is an example of this approach – a place considered “exceptional sovereignty” by Washington, but also somewhere portrayed as outside the formal legal jurisdiction of the United States.


Detainees like Hambali were not only deprived of the legal and due process rights that would have been granted them by the constitution in a trial on American soil, but also of the rights in the Geneva Conventions granted to the people. tried for war crimes.

Hambali, through his lawyers, alleged that he was brutally tortured following his arrest in Thailand in 2003, after which he said he was transferred to a secret detention camp run by the Central Intelligence Agency. (CIA) and tortured as part of the agency’s restitution. , Detention and Interrogation Program (RDI) which is sometimes referred to as a “torture program”.

Encep Nurjamen, also known as Hambali, pictured in Guantanamo wearing a white robe and a short graying beardEncep Nurjamen, also known as Hambali, in an undated photo provided by the Office of Federal Public Defenders in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba [File: Federal Public Defender’s Office via AP Photo]

The policy was adopted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, with then-President Bush agreeing that certain torture techniques could be justified if they were able to extract intelligence that would prevent further attacks. against the country. Under international law, torture is never justified.

According to Hambali’s lawyer, the Indonesian was stripped of his clothes, deprived of food and sleep, and made to stand in stressful positions – such as kneeling on the floor with his hands above his head – for hours as part of the program.

He was also reportedly subjected to “walling” – a torture technique in which interrogators place a collar around a detainee’s neck and slam his head against a wall.

Other Guantanamo detainees have described being sexually assaulted and subjected to waterboarding while in detention.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has investigated the CIA’s rendition program amid persistent allegations of torture at Guantanamo and other so-called CIA black sites around the world.

Released in 2014, the report found that the torture techniques used – euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” – were not only inhumane, but also ineffective in obtaining intelligence.

The majority of detainees, including Hambali, gave false information to authorities simply to stop the torture, according to the report.

“He had provided the false information in order to reduce the pressure on himself … and to give a report consistent with what [Hambali] assessed that questioners wanted to hear, ”the report said, citing a CIA cable.

“The worst of both worlds”

During his time with Jemaah Islamiyah, who was affiliated with al-Qaeda, Hambali was most often described as a “man of money,” according to Abbas.

His main role was to collect and distribute funds from the organization’s many donors, including former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who allegedly sent money for the Bali bombing directly. in Hambali.

Indonesian police officer looks at bouquets of white flowers left on the mutilated sign of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta as prayers were answered for those killed in the August 2003 bombingHambali is accused of participating in the 2003 attacks on the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta and the Bali bombings the previous year, which killed more than 200 people. [File: Weda/EPA]

However, according to Abbas’ words, Hambali agreed with bin Laden that civilians could be the target of terrorist attacks, which was extremely controversial among other members of the JI, many of whom only considered military targets as a fair game.

“We were trained in a military setting in Afghanistan with military knowledge and I was not comfortable with attacking civilian targets,” Abbas said.

“I wouldn’t allow it. No one involved in the Bali bombing had the courage to ask me anything. They knew I would never agree to kill civilians. Those who agreed were wrong and I told them.

Three of the main perpetrators of the Bali bombing were sentenced to death in Indonesia and executed, while a fourth perpetrator, Ali Imron, was sentenced to life in prison after apologizing and expressing remorse.

Imron has always maintained that Hambali had no prior knowledge of the attack.

Twenty years after the bombings – the worst attack in Southeast Asia – Abbas says he believes his former comrade should be sent back to Indonesia to stand trial.

This is a view shared by Indonesian human rights lawyer Ranto Sibarani who says the Indonesian government should have tried to negotiate his repatriation.

“No matter how serious the charges or charges against Hambali, he remains an Indonesian citizen who deserves protection under the law,” Sibarani told Al Jazeera in August.

“This is a big question that will arise during the trial,” said Paradis. “Does the United States even have the power to prosecute him?” Terrorism is not a war crime.

In 2009, the US Department of Justice and Defense described military commissions as “fair, effective and lawful.”

“Military commissions have been used by the United States to try those who have violated the law of war for more than two centuries,” he said in a press release.

Ali Imronm dressed in white shorts and escorted by two policemen, found guilty of the Bali bombings by an Indonesian courtIndonesia has prosecuted other suspects for the Bali bombings, sentencing three to death. A fourth, Ali Imron (pictured) was sentenced to life after apologizing and expressing remorse [File: Widhia/EPA]

No date has been set for Hambali’s trial, but many are pessimistic about how the legal process will play out once the commission is finally launched.

“Military trials are fatally flawed and the judicial process has been completely compromised by the CIA’s torture program,” Quinton Temby, assistant professor of public policy at Monash University in Indonesia, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s the worst of both worlds: detainees will not get a fair trial and the families of the victims will not see the perpetrators answer in open court.


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