Malaysian defendants in Bali bombings to serve about 5 more years

John Bechtel
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Malaysian defendants in Bali bombings to serve about 5 more years In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, the sun sets as seen from Camp Justice in Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where military commission proceedings are held for detainees charged with war crimes, Aug. 29, 2021.
Alex Brandon/AP

UPDATED at 12:07 a.m. ET on 2024-01-27
A U.S. military judge ruled Friday that two Malaysians linked to the 2002 Bali bombings are to serve about five more years in prison in addition to the two decades they have been detained. 

The announcement at the military court in Guantanamo Bay came shortly after a panel of military officers recommended 23-year sentences for the pair, who last week pleaded guilty to supporting roles in Indonesia’s worst-ever terror attack that left 202 people dead. 

The lighter punishment reflects terms of a plea deal struck late last year, details of which were revealed in Judge Wesley Braun’s announcement Friday. 

The five-member panel deliberated for about two hours after hearing final statements, including from a prosecutor who spoke for relatives of victims, more than a dozen of whom were present.

“They came here for justice. After all these years they still believe in justice,” chief prosecutor Col. George C. Kraehe said.

On Friday night, it remained unclear whether Mohammed Farik Bin Amin and Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep would complete their sentences at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba or elsewhere. Kraehe did not immediately respond to a question about this from BenarNews.

The two defendants and the relatives of their victims showed no emotion as the panel issued its recommendation inside the nondescript building that houses the military court, or moments later when the judge handed down his ruling.

The two men have been incarcerated at Guantanamo since they were flown here 17 years ago from a CIA black site overseas, and it was only in August 2021 that they finally got their first day in court here. 

Bin Lep and bin Amin made statements on Thursday that their hearts had changed during more than 20 years in custody – first in Thailand following their 2003 arrests, then at a CIA black site before arriving at the base in Cuba in 2006.

The two wore Islamic garb earlier in the week but appeared in court on Friday in blazers and button-down shirts. Their sentences take effect from last week, when Braun, a U.S. Air Force officer, accepted their guilty pleas. 

People gather for prayers at a memorial for victims of the 2002 Bali bombings, during the 20th anniversary of the blasts that killed 202 people, in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, Oct. 12, 2022. [Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP]

Delivering the prosecution’s closing arguments Friday, Kraehe said he spoke for the victims’ families – those watching in the hearing room and thousands of others who could not attend.

“Their hearts are forever broken,” he said.

Addressing the defendants’ claims that they were tortured under the American government’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) policy, Kraehe said that occurred years ago. They have been treated humanely at Guantanamo, he said, telling the panel members that they were not tasked with judging the RDI policy.

“Our task is to give the victims justice,” he said. “The accused are not the victims here.”

Kraehe told of how bin Amin and bin Lep had “heeded Osama bin Laden’s call” in the 1990s. They headed to Afghanistan in 2000, trained to participate in violent jihad and swore an oath to bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“This is what they wanted, what they trained for,” Kraehe said.

During that time, the pair met Indonesian Encep Nurjaman (also known as Hambali), the suspected main planner of the 2002 Bali bombings. Their cases were separated in 2023, with Hambali’s lawyer saying that his client did not expect to be given a similar plea deal.

Attorney Brian Bouffard (left), accompanied by U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Aaron Shephard and U.S. Air Force Maj. Jason Cordova, speaks with reporters after the second day of an arraignment hearing for his client, Mohammed bin Lep, in Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Aug. 31, 2021. [Alex Brandon/AP]

Last week, bin Amin and bin Lep pleaded guilty to murder, conspiracy and three other charges.

Christine Funk, the lead attorney for bin Amin, said the worst thing he ever did was take money in December 2002 – two months after the Oct. 12 bombings – to hide conspirators. That conspiracy led to the pleas on murder and four other charges.

“You become responsible for everyone’s actions,” she said.

She acknowledged the victims’ suffering while pleading her case for bin Amin.

“Because we believe the pain of the victims can co-exist with the rights of the defendant,” she told the panel.

Funk, who wears a headscarf in court in deference to her Muslim client, discussed the torture he claims he was subjected to following his arrest in Thailand and during his time at the CIA black site. She used a few of his sketches presented in court on Thursday to show torture, including waterboarding.

She also released details from a report by expert Hawthorne Smith, who has worked with survivors of torture and human rights abuses for nearly three decades. He found bin Amin suffered from complex PTSD.

“[H]e indicates that Mr. bin Amin has endured symptoms of re-experiencing, such as trauma-related nightmares, sometimes three to four times a week; insomnia and other sleep disturbances; and intrusive thoughts,” Funk said.

A detainee is led by military police to be interrogated at Camp X-Ray, at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Feb. 6, 2002. [Lynne Sladky/AP file photo]

She spoke about bin Amin’s effort to change and the possibility that he be rehabilitated.

Bin Lep attorney Brian Bouffard told the court that his client did provide support to bombing conspirators and has taken responsibility for his actions.

“He is not here to call himself a victim,” Bouffard said, adding bin Lep is not asking for mercy,

He said bin Lep offered prayers as he listened to the survivors’ testimony on Wednesday while adding that those efforts changed nothing in terms of the crime.

Bouffard also said that bin Lep had moved past the torture he suffered while in custody and has cooperated with investigators.

In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, flags fly at half-staff at Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, Aug. 29, 2021. [Alex Brandon/AP]

Brig. Gen. Jackie Thompson, chief counsel for the Military Commissions Defense Council, expressed hope that guilty pleas and subsequent sentencings of bin Amin and bin Lep would bring closure to the victims and their families.

Thompson, who watched the proceedings from the hearing room at the rear of the court, delivered a statement to BenarNews where he noted that the 20-year delay in bringing the men to justice was “extremely distressing and frustrated the desire of everyone for accountability and justice.”

Thompson, who is in charge of the military’s defense attorneys, noted that 30 prisoners remain detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison, including 16 who have been cleared for release or transfer.

“The time for repatriating or transferring the cleared men is now,” he said in the statement.

“A country that respects the rule of law can and should do better than this.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.