US Judge Postpones Court Date of Bali Bombing Suspects, Citing Pandemic

Shailaja Neelakantan
US Judge Postpones Court Date of Bali Bombing Suspects, Citing Pandemic A guard opens the gate at the entrance to Camp VI, a prison used to house detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, March 5, 2013.

Citing coronavirus health risks, a judge indefinitely postponed the appearance in a U.S. military court of a Guantanamo prisoner accused of masterminding the 2002 Bali bombings and two Malaysians to answer terror-related charges, the Office of Military Commissions said Wednesday.

Indonesian national Hambali, whose real name is Encep Nurjaman, along with Malaysians Mohammad Nazir Lep and Mohd Farik Bin Amin, were earlier scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 22 at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Col. Charles L. Pritchard, the judge assigned to the case, noted in his ruling on Tuesday that it was risky for lawyers and court personnel to travel to the base amid the pandemic, Ron Flesvig, spokesman for the Office of Military Commissions, told BenarNews.

“The military judge in the case of U.S. v. Nurjaman, et al, has continued the arraignment scheduled for February 22,” the Office of Military Commission said in an email.

“The judge’s ruling … indicated that the risk to the health and safety of participants in the arraignment due to the global COVID-19 pandemic is high and that, under the circumstances, a continuance of the arraignment is reasonable. The Commission did not provide a new date for the arraignment.”

A continuance is the legal term for a postponement.

Among other reasons cited by the judge for delaying the arraignment were that not everyone had been vaccinated against the coronavirus and the plan to inoculate detainees had been suspended, Flesvig said.

The judge further ruled that it might be more reasonable for all those involved in the case to travel at the end of the summer, Flesvig added.

The team of one of the defendants had requested a postponement because of the pandemic, Flesvig said.

The prosecution had joined that request and asked for a 40-day postponement, “in light of the evolving efforts by the federal government to fight the pandemic and update health protection policy to meet changing conditions.”

The three accused, 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 last week.

On Jan. 21, the Pentagon announced plans to go ahead with their military trial. A week later, Col. Pritchard had set Feb. 22 as the date for them to answer the terrorism-related charges.

Hambali faces eight charges while the Malaysians face nine, according to charge sheets uploaded online by the Office of Military Commissions.

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 U.S. Department of Defense (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.

Indonesia blamed JI for 2002 Bali attack

A 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 – the deadliest terrorist attack to date in Indonesia.

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.

On Jan. 22, Malaysia’s counterterror chief told BenarNews that the country 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.

But, Achmad Michdan, an Indonesian lawyer who represents Hambali, told BenarNews he would like to see the trial moved from the U.S. base in Cuba.

He said the Indonesian government had stated in the past that Hambali was stateless 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.


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