Pre-trial hearings resume for SE Asian suspects held at Guantanamo

John Bechtel
Fort Meade, United States
Pre-trial hearings resume for SE Asian suspects held at Guantanamo Brian Bouffard (right), the attorney for Malaysian defendant Mohammed Nazir bin Lep, and Christine Funk, the attorney for Malaysian defendant Mohammed Farik bin Amin, speak with reporters after an arraignment hearing, Aug. 30, 2021, in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.
[Alex Brandon/AP]

Prosecutors preparing a case against three Southeast Asians incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay will finish sharing evidence with defense attorneys in January 2024, lawyers said Monday, illustrating the glacial pace of progress toward trial for men held at the controversial prison since 2006.

Indonesian Encep Nurjaman (also known as Hambali) and Malaysians Nazir bin Lep and Farik bin Amin were present in the courtroom at the U.S. military facility in Cuba for proceedings witnessed by reporters via video link to Fort Meade, a military base about an hour northeast of Washington. The men face charges linked to terrorist bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2003.

Lead prosecutor Col. George C. Kraehe said his team was seeking to “get this case tried on the merits by March 2025.”

Earlier, Brian Bouffard, who represents bin Lep, questioned the government’s pace in presenting evidence to the defense teams. Lawyers for bin Amin and Nurjaman raised similar issues.

“We are trying to uncover the reasons for delay after delay after delay,” Bouffard told the court.

Military Judge Hayes C. Larsen noted the defense concerns about late filings.

Kraehe said his team was working to gather evidence for the trial, adding that it was working on this even during the hearing.

“This is not unusual in a national security case,” he said.

Kraehe said that about 90% of the evidence had been turned over to the defense, and the remaining 10% was highly classified. Because of that, steps need to be taken before it is turned over to defense, he said, adding that he expected to finish doing so by late January 2024.

Referred to as “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents” in some court documents, Nurjaman, bin Amin and bin Lep face charges related to twin bombings that killed 202 people in Bali in October 2002 – Indonesia’s deadliest terror attack to date –  and a bombing at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003.

Following their 2003 arrests in Thailand, the three were sent to secret CIA black sites before being moved to the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2006. A U.S. Senate report released in 2014 found that each was tortured during his time in the black sites.

Interpretation issues

Monday’s hearing – the first of three days scheduled – began with prosecutors questioning Larsen, who will be leaving the bench in June to assume command of the Navy’s Defense Service Office West. He said he did not have any information about who would take over the trial.

Twenty minutes into the hearing, Bouffard and Christine Funk, who represents bin Amin, complained – as they have done throughout the legal process – of inadequate translation services, saying their clients were hearing Bahasa Indonesia interpretation instead of their national language, Bahasa Malaysia.

Later, the two lawyers told Larsen that English words were being intermixed with the translations.

“It’s a tired refrain,” Larsen responded, dismissing the complaint.

During their two-day August 2021 arraignment, lawyers for the three men spent much of the time protesting before Larsen regarding the poor quality of interpreting.

Larsen ordered military prosecutors to hire and assign qualified interpreters for any upcoming court action.


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