2 Malaysian inmates at Guantanamo to be sentenced, possibly released

John Bechtel
Fort Meade, United States
2 Malaysian inmates at Guantanamo to be sentenced, possibly released In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, the Office of Military Commissions building used for Periodic Review Board hearings is seen at U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, April 19, 2019.
Alex Brandon/AP file photo

A judge at a U.S. military court in Guantanamo Bay has recommended that two Malaysians who pleaded guilty to the 2002 Bali bombings serve 20 to 25 years in prison and be repatriated or released to a third country.

The fate of Mohammed bin Lep, 47, and Mohammed bin Amin, 48 – who have been incarcerated at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba for 17 years – will be determined during a sentencing hearing scheduled to begin there next week.

Their sentencing will mark only the second military trial to be completed at the controversial prison set up by the United States at Guantanamo in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. 

Judge Wesley Braun, a U.S. Air Force officer hearing the case, noted on Wednesday that their plea agreements include a provision allowing live testimony or written statements from victims and relatives or people who were killed in the deadliest terror attack ever to hit Indonesia, which claimed 202 lives. 

“If a witness shows up, a victim shows up live, and wishes to testify under oath about their feelings about what happened and the loss of their family member, I don’t think I can object to that,” said Christine Funk, a civilian attorney leading the legal team representing bin Amin, according to a transcript.

Eighty-eight of the victims were Australians. The Bali attack, in October 2002, was blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian branch of al-Qaeda.  

The plea agreements call for allowing the Malaysians to present three live witnesses – an expert consultant, a family member and a lay witness. It also said bin Amin and bin Lep could enter an unsworn statement during the sentencing hearing that would not be subject to cross examination but could be rebutted by military prosecutors.

According to a news report, which BenarNews could not immediately verify, the two Malaysians as part of a plea deal agreed to testify against Encep Nurjaman, an Indonesian national and fellow inmate at Guantanamo also known as Hambali, who is suspected to have been the main planner of the Bali bombings.

On Thursday, a deputy prosecutor told Braun that defense witnesses had not been able to obtain visas to travel from Malaysia. They said efforts continued to get the proper documentation or take other steps to get their statements on the record.

Funk expressed frustration, noting that the defense teams had worked for months to get clearance for defense witnesses.

“One simply cannot get on a plane and fly to Guantanamo,” the lawyer said. “We continue to be hopeful as well as frustrated.”

People pray for the Bali bombing victims during the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the twin attacks that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, including 88 Australians and seven Americans, at the Bali Bombing Memorial Monument in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, Oct. 12, 2022. [Firdia Lisnawati/AP]

On Tuesday, the Malaysians, who have been housed at Guantanamo Bay since 2006, pleaded guilty to murder in the Bali bombings along with four other charges. Those charges are intentionally causing serious bodily injury and destruction of property in Bali, conspiracy and accessory after the fact.

The charges carry maximum sentences of life in prison, but Braun said he expected to ask the sentencing board of military members to impose lighter terms under terms of their plea agreement.

“[T]he agreement states that you agree that you and the government will jointly request that I instruct the members, prior to deliberation, that the sentence to confinement must be at least 20 years and may not exceed 25 years,” the judge told them during courtroom deliberations on Wednesday.

He also asked if they were aware they could “face repatriation or transfer of you to a third-party sovereign state after your guilty plea is entered under this agreement. Under such transfer, you will cooperate with any such nation’s conditions and procedures.”

“[D]o you understand that the convening authority has no power to control the location or conditions of your detention or confinement, or otherwise release you from military or civilian detention after taking action in this commission?”

Bin Amin and bin Lep pleaded not guilty to a similar murder charge related to the Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta in 2003, along with attempted murder, terrorism and two charges related to attacking civilians. 

Prosecutors on Thursday said those charges would be dropped following completion of the sentencing.

This week's hearing in Guantanamo was broadcast via a video link to reporters covering it from Fort Meade, a U.S. Army base in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C.

A U.S. C-141 aircraft approaches the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba bringing in a second group of Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners from Afghanistan, Jan. 14, 2002. [Rafael Perez/Reuters file photo]

Previously, only one of the nearly 800 prisoners who have been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002 has been found guilty at a military trial, according to The New York Times. In July 2023, an appeals court turned down a request by a Yemeni man to have a new military jury reconsider his life sentence following his 2008 conviction. 

Today, about 30 detainees remain at the prison.

CIA black site

Arrested in Thailand in 2003, bin Lep and bin Amin, along with Hambali, were sent to CIA black sites where they were tortured, according to a 2014 U.S. Senate report. They have been held at the military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, following their transfer in 2006.

In the cases of the three Southeast Asians, the wheels of justice have moved very slowly. It was only in August 2021 – 15 years after they were sent to Guantanamo – that they finally got their first day in court.

Last year, the cases against the Malaysians were separated from the case against Hambali. James Hodes, a lawyer representing the Indonesian, has said he does not expect his client to be offered a plea agreement.

In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, a detainee whose identity could not be revealed is transported by Navy personnel into a building within the grounds of the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, April 5, 2006. [Brennan Linsley/AP, Pool]

Prior to accepting their guilty pleas, Braun on Wednesday asked them if they were aware of Hambali’s role in the attack.

Braun got bin Amin to say he was aware of Hambali through reading on the internet and a Time magazine article.

Hambali appeared on the April 1, 2002, cover of the Asian edition of Time magazine, six months before the Bali attack. The cover carried the headline: “The Life and Times of Asia’s Terror Kingpin.”

A story headlined “Asia’s Terror Threat,” appeared in the Oct. 13, 2003, edition following his Aug. 11, 2003, capture in Thailand.

Charging documents filed against the three state that at the end of 2001, “including the periods before, during, and after the October 12, 2002, Bali bombings,” bin Lep and bin Amin helped Nurjaman “transfer money for operations, and obtain and store items such as fraudulent identification documents, weapons and instructions on how to make bombs.” 

Those documents state that a suicide bomber walked into Paddy’s Bar in Bali on Oct. 12, 2002, and detonated a vest while a second suicide bomber drove an “explosives-laden” van to a location near the Sari Club before detonating the bomb. 

A third bomb was remotely detonated near the U.S. Consulate. Seven U.S. citizens were killed in the attacks.


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