Malaysian defendant’s brothers arrive at Guantanamo court, plan to offer testimony

John Bechtel
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Malaysian defendant’s brothers arrive at Guantanamo court, plan to offer testimony In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, the control tower of the Camp VI detention facility is seen at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, April 17, 2019.
Alex Brandon/AP

On the first day of a sentencing hearing at Guantanamo Bay for two Malaysians who have pleaded guilty to murder tied to the 2002 Bali bombings, the attorney for defendant Mohammed bin Amin announced Tuesday that two of his brothers would be testifying on his behalf.

Later in the day, at about 1:22 p.m., Faizal and Fadil bin Amin entered the hearing room at Camp Justice, the military court at the U.S. naval base here. The pair, who wore winter jackets despite a temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31.1 Celsius) outside the air-conditioned room, said they were surprised to be in Cuba to speak on their brother’s behalf.

“We didn’t expect to be here today,” one of them could be heard telling a military officer.

While the whole court was visible in a room that was glassed off to reporters covering the hearing, TV screens showed the closed-circuit broadcast proceedings on a 40-second delay for security concerns. Military officials also prohibited photography in the courtroom.

Last week, bin Amin and fellow Malaysian co-defendant Mohammed bin Lep pleaded guilty in the same courtroom to murder, conspiracy and three other charges in connection with Indonesia’s deadliest-ever terrorist attack, the October 2002 bombings that killed 202 people in Bali. Judge Wesley Braun, a U.S. Air Force officer, recommended then they serve 20 to 25 years in prison and be repatriated or released to a third country.

On Tuesday, Braun oversaw proceedings that led to the selection of a panel of five military officers and three alternates to determine the fate of the two men. The panel is not required to agree to Braun’s recommendation.

After they were arrested in Thailand in 2003, bin Lep and bin Amin were sent to CIA black sites at unknown locations before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006 where they have been detained for more than 17 years. 

The two men were brought to the U.S. Navy base here in the same year as Encep Nurjaman, an Indonesian national also known as Hambali, who had also been sent to black sites after his arrest in Thailand in 2003. 

He is suspected to have been the main planner of the Bali bombings. The three Southeast Asians originally were to be tried together at Guantanamo but Hambali’s case was separated from the Malaysians’ case in 2023. 

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.

Surprise appearance

On Jan. 18, a deputy prosecutor told Braun that bin Amin’s brothers had not been able to obtain visas to travel to the U.S. from Malaysia, adding that efforts continued to get the proper documentation or to get their statements on the record via another way.

Bin Amin’s lead lawyer, Christine 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,” she said. “We continue to be hopeful as well as frustrated.”

On Tuesday, frustration turned to smiles as bin Amin realized his brothers were with him – although separated by glass encasing the hearing room. The defendant broke into a smile several times as he looked back at his brothers. Co-defendant bin Lep looked back and smiled as well.

Before selecting the panel, Funk told the court her defense team would be presenting 25 pieces of evidence including bin Amin’s five-page statement, pictures and a series of character statements from people close to him.

Bin Lep’s lead attorney, Brian Bouffard, announced that his only piece of evidence was his client’s statement.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said that they planned to call 11 witnesses to make victim impact statements on Wednesday along with dozens of written statements.


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