Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

Medan, Indonesia Nasir Abbas, a former member of the Indonesian hardline group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), describes fellow recruit Encep Nurjaman as “typically Javanese”.

Nurjaman, better known by his nom de guerre Hambali as well as by the alias Riduan Isamuddin, was “polite”, “gentle” and “proper”, Abbas told Al Jazeera, remembering the time when the two men were part of it. of one of the most terrifying groups in Southeast Asia.

Hambali and Abbas both trained together in military battles in Afghanistan in the 1990s, before joining JI, which the US government described as a terrorist organization after the group claimed a series of attacks across Indonesia in the early 2000s. , including the Bali bombing in 2002, which left more than 200 people dead.

“He was so eloquent and so smart. You could not help but be left with a good impression of him, “said Abbas, who worked with the authorities after his arrest and is now working on deradicalisation programs for the Indonesian government.

The United States did not feel that way.

Hambali, now 57, has spent the past 16 years at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and has been described by former US President George W Bush as “one of the world’s deadliest terrorists”.

Former US President George W Bush in uniform and in front of a US flag is Hambali's arrestThen US President George W Bush praised Hambal’s arrest and called him ‘one of the world’s deadliest terrorists’. [File: Rick Wilking/Reuters]

Twenty years since the first detainees were sent to Guantánamo, Hambali remains one of 39 men still detained there.

Of 800 in jail in the facility since it opened, only 12 have been charged with war crimes and have stood, or will stand, at the facility’s Camp Justice before a military commission. Hambali, who is charged with murder, terrorism and conspiracy, is one of them.

“The view of the United States government is that the individuals who are generally in Guantanamo, but also when they are charged in the military commissions, are a category of what are called illegal fighters,” said Michel Paradis, ‘ a human rights lawyer, national security legislation said. scholar and lecturer at Columbia Law School in New York.

“Hambali is, according to the government, a fighter in the war on terror and can be prosecuted as such for war crimes.”

In court documents seen by Al Jazeera, these war crimes are linked to the 2002 bombings in Bali, which targeted people enjoying an evening out in the island’s bustling Kuta district, and a 2003 attack on the island. JW Marriott Hotel in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, in which 12 people died. Hundreds were injured in both Jakarta and Bali.

Hambali will stand trial along with two Malaysians and alleged “accomplices” – Mohammed Nazir bin Lep and Mohammed Farik bin Amin – but some question whether they will be able to get a fair trial.

“A recurring feature of the War on Terror was the call for terrorism as an unprecedented and exceptional act. This is despite the fact that it is a repetitive strategy used by a variety of groups, movements and governments throughout history, ”Ian Wilson, a senior lecturer in politics and security studies at Australia’s Murdoch University, told Al Jazeera said.

“This’exceptional’ nature has been used to rationalize measures that circumvent or deny existing legal and legal frameworks, including those enshrined in constitutions, such as rights to due process and presumption of innocence. This ‘state of exception’ in response to the perceived risk and threat of terrorism has led to significant deterioration in the rule of law, and large fluctuations to illiberalism in democratic states.

Wilson says Guantánamo Bay is an example of this approach – a place considered by Washington as “exceptional sovereignty”, but also portrayed somewhere as outside the formal legal jurisdiction of the United States.


Prisoners like Hambali were not only denied the legal rights and due process that would be granted to them by the constitution in a trial on American soil, but also the rights in the Geneva Conventions given to those tried for war crimes.

Hambali has claimed through his lawyers that he was brutally tortured after his arrest in Thailand in 2003, after which he says he was transferred to a secret detention camp run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and tortured as part of the agency’s version. , Detention and Interrogation Program (RDI) sometimes referred to as the “torture program”.

Encep Nurjamen, also known as Hambali, pictured at Guantanamo in a white robe and short gray beardEncep Nurjamen, also known as Hambali, in an undated photo provided by the Federal Public Defenders Office at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba [File: Federal Public Defender’s Office via AP Photo]

The policy was adopted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, with then-President Bush agreeing that certain torture techniques could be justified if they were able to extract intelligence that would prevent other attacks against the country. . Under international law, torture is never justified.

According to Hambali’s lawyer, the Indonesian was stripped naked as part of the program, deprived of food and sleep and stood in stressful positions – such as kneeling on the floor with his hands above his head – for hours.

He was also allegedly subjected to “walling” – a torture technique where interrogators place a collar around a detainee’s neck and bump their head against a wall.

Other Guantanamo detainees described their whereabouts sexually assaulted and water boarding while in custody.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has investigated the CIA’s extradition program amid persistent allegations of torture at Guantanamo and other so-called CIA black sites around the world.

The report, released in 2014, found that the torture techniques used – euphemistically referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques” – were not only inhuman but also ineffective in obtaining intelligence.

The majority of the detainees, including Hambali, gave incorrect information to the authorities simply to stop the torture, the report said.

“He provided the false information in an attempt to reduce the pressure on himself … and to give an account consistent with what [Hambali] judge the questioners wanted to hear, ”reads the report, referring to a CIA cable.

‘The worst of two worlds’

During his time with Jemaah Islamiyah, which was affiliated with al-Qaeda, Hambali, according to Abbas, was mostly described as a “money man”.

Its main role was to raise and distribute funds from the organization’s numerous donors, including al-Qaeda’s former leader, Osama Bin Laden, who allegedly sent money for the Bali bombing directly to Hambali.

An Indonesian police officer looks at the bouquets of white flowers left at the mutilated signboard of Jakarta's JW Marriott hotel while prayers were said for those killed in the August 2003 bombing.Hambali is accused of involvement in the 2003 attacks on the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta and the Bali bombings the year before, which together killed more than 200 people. [File: Weda/EPA]

In Abbas’ account, however, Hambali agreed with Bin Laden that civilians could be targeted in terrorist attacks, something that was extremely controversial among other JI operators, many of whom viewed only military targets as a fair game.

“We were trained in a military environment in Afghanistan with military knowledge and I was not comfortable with attacking civilian targets,” Abbas said.

“I would not allow it. No one involved in the Bali bombing was brave enough to ask me anything. They knew I would never agree to the killing of civilians. “Those who did agree were deceived and I told them so.”

Three of the main perpetrators of the Bali bombing have been sentenced to death in Indonesia and executed, while a fourth offender, Ali Imron, was sentenced to life in prison after apologizing and repenting.

Imron has always maintained Hambali had no prior knowledge of the attack.

Twenty years since the bombings – the worst in Southeast Asia – Abbas says he feels his former comrade should be sent back to Indonesia for trial.

This is a view shared by Indonesian human rights lawyer Ranto Sibarani who says the Indonesian government should have tried to negotiate its repatriation.

“No matter how serious the accusations or charges against Hambali are, he is still an Indonesian citizen who deserves legal protection,” Sibarani told Al Jazeera in August.

“This is a big question that is going to arise over the trial,” Paradis said. “Does the United States even have the authority to prosecute him? “Terrorism is not a war crime.”

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice and Defense described the military commissions as “fair, efficient, and legal.”

“Military commissions have been used by the United States to prosecute those who have violated the law of war for more than two centuries,” it said in a press release.

Ali Imronm, dressed in white shorts and escorted by two police officers, was convicted in the Bali bombings in an Indonesian courtIndonesia has prosecuted other suspects for the Bali bombings and sentenced three to death. A fourth, Ali Imron (pictured), was sentenced to life in prison after apologizing and repenting [File: Widhia/EPA]

No date has been set for Hambali’s trial, but many are pessimistic about how the legal process will proceed once the commission finally gets underway.

“The military trials are fatally flawed and the legal process has been thoroughly jeopardized by the CIA torture program,” Quinton Temby, an assistant professor of public policy at Monash University, Indonesia, told Al Jazeera.

“This is the worst of two worlds: the detainees will not receive a fair trial and the families of victims will not be held accountable in the open court.”

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