GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba – Translation and interpretation difficulties delayed on Monday by a day of military efforts to formally indict three Southeast Asian men — who had been detained by the United States for 18 years — for conspiracy to commit deadly terrorist bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2003 .
Prosecutors charge the three inmates – Encep Nurjaman, known as Hambali; Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep; and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin – of murder, terrorism and conspiracy in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people, and the 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, which killed at least 11 people and injured at least 80.
Defense lawyers have called them torture victims who spent about three years in the secret CIA prison network, where agents used waterboarding, sleep deprivation, beatings, painful shackles and other now banned “enhanced interrogation techniques” to extract information from their prisoners.
In 2003, a CIA interrogator told Mr. Hambali that he would never go to court because “we can never let the world know what I did to you,” according to a study of the CIA program released by Senate Intelligence. committee in December 2014.
Monday’s formal indictment was intended as a crossroads of sorts, the start of proceedings in a case approved on January 21, the first full day of President Biden’s administration, by a Trump administration appointee — and with six months postponed due to pandemic restrictions.
The proceedings were ultimately the latest example of the delays that have plagued Guantánamo’s judicial system, nearly 20 years after it was chosen to detain those detained after the September 11 attacks and in the global effort to track down terrorists. .
All three men have been in U.S. custody since 2003 and are being held in Guantanamo as members of Jemaah Islamiyah, an extremist group in Southeast Asia. Mr Hambali, who is Indonesian, is accused of allying with the global jihad of Osama bin Laden and of sending Mr. Bin Amin and Mr. Bin Lep, former architecture students who met at university in Malaysia, to to train in Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
Translation and technical issues were apparent from the start. A lawyer pointed out that an inmate had mentioned “Google” in a comment in Malay to the judge, but the court interpreter did not name the search engine in an English translation. The Indonesian translator changed ‘legal training’ in English to ‘training legal’ in Bahasa Indonesian.
Defense attorneys said with alarm that all three defendants had a “Mr. Singh”, a translator with whom they each had confidential conversations as they prepared for their release through a review committee hearing, sitting next to the chief prosecutor in the court on Monday, now working for the prosecution.
Lawyers for the three detainees also told the judge that in 2020 the court’s official Indonesian translator believed that “the government is wasting money on these terrorists; they should have been killed a long time ago,” he added that they had an affidavit from a witness who heard the comment. Prosecutors are demanding life sentences in the case.
Mr Bin Lep’s lawyer Brian Bouffard declared the Indonesian-American contract translator “irreparably biased”. Mr. Bin Amin’s lawyer, Christine Funk, questioned why the prosecutors needed an interpreter at all during the hearing: “Are they spying on us? I do not know.”
The trial judge, Navy Cmdr. Hayes C. Larsen, tried to fix the problems. He gave the court’s official translation team a 10-minute break every 20 minutes. He told defense attorneys to file legal motions if they believed there were interpretation issues that required solutions. And he postponed the reading of the indictment until Tuesday, which was the reason for Monday’s hearing.
Defense attorneys, both civilian and military, and all paid for by the Pentagon, described the case as still in its infancy. Prosecutors, they said, had provided perhaps 2 percent of the pre-trial documents to be used in the case, including reports of FBI interrogations of the detainees in 2007, shortly after they were transferred to military custody by the CIA. Prosecutors declined to comment.
Hambali’s attorney, James R. Hodes, called the case “absurd,” in part because of his client’s long detention and the nearly two-decade delay in filing charges against him. He told reporters before the hearing that Mr. Hambali had been “battered” and had spent at least half of his detention in solitary confinement. He said the prisoner was owed “apologies” and repatriation, “not to be held in a cage on a Caribbean island.”
Hearings in Guantánamo have mainly been held between English and Arabic, but have also faced translation issues. In 2015, one of the men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks blurted out a translator’s name in court — revealing that the linguist had previously worked for the CIA on a black site, exposing his identity and week of hearings derailed .
It has apparently proved even more challenging to find US translators with top-secret security clearances who speak Southeast Asian languages. The Senate study on the CIA’s interrogation program quoted a January 2004 telegram from a secret detention site saying that “Mr. Bin Lep’s English is very bad, and we don’t have a Malay linguist.”