Alleged Bali Bomber’s Guantanamo Hearing Viewed at the Pentagon Today

PRB -- Hambali - hambali Riduan Isamuddin

Indonesian born “Hambali”, also known as “Asia’s Osama bin Laden”. He allegedly plotted the 2002 Bali bombing.

One of the 61 detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay is Indonesian-born Riduan Issamuddin, also known as “Hambali” or as “Asia’s Osama bin Laden”. He allegedly plotted the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians and 7 Americans.

This morning Hambali appeared at a formal hearing in which he and his pentagon-appointed personal representatives asked the U.S. government to release him from Guantanamo. The hearing, called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), was held in a back corner of a Guantanamo courtroom, and broadcast by live video-feed to a Pentagon conference room. I and a dozen or so others traveled to the Pentagon and watched and listened.

Who is Hambali

Bali-bombings-in-2002-with-great-destruction

The 2002 Bali nightclub bombing killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Hambali, who is 52 years of age, was born in the small Indonesian village of Sukamanah in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia. As a young adult, he moved to Malaysia, and then, after apparently receiving a calling, fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan and the Philippine army in Mindanao. He eventually became one of the most wanted terrorist suspect in all of Southeast Asia.

Hambali purportedly became operations chief for a militant group known as Jemaah Islamiah (JI). As a senior member of JI, Hambali allegedly served as a liaison between JI and al Qaeda.

Another scene from the Bali bombing.

Another scene from the Bali bombing.

In addition to being an alleged plotter of the Bali nightclub bombing, he is alleged to have plotted the 2003 JW Marriott bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Hambali has also been accused of participating in a plot to put explosives on planes bound for the U.S., and of playing a supporting role (handling some finances) in the 9/11 attacks.

Hambali was arrested in August 2003 in Thailand, and spent over 3 years in CIA custody – in black sites – where he was subjected to nakedness for extended periods, stress positions with hands cuffed to a hook in the ceiling, being blindfolded with a sack over his head, and other tactics.

The 2003 JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia, also caused great destruction.

The 2003 JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia, also caused great destruction.

One might expect Hambali’s “nickname” of Hambali to be linked to Bali, Indonesia, the sight of the horrific 2012 Bali bombing, but that may not be the case.

It has been reported that:

“Security officials in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines add that “Hambali”, a nom de guerre taken from Imam Hambali, a famous 8th-century Islamic saint, is also linked to attacks in the region that started with the Christmas bombings of churches in Indonesia in December 2000 and the subsequent bombings in the Philippines. “ (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/EH19Ae06.html)

A JW Marriott restaurant after the bombing.

A JW Marriott restaurant after the bombing.

The PRB hearing this morning.

 As usual, I arrive at the Pentagon before 8:00 a.m., cleared through the first round of security (badging, metal detectors), and joined a group of other regular observers, waiting for our Periodic Review Secretariat escorts.

The escorts arrived on schedule, ready to take us through the next round of the building’s security, and the maze that leads to the non-descript conference room where Asia’s once most notorious alleged terrorist would appear on TV monitors at 9:00 a.m.

Today there were 5 human rights workers or academics present in our Observer group, along with 4 journalists (al Jazeera, Courthouse News, AP, and Straights Times Singapore). There were no representatives of the Indonesian government there to witness the hearing on behalf of their citizen.

We deposited our cell phones and cameras on a table outside the room, and filed into the room. Some of the Observer have attended dozens of PRBs, and almost have assigned seats in the viewing room.

After we sat, we filled out a form swearing that we had indeed left our cell phones and cameras outside the room.

On a big screen in the front of the room, we watched a few minutes of the History Channel before the conference table phone rang to alert us that the hearing was beginning.

At 9:02, the History Channel was switched off, and all eyes in the room descended upon Hambali, live from the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Hambali sat at the head of a narrow rectangular table, directly facing the camera – that is, directly facing us who were viewing the hearing at the Pentagon. To his right, sitting along the long side of the table, were his two camouflage-clad Pentagon-appointed personal representatives (who also appeared to be the same personal representatives who represented on behalf of the detainee whose PRB I attended 2 days previous, in this same Pentagon room). Directly across from the 2 representatives was the interpreter, with head wrapped so full with a blue flowery scarf that not one inch of her face showed throughout the entire hearing.

One off camera voice, presumably from but not necessarily from Guantanamo, advised on the nature of the hearing, the format, and the short agenda.

Another off camera voice read aloud an “unclassified summary statement” of behavior that Hambali allegedly engaged in, both before he arrived at Guantanamo and after he arrived. (See comment below.)

After the government’s unclassified summary statement, one of the two personal representatives read an opening statement.

After both statements, an off camera voice asked if anyone had any questions. There were none.

The unclassified portion of hearing ended at 9:12, roughly 10 minutes after it started. Observers were invited to leave the conference room, since Observers are not permitted to observe classified portions of the PRB hearings.

Hambali -- Changing facesGovernment’s Unclassified Summary Statement

The government submitted an “unclassified summary” statement, that an off-camera voice read aloud during the hearing.

It listed out a number of unlawful activities allegedly engaged in by Hambali, including associated with the Bali Bombing of 2002, the JW Marriott bombing of 2003, and the 9/11 attacks.

Regarding his behavior while at Guantanamo, the government’s statement noted

[Hambali] has mostly been compliant at Guantanamo Bay, having committed a low number of infractions relative to other detainees. [Hambali] has emerged as a mentor and teacher to his fellow detainees, seemingly exerting influence over them and has been heard promoting violent jihad while leading daily prayers and lectures.

The government’s statement concluded:

We judge that [Hambali] remains steadfast in his support for extremist causes and his hatred for the US. He most likely would look for ways to reconnect with his Indonesian and Malaysian cohorts or attract a new set of followers if he were transferred from Guantanamo Bay. He is close to his family and probably would quickly contact them as well, but we do not know if they would be able to support him financially. Hambali’s younger brother Rusman Gunawan has emerged as part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s(ISIL) Indonesia-based network.

Personal Representatives’ Opening Statement

 The Personal Representative Opening Statement of the two personal representatives is reproduced here in its entirety:

PERIODIC REVIEW BOARD INITIAL HEARING, 18 AUG 2016 ENCEP NURJAMAN HAMBALI, ISN 10019

PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OPENING STATEMENT

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the Board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN 10019, Encep Nurjaman Hambali.

Hambali has attended all scheduled meetings. During these meetings he has been respectful and energetic. He has been most enthused about his PRB. He always smiles and never hesitates to answer any questions we have.

During his time in detention he has learned English, some from his interaction with JTF Staff and some from Rosetta Stone. He also taught himself Arabic, which he then held classes to help teach his fellow detainees.  He went so far as to have homework and tests for them.  His father and uncles were all teachers, so it came naturally for him.

When programs were offered, he was eager to attend. He enjoys watching the programs Planet Life, Blue Planet and also enjoys the great courses on DVD’s.

Hambali has stated he has no ill will towards the U.S. He believes America has diversity and sharing of power which is much better than a dictatorship. He states that he wants nothing more than to move on with his life and be peaceful.  He hopes to remarry and have children to raise.

We stand ready to answer any questions you may have.

 Observations of Hambali at today’s PRB hearing

Since Hambali was arrested in Thailand in 2003 – when he was held for over 3 years in CIA black sites and over 9 years at Guantanamo – virtually no members of the public have seen Hambali. Photographs of him are not permitted. Even if those of us who have seen him at hearings were permitted to sketch him, there would not enough time, given that, for example, today’s hearing last only 10 minutes.

But I can say that Hambali appeared to be of sturdy build, with a full face covered with a healthy but medium-length beard, ¼ of which was dark and close to his skin, with the remaining white or gray barely touching his upper chest when he leaned forward. His sideburns appeared to be tufted, and not as full as his beard, mixed mostly dark with some white.

His hair was dark, stylish, parted on the left, with windows of slight recession on the left and right forehead.

He wore dark Clark Kent eyeglass, that gave the impression of being thick, and his eyebrows rose above the rims, whether he was looking down at his papers or whether he was looking up towards the camera, as he occasionally did.

Hambali wore a short sleeved white top, and sat erect, though he leaned slightly forward throughout the hearing, except for when he occasionally reached down to touch his left thigh or leg. Was he in pain or just uncomfortable? He did not shift around in his chair, as some detainees have done at their PRBs.

His eyes focused intently on a small stack of white and yellow papers he shifted from one stack to the other, and back again, even while the interpreter was speaking to him in a language he understood. On the one hand, it looked like he was following the proceedings intently, with a serious, firm face. But, that face continued whether an off camera voice was speaking in English, his representative was speaking English, or the interpreter was speaking his own language.

A narrow, stream of light shined vertically down the large viewing screen today, whispering through cracked blinds of the Pentagon room. Note to self – ask if the blinds can be totally shut for the PRB hearing next Tuesday – for Abu Zubaydah, who as a high value detainee has also not been seen by any member of the public in over a decade.

Next steps

The PRB – which comprises one representative each from the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice and Defense; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Security – will deliberate and determine whether they believe that Hambali poses a threat to the national security of the U.S.

The PRB will likely render its assessment soon. You can check www.prs.mil (under “initial reviews”) for updates.

When the PRB assess whether Hambali poses a significant threat to the national security of the U.S., how much deference will the PRB give to the following portion of the government’s unclassified statement?

We judge that [Hambali] remains steadfast in his support for extremist causes and his hatred for the US. He most likely would look for ways to reconnect with his Indonesian and Malaysian cohorts or attract a new set of followers if he were transferred from Guantanamo Bay. He is close to his family and probably would quickly contact them as well, but we do not know if they would be able to support him financially. Hambali’s younger brother Rusman Gunawan has emerged as part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s(ISIL) Indonesia-based network.

We will need to wait until the PRB posts its decision on http://www.prs.mil.

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