Hambali faces “not great, not horrific” conditions as the trial looms

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Medan, Indonesia – Conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp have been described to Al Jazeera as “not great, but not horrible” by the attorney for Indonesian detainee Encep Nurjaman alias Hambali who has been held at the United States-run facility for the past 17 years .

Hambali is due back in court April 24 on charges of masterminding a string of deadly attacks in Indonesia that killed US citizens and targeted US interests, including the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 200 people , and the 2003 attack on JW Marriott in which 11 people died.

Two Malaysians – Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin – will be tried with him before a military commission.

In legal documents seen by Al Jazeera, the U.S. government charges that Hambali “killed 211 individuals, seriously injured at least 31 other individuals, and committed multiple other crimes under the laws of war.”

Detainees held at Guantanamo – a US base on the Caribbean island of Cuba – are considered “enemy combatants” by US authorities and tried in military courts that deny them the constitutional rights of those tried on US soil.

Even after more than 20 years in operation, little is known about the lives of those held there. Members of the media are barred from speaking directly with the detainees and must request special permission to attend hearings at the military commissions – only some of which are considered “open to the public”.

Aside from attending the hearings in person, the media can only observe the Guantanamo judicial proceedings via a secure video link at Fort Meade, a military installation in Maryland, which also requires pre-approved permission.

Al Jazeera has been trying to interview Hambali for nearly a year and has been sending questions to his legal team about his life in the camp. The team is led by James Hodes who has represented it for the past three years.

Hodes told Al Jazeera that many attorneys representing Guantanamo detainees work for the Department of Defense (DOD), but many were also “recruited from civilian life to work on these cases.” Some are government-paid contractors, but not government employees, he added.

“My impression, not necessarily from conversations with my client, is that the detainees are still subject to certain restrictions, but that Hambali and the other detainees have the opportunity to pray and exercise their right to freedom of religion .” Hodes told Al Jazeera.

“I also understand that Hambali was doing his best to observe Ramadan, was fasting in the camp and was allowed to do so.”

James Hodes, who leads the Hambali defense team.  He wears a suit and tie and sits in an office.
James Hodes leads the Hambali defense team at the military commission at Guantanamo [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

In previous years, ex-detainees have alleged that they are not allowed to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

Hambali was first captured in Thailand’s Ayutthaya in 2003 before being taken to alleged CIA black sites in Morocco and Romania, where he was tortured, according to a 2014 U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report, popularly known as like the Torture Report.

He was transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, once home to nearly 800 people, and is one of only 30 left.

Of those remaining, 12 have been charged, including Hambali and his two co-defendants.

The US government has long been accused of outlawing the facility and undermining detainees’ right to due process.

“The truth is that it is a complex issue of history and politics,” human rights lawyer and national security scholar Michel Paradis, who also represented Guantanamo detainees, told Al Jazeera. “The government has claimed that Guantanamo is a foreign country for the purposes of US law.”

He added that this means that the applicability of basic things, such as due process under the Constitution, is unclear on the principle that US laws generally do not apply abroad.

“So when it comes to the right to due process under the U.S. Constitution, it remains an open question whether the military commissions are acting lawfully or whether a conviction obtained in violation of those guarantees of due process will be overturned. handled when it gets to federal court,” he said.

Hambali and his legal team have always denied having prior knowledge of the Bali bombing plot.

Those directly involved in the attack have told Al Jazeera that, as far as they knew, the bombing was planned by senior Jemaah Islamiyah members Ali Ghufron and Imam Samudra. Both men were executed in Indonesia after being found guilty of masterminding the bombing along with a third Jemaah Islamiyah member, Amrozi, in 2008.

Men and women pray as they remember those who died in the Bali bombings 20 years ago
People commemorate the victims of the Bali bombings on the 20th anniversary of the attack last October. Hambali has been charged for his alleged role in the attack [File: Nyoman Hendra Wibowo/Antara via Reuters]

In 2021, the US government formally charged Hambali, Bin Lep and Bin Amin, though they have rarely appeared in court since then, with hearings that were due to take place last year being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hambali is believed to have contracted the virus himself in late January this year after what sources told Al Jazeera described as “a massive outbreak” among detainees.

A good cook

Over the years, Guantanamo has come under scrutiny for its inhumane treatment of detainees, including the use of torture techniques such as sensory deprivation, most notably at Camp 7, which was closed in 2021 over concerns about the condition of the building that reportedly flooded with sewage. and suffered repeated power cuts.

Detainees are now held in Camp 5 and Camp 6, the latter for so-called low-value detainees and the former for high-value detainees—a designation given to prisoners who have gone through the CIA’s torture program.

Many of those men are growing old, with health problems exacerbated by the abuse they endured over the decades.

Patrick Hamilton, the head of the US-Canada delegation to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said Friday that for those still detained at Guantanamo, “physical and mental health needs are increasing and becoming increasingly challenging.”

Hodes said he believed life in the camp had become a little less rigid since the closure of Camp 7 and detainees were now given a degree of autonomy over meals and were allowed to attend religious occasions.

“My impression is that they regularly receive food from the galley. The government is making every effort, we believe, to ensure that the food is halal,” he said.

“I believe that Hambali is able to recondition the food and use some of the raw ingredients to make Indonesian dishes. By all accounts, it is common knowledge in the camp that Hambali is a good cook.”

Monday’s hearings will focus on, among other things, finding suitable interpreters for the men, as well as alleged delays by the prosecution team in the discovery process in which evidence should be exchanged between the parties.

For reasons still unexplained, the hearings, originally scheduled for two weeks through early May, have been reduced to just one week.

Hodes told Al Jazeera he was not informed of the reason for the change.

For their part, Indonesian authorities have said that Hambali is not considered an Indonesian citizen as he was traveling on a Spanish passport when he was arrested in Thailand.

In 2016, the then coordinating minister of political, legal and security affairs, Luhut Pandjaitan, said Indonesia had no plans to repatriate Hambali from Guantanamo.

Until a solution is found or the legal process is completed, Hodes says Hambali will continue to do his best to live as normal a life as possible within the limits of his situation.

“It is my understanding that he is doing his best to exercise and that he has access to items such as exercise bikes in camp,” he said.

“It is a truth that he is trying to live with dignity in a terrible situation.”

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