End 22 Years Of Injustice

At Guantánamo, Accomplices in the 2002 Bali Bombings Reach A Plea Deal, May Be Released By 2029

Mohammed Farik Bin Amin and Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, photographed at Guantánamo.

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By Andy Worthington, February 24, 2024

Last month, two men that almost no one has heard of — despite them being held and tortured in CIA "black sites" for three years, and then held at Guantánamo for over 17 years — entered guilty pleas in their military commission trial at the war court on the grounds of the U.S. military base in Cuba where the prison is located.

The two men are Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, 47, and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, 48, the only two Malaysians held at Guantánamo. Designated as "high-value detainees," they were brought to Guantánamo in September 2006 with 12 other "high-value detainees," who had also been held and tortured for years in CIA "black sites."

However, like most of these 14 men, their stories are largely unknown to the majority of U.S. citizens, and to the majority of those in the U.S. who claim to be journalists, even though, if we were to attach a Bush administration-approved description to them, it would be that they were, allegedly, "the worst of the worst of the worst."

If pushed, people might remember that the alleged architect of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), is one of these 14 men, and those paying slightly more attention might recall that four other men have been charged alongside KSM, and that another man, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, has been charged in connection with the bombing of the USS Cole, in 2000, in which 17 U.S. sailors were killed.

Some people might also remember the story of Majid Khan, a Pakistani national and former U.S. resident, who had been prevailed upon to become an Al-Qaeda courier at a low point in his life, after the death of his mother. Khan had, from the moment of his capture in March 2003, expressed overwhelming remorse for his actions, and had agreed to a plea deal in February 2012, in which, in exchange for his full cooperation with the U.S. authorities regarding future trials, he had been promised that he would be freed in ten years. That timescale slipped slightly, but in February 2023 — eleven months late — he was finally freed and resettled in Belize.

Beyond that, however, the tumbleweed of ignorance blows. Only those with an abiding interest in Guantánamo would know that in January 2021, just as Donald Trump left office, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, Mohammed Farik Bin Amin and a third man, Riduan Isamuddin, an Indonesian also known as Hambali, had also been charged in the military commissions, in connection with terrorist attacks in Indonesia; in particular, a number of nightclub bombings in Bali in October 2002, in which 202 people — mainly foreign tourists — were killed, and the subsequent bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, in August 2003, in which eleven people were killed.

Who are Mohammed Farik Bin Amin and Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep?

Mohammed Farik Bin Amin was seized in Bangkok, Thailand on June 8, 2003, with the other two men also seized in Bangkok two months later, on August 11, 2003. The CIA announced Hambali’s capture three days later, but the three men subsequently disappeared into the CIA’s global network of "black site" prisons, whose existence remained a closely guarded secret until it was finally exposed in November 2005.

When the Supreme Court reminded the Bush administration, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in June 2006, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting torture or abuse, applied to every prisoner in U.S. custody, the network of "black sites" was largely shut down, leading to the transfer of the 14 "high-value detainees" to Guantánamo in September 2006.

On arrival, one-page profiles of the 14 men were made public by the U.S. government, with Hambali described as "an operational mastermind in the Southeast Asia-based Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiya," Bin Lep (also identified as Lillie) described as one of Hambali’s "key lieutenants," and Bin Amin (also identified as Zubair) described as one of Hambali’s "trusted associates."

In March and April 2007, cursory reviews of the 14 men’s cases took place, via Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs), which were required for them to be eligible for military commission trials. Hambali denied involvement with any terrorist activities, Bin Lep, as I described it in my book The Guantánamo Files, "denied all the allegations about his involvement with Jemaah Islamiya, admitting only that he had once transferred some money to Hambali," while Bin Amin made no comments about the allegations against him.

Once the CSRTs were over, nothing was heard from Hambali, Bin Lep and Bin Amin for another nine years, until they had their cases reviewed by an administrative review process, the Periodic Review Boards, in August 2016, although they were, of course, mentioned in the unclassified summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s groundbreaking report about the CIA torture program, which was released in December 2014. Excerpts from the report are cited in the Rendition Project’s profiles of the men, available here for Bin Amin, here for Bin Lep, and here for Hambali.

The very fact that the three men had been put forward for the PRB process indicated that the Obama administration was struggling to charge them in the military commissions. In 2010, during the deliberations of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, Obama’s first review of the prisoners inherited from George W. Bush, they had been included in the 36 men recommended for prosecution, but by 2013, when the PRBs were set up to review the cases of 48 men who had been recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the Task Force (on the basis that they were "too dangerous to release," but insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial), 23 of the 36 men recommended for prosecution had been shunted into the PRB system instead, as the military commissions groaned under the weight of successful appeals against some of the few convictions that had been secured, and the rather more profound problems involved with trying to legitimately prosecute men subjected to torture.

All three men took part in their PRBs, although no record was made public of either their statements or their interactions with the board members. However, their personal representatives (military personnel assigned to represent them) provided statements based on their interactions with them, noting that Hambali claimed that he "ha[d] no ill will towards the U.S.," and believed that the U.S.’s "diversity and sharing of power" was "much better than a dictatorship," while Bin Amin told his representatives that he "expressed regret and sorrow talking about his past," and "believed he made stupid, hasty decisions, largely attributed to his young age and narrow view of the world." His representatives also noted that he was "a very complaint detainee."

Bin Lep’s representatives, meanwhile, noted that he was "a highly-compliant detainee," and that he has told them that he was "not a threat to America," and that "his mindset ha[d] changed, since the time before his capture." They added that, as he described it, "If he were released, he would say good-bye to his old life, because he feels that he has lost so much since he has been detained (his parents, an older sister and friends)."

Nevertheless, in September 2016 all three men had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved, as happened again in 2019, when, in common with the majority of the prisoners eligible for the PRBs, they boycotted their hearings, having concluded that, under Donald Trump, they had become pointless, as no one was being approved for release.

Charged in the military commissions

As the three men languished in a seemingly endless cycle of pointless PRBs, the Pentagon surprised everyone, just as Joe Biden took office, by approving non-capital charges that included conspiracy, murder and terrorism. In June 2017, as the Guardian explained, military prosecutors had first filed charges against them, "but the Pentagon legal official who oversees Guantánamo cases rejected the charges for reasons that haven’t been publicly disclosed."

In August 2021, their arraignment took place, at which Brian Bouffard, one of Bin Lep’s lawyers, complained that "[i]t’s almost 20 years later, witnesses have died, [and] the landscape has changed dramatically," adding, "In my view, it’s fatal to the ability to have a fair trial."

Bouffard was certainly correct to point out that the "landscape" — the legal landscape — had changed, as was made particularly clear just two months after the arraignment, when Majid Khan finally had his sentencing hearing, and, as agreed in his plea deal, was also allowed to make a public statement about his involvement in terrorism, his contrition, and the torture to which he was subjected in the CIA "black sites" and also at Guantánamo.

Khan’s extraordinary statement, which I posted here and here, unveiled such depravity on the part of the U.S. that seven of the eight military jurors in his case submitted a hand-written letter to the judge calling for clemency, in which they stated, "Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse well beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques, instead being closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history. This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests. Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government."

The jurors’ response seems to have finally persuaded prosecutors that the use of torture was an insurmountable obstruction when it came to successful prosecutions, and to begin negotiating with the defense teams in the 9/11 trial for plea deals, in which the death penalty was taken off the table, in exchange for guilty pleas and a promise that the accused would finally be given the torture rehabilitation and medical and psychiatric care that has never been made available to them.

Unfortunately, last September, President Biden refused to accept the basis of the 9/11 plea deal negotiations, but in Hambali’s case a compromise that sidestepped the role of torture was evidently easier to reach, as, last year, Bin Lep and Bin Amin were successfully persuaded to accept a plea deal, in which, in exchange for testifying against Hambali, their cases were separated from his, and they were promised that they would be freed within six years at most.

Guilty pleas and sentencing

Bin Lep and Bin Amin pleaded guilty to five charges on January 16 — murder, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property, conspiracy and accessory after the fact — and admitted that, starting at the end of 2001, "including the periods before, during, and after the October 12, 2002, Bali bombings," they helped Hambali "transfer money for operations, and obtain and store items such as fraudulent identification documents, weapons and instructions on how to make bombs."

Both men, however, "pleaded not guilty to the portion of the charge" related to the Jakarta hotel bombing, and prosecutors also confirmed that, when it came to the conspiracy charge, neither man "acted in a position of command."

They were sentenced on January 26, after "[a]bout a dozen relatives of tourists who were killed in the attacks" in 2002 "spent an emotional week at the court and testified to their enduring grief," as Carol Rosenberg described it for the New York Times.

As Rosenberg also explained, "A jury of five U.S. military officers, assembled to decide a sentence in the 20-to-25-year range, returned 23 years after deliberating for about two hours," although, "unknown to the jurors, a senior Pentagon official reached a secret agreement over the summer with the defendants that they would be sentenced to at most six more years," in exchange for providing testimony to be used in Hambali’s trial.

As Rosenberg also explained, the expectation that the men will be freed by 2029 at the latest came about when the judge, Lt. Col. Wesley A. Braun, "cut 311 days off Mr. Bin Amin’s sentence and 379 days off Mr. Bin Lep’s because prosecutors missed court deadlines for turning over evidence to defense lawyers as they prepared their case." In addition, some media reports are suggesting that the men may be sent back to Malaysia in the near future, to serve the rest of their terms in prison or under house arrest.

The plea deal certainly seems to have been the wisest course of action for prosecutors, although, as Rosenberg also explained, "the legacy of torture cast a shadow over the proceedings." Christine A. Funk, one of Bin Amin’s defense lawyers, "projected drawings by Mr. Bin Amin of his torture onto a screen in the courtroom as she described him as a broken man who at the time of his capture in Thailand [had] cooperated with the authorities," but had been tortured nonetheless — an echo of Majid Khan’s damning testimony about how, regardless of how much he cooperated, he too was relentlessly tortured.

As Funk described it, "Upon his arrival in the black sites, he was immediately tortured. Not immediately interrogated. Immediately tortured."

She also "cited federal and congressional investigations that confirmed he was held naked in isolation while shackled in painful positions, had water poured down his nose and throat, and was forced to squat with a broom behind his knees," as Carol Rosenberg described it, adding, "Each situation was illustrated by a drawing that is now evidence in the case."

Funk also explained that, as Rosenberg described it, "In addition to his three years in the CIA black sites … he spent his first 10 years at Guantánamo Bay in solitary confinement," and, as she told the court, "This is, frankly, un-American. This is not who we are. But it is what we did."

In contrast, the chief prosecutor, Col. George C. Kraehe, launched a desperate bid to defend the torture program as "a product of the time," telling the court that it only took place "at the start of the war on terror, when the United States sought to defend itself and the world from forces that had viciously attacked the United States, killing thousands of innocents, forces that had attacked other countries, forces that sought to destroy the American way of life," and adding, just as contentiously, "This war continues to this day."

Note: For the sake of completeness, the other four of the 14 "high-value detainees" who arrived at Guantánamo in September 2006 are: Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian who is the only prisoner transferred to the U.S. to face a federal court trial, which led to him receiving a life sentence in January 2011, Guled Hassan Duran (aka Gouled Hassan Dourad), a Somali who was approved for release by a PRB in November 2021, and two men who are still held indefinitely without charge or trial: Abu Zubaydah, for whom the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was first developed in 2002, and Abu Faraj al-Libi, seized in 2005.