Indonesia wants Guantánamo detainee ‘Hambali’ to remain in U.S. custody

Riduan Isomuddin, the Indonesian known as “Hambali,” in a photo from his 2008 Guantánamo profile provided to McClatchy by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Riduan Isomuddin, the Indonesian known as “Hambali,” in a photo from his 2008 Guantánamo profile provided to McClatchy by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Indonesian security officials say the government would find a way to ensure an alleged Southeast Asian terror chief doesn’t return to Indonesia under President Barack Obama’s contentious plan to close the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said Tuesday that officials are “discussing all necessary steps” to ensure Hambali, also known as Riduan Isomuddin, stays in U.S. detention.

Obama’s plan, which involves transferring about two thirds of the current 91 detainees to U.S. soil and sending the others to foreign countries, was rejected by Congress last month. Republicans have said they are preparing a legal challenge in the event Obama presses ahead with the plan.

Hambali has been accused of heading the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah militant group blamed for a string of bombings in Indonesia including a 2002 attack on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. He allegedly also had ties to two of the hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S., but has denied any role.

He was captured in Thailand in August 2003 “through a joint U.S.-Thai operation,” according to his leaked Guantánamo prison profile. The CIA held him at secret overseas prisons until his September 2006 transfer to Guantánamo’s Camp 7, where other former agency captives are kept in maximum-security confinement.

Hambali figures in the public portion of the so-called Senate Torture Report. It relates that while at a CIA black site an interrogator told him he would never go to court because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you.” It notes that the CIA requested and got approval to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” on the Indonesian about a month into his CIA detention.

He has never been charged with a crime during his time in U.S. custody but the Pentagon’s chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, has considered him a candidate for trial, according to documents released at the war court.

Hambali’s detention by the United States has in the past been a source of tension between the U.S. and Indonesia, which wanted him tried at home. Indonesia has convicted and imprisoned hundreds of militants in a widely praised crackdown since 2001.

But a security official said that the current government under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo prefers that Hambali remain in U.S. custody.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials are still working on the issue, said Hambali was using a Spanish passport when he was arrested in Thailand in 2003. “It will be one of the government’s considerations in rejecting him,” the official said.

Muhammad Taufiqurrohman, an analyst from the Center for Radicalism and De-radicalization Studies who works closely with Indonesian anti-terrorism officials, said there are concerns militant groups could get a boost if Hambali was returned to Indonesia.

Indonesian prisons have not succeeded in preventing imprisoned militants from radicalizing other inmates or maintaining links to outside militant networks.

“Hambali could be a radical ideologist for other inmates in the hands of the Indonesian jail officers who have been fairly soft and corrupt in dealing with militants,” Taufiqqurrohmand said. “He could also become an icon for Indonesian extremists.”

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg contributed some information to this report.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg