Indonesian prisoner seen for first time since 2003 CIA capture

Indonesian captive know alternately as Hambali, Riduan Isomuddin and Encep Nurjaman in a photo from his 2008 prison profile provided to McClatchy by WikiLeaks.
Indonesian captive know alternately as Hambali, Riduan Isomuddin and Encep Nurjaman in a photo from his 2008 prison profile provided to McClatchy by WikiLeaks.

An Indonesian man accused of ties to extremist groups and held for 13 years by the CIA and the U.S. military, appeared for the first time Thursday at a hearing considering whether he might be allowed to leave detention at the Pentagon prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The U.S. government says Encep Nurjamin — who’s better known as Hambali — was a leader of the Southeast Asia-based extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah. It is blamed for a string of bombings in Indonesia, including the 2002 bombings that killed 202 people in Bali. Hambali, who has also been called Riduan Isomuddin, is alleged to have had links to al-Qaida.

Hambali, 52, was captured in Thailand in August 2003 and for the next three years kept in the CIA’s secret overseas prisons, called black sites, before his Sept. 4, 2006 transfer to the U.S. prison in southeast Cuba. Thursday, his image was broadcast from the prison to the Pentagon for the 10-minute unclassified portion of his Periodic Review Board hearing, during which a captive is forbidden to speak.

He wore horn-rimmed eyeglasses and had a mostly gray beard and showed no expression during the 10 minutes that reporters were allowed to see.

An American military officer helping Hambali make his case for freedom read a statement describing Hambali as “respectful and energetic” and “most enthused” about his hearing. The unnamed military officer also said the Indonesian had learned English at the prison in Cuba by interacting with his captors and from Rosetta Stone. “When programs were offered, he was eager to attend,” the officer said of Hambali’s life at Guantánamo’s clandestine Camp 7 prison.

“Hambali has stated he has no ill will towards the U.S.,” the officer said. “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.”

A U.S. intelligence assessment, also read at the hearing, characterized Hambali as a continuing security threat, calling him “steadfast in his support for extremist causes and his hatred for the U.S. 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 released from Guantánamo.

There are now 61 detainees at Guantánamo. Hambali has never been charged with a crime, although a 2009-2010 Obama administration task force recommended he be considered for trial. Now, the panel decides whether to permit his release with security conditions or rebrand him as a “forever prisoner.”

The intelligence profile said Hambali seems to exert influence over fellow detainees at Camp 7. He “has been heard promoting violent jihad while leading daily prayers and lectures.”

It will take 30 days or more to know the decision of the review panel, whose members represent six national-security agencies.

Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg contributed to this report from Miami.