Following a one-day delay due to issues with one of the court interpreters, three men who had been detained by the U.S. for 18 years were formally accused of war crimes as part of a global Al Qaeda conspiracy that began in Afghanistan in 1996 and resulted in the Bali nightclub bombings in 2002.
The lead defendant, Encep Nurjaman, an Indonesian man, and two Malaysian men, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, offered no pleas. No trial date was set, and defense lawyers indicated they would seek to disqualify the arraignment of their clients as defective because of interpreting problems.
One key issue, the lawyers said, was the discovery that the woman who served as the court’s official interpreter of Bahasa Indonesian had remarked last year that “the government is wasting money on these terrorists; they should have been killed a long time ago.” Defense lawyers called her biased and sought to halt the proceeding, which had already been delayed for six months because of the pandemic.
But presiding U.S. Navy Judge Commander Hayes Larsen ruled that the interpreters hired by the Pentagon were “qualified” and “certified” by war court headquarters. Larsen said what the defendants heard in their headsets was sound.
Brian Bouffard, a lawyer representing Bin Lep, disagreed. He said that the interpreting was so flawed that he had “no confidence” that the defendants understood the process, and that he had no trustworthy interpreter to assist him.
Bouffard said that Bin Lep found the interpretation of the proceedings into his first language, Malay, so inscrutable that he switched to his second language, Bahasa, and listened to the charges against him interpreted by “someone who we know would have liked it if he was summarily executed years ago.”
The defense lawyers had already refused to work with the Defense Department contract linguists, interpreters who had been vetted by the government to receive top-secret security clearances and help them communicate with the prisoners. According to the lawyers, all three defendants were held by the CIA in the early years of their detention and were tortured. The lawyers added that they did not trust that the government’s choice of linguists would keep their conversations confidential.
“They’ve had 18 years to get us translators and interpreters for these guys,” said James Hodes, Nurjaman’s lead lawyer. “But the system is so flawed.”
Author: Rosenberg, Carol
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