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Plea agreement unveils potential reductions in Guantanamo sentences for Bali bombings suspects

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A military panel at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has recommended a 23-year detention for two Malaysian men, Mohammed Farik Bin Amin and Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, in connection with the deadly 2002 bombings in Bali, as disclosed by a spokesman for the military commission.

Yet, a previously undisclosed provision in the plea agreement, along with a separate sentence reduction by the presiding judge, suggests that the actual sentence could be significantly shorter, approximately five years.

Having spent approximately 17 years awaiting trial at Guantanamo, Bin Amin and Bin Lep’s case represents a comparatively rare conviction in the two decades of U.S. military commission proceedings at the detention facility. The extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah orchestrated the 2002 bombings in Bali, resulting in the deaths of 202 individuals, including Indonesians, foreign tourists, and others.

While the defendants deny direct involvement or prior knowledge of the attacks, they admitted, as part of the plea bargains, to conspiring with the network of militants responsible over the years. The sentence recommendation awaits approval from the senior military authority overseeing Guantanamo. Notably, these convictions are among the few in the 780 cases initiated under the George W. Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

The broader context of Guantanamo’s legal landscape reveals challenges, including logistical difficulties, judge turnover, and legal issues stemming from the early torture of detainees during CIA custody. Brig. Gen. Jackie Thompson, the military’s head of defense for Guantanamo prosecutions, attributes the more than 20-year delay in trials to the Bush administration’s initial handling of detainees, including their detention in secret “black sites” and torture.

As the prosecutions continue, with some high-profile cases like 9/11 still in pretrial hearings, the military seeks negotiated agreements to expedite certain cases. The slow pace has been a source of frustration, and Thompson emphasizes the need for repatriating or transferring cleared detainees, with 30 detainees currently remaining at Guantanamo. The plea bargains involving Bin Amin and Bin Lep include testimony against another detainee, an Indonesian man known as Hambali, linked to the Bali bombings.

Despite the recommendations, the actual sentences and potential transfers to their home country, Malaysia, await further negotiations between the U.S. and Malaysian authorities. Defense lawyers for the two men highlight the significance of the plea agreement in sparing them from a much lengthier sentence on top of their years spent awaiting trial. The Bali bombings continue to have a profound impact on those affected, as evidenced by emotional testimonies during the sentencing hearings.

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