Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Backward, Please 2

The lack of consensus on how to conduct to Global War on Terror is illustrated by this incident in Indonesia.  Geoffrey MG blog links to An American Expat in Southeast Asia, who is following the trial of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the man accused of masterminding the Bali bombing, blowing up Christian churches, plotting to kill the Indonesian President and being a key figure in Al Qaeda franchise Jemaah Islamiah. According to An American Expat in Southeast Asia, key defense for Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is being provided by a former US Embassy interpreter called Frank Burks. Burks interpreted for Presidents Clinton and Bush but resigned after he refused to agree to a  secrecy clause in his new contract.

"The contractor ... shall not communicate to any person or organization any information known to them by reason of their performance of services under this agreement that has not been made public, except in the necessary performance of their duties or upon written authorization of the contracting officer," the contract says. "These obligations do not cease upon the expiration or termination of this agreement."

A link provided by Burks, said to be original Washington Post URL bylined by Michael Dobbs, suggests the dispute was more than just a disagreement over contractual terms.

In addition to his complaints about government secrecy, Burks is at odds with the Bush administration over an unauthorized trip to Cuba that he made with his girlfriend in December 1999. The government initially fined him $7,590 for breaching the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba but eventually offered to let him pay only $250. Burks declined the deal, and the case has been referred to an administrative court for adjudication.

Burks charged that the United States had plotted to secretly arrest Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and take him to the US for questioning. This interview was conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation News.

Mr Burks, who appeared for Mr Bashir's defence team, spoke to Rafael Epstein in Jakarta.

FRED BURKS: It was the Ambassador, US Ambassador Ralph Boyce, it was the National Security Council expert on Indonesia, Karen Brooks, it was a special assistant to the President and myself. The four of us went over to Megawati's residence, and when we went in there was a little bit of, you know, small talk. Just, "How you doing?" Karen Brooks knew her well so. Then Karen introduced this special assistant saying that President Bush himself ordered this special assistant to come here and give a message. The special assistant then proceeded to describe information that the United States had obtained from Omar Al Faruk, who had been detained by the US.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: He's someone who has been suspected of being an al-Qaeda operative.

FRED BURKS: Or somehow related to al-Qaeda, yes, and they say that he said that Abu Bakar Bashir was actually behind the Christmas bombings, behind two attempts on Megawati's life and also was thought to be the head of a Jemaah Islamiah, JI. And because of that, she, the special assistant requested, "We would like you to secretly capture him and turn him over". They used a term that I had not heard before then, "render" - not in the normal sense, but render means to secretly capture and turn over to another government.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: So this was basically a request to the Indonesian President for them to secretly arrest Abu Bakar Bashir, hand him over to the American Government and the American Government would take him somewhere overseas and question him and keep him detained.

FRED BURKS: Exactly.

The Brunei Bulletin says Burks is repeating the story as a defense witness for Ba'asyir.

The witness, Fred Burks, told a court that a US envoy made the appeal in a meeting with former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who took a breath and thought for a moment before saying, "I cannot fulfill the request of the US president." Burks said the envoy, who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, later warned that if the cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, weren't handed over to U.S. authorities, "then there will be a problem."

The US witness told the South Jakarta District Court that he was the interpreter for the American delegation that met Megawati at her home on Sept. 16, 2002. Burks said the meeting also included then US Ambassador Ralph Boyce, US National Security Council official Karen Brooks and the CIA envoy, whom he declined to identify.

Although the name of the CIA agent was not mentioned in court, An American Expat in Southeast Asia suggests that someone subsequently divulged the name of a CIA agent outside the courtroom.

This is Mr. Fred Burks a former translator to George W. Bush who for unknown reasons seems to go out of his way in bending over backwards to help the defense team and goes into great detail about a secret meeting on the evening of 16 September 2002 at the residence of Megawati Sukarnoputri between Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce, the Indonesian Expert in the National Security Council (NSC) Ms. Karen Brooks, Mr. Fred Burks and a CIA agent whom Ambassador Boyce introduced as a special envoy to President Bush.

According to Mr. Burks, the CIA agent then informs Megawati that President Bush wants her to arrest Ba'asyir and gives a time deadline that Ba'asyir must be arrested before the APEC Summit Conference in Cabos, Mexico in October 2002. Megawati declines and say that she cannot arrest Ba'asyir or she will face domestic problems because of Ba'asyir's popularity. Can things get worse? They can if you tell someone the name of a female CIA agent outside the courtroom.

As the Seymour Hersh article in the New Yorker illustrated, a large part of American society is unalterably opposed to the War on Terror not simply in Iraq. Despite President Bush's belief that his re-election in 2004 was a referendum which provided a mandate to pursue his strategy against  terrorism, there are many who disagree -- and virulently. Abu Bakar Ba'asyir may well be acquitted, in part by testimony from an American witness. The trial continues.

The terrorism trial of Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was halted abruptly Tuesday as his supporters tried to attack a witness testifying against the alleged leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah extremist group. The row erupted as Bashir's lawyers scolded Mohammad Nasir Abbas, a former key member of Jemaah Islamiyah, for repeatedly replying "no comment" as they cross-examined his claims the cleric was now the group's leader.

Police came to the rescue of Abbas, a Malaysian who served 10 months in prison in Indonesia for immigration offences, as Bashir's supporters tried to grab him from the witness stand, prompting judges hearing the case to flee the court. Tempers flared after Abbas earlier accused Bashir of leading Jemaah Islamiyah -- a valuable testimony for prosecutors struggling to link him to the Southeast Asian extremist group believed to have ties to Al-Qaeda.