Families of 17 USS Cole Sailors Killed by Al Qaeda Await Justice at Guantánamo Bay

Families of 17 USS Cole Sailors Killed by Al Qaeda Await Justice at Guantánamo Bay
Families of 17 USS Cole Sailors Killed by Al Qaeda Await Justice at Guantánamo Bay

Within the almost 12 years since a prisoner was charged within the bombing of the united statesS. Cole warship, eight mother and father of the 17 fallen American sailors have died ready for a trial to start.

Within the twenty years because the assault, 10 extra shipmates have additionally died.

Early within the case, family and survivors would journey to Guantánamo Bay to look at pretrial proceedings, filling the seats in a particular part of the court docket. Late this June, simply two members of that group had been there — a sailor’s father and a naval officer who survived the blast.

The bombing of the Cole by no means garnered the eye of Guantánamo’s better-known prosecution of the five men who are accused of plotting the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That case additionally grinds on in its second decade.

However the Cole assault got here first, on Oct. 12, 2000. And as time ticks by, it has turn out to be, for a lot of, a forgotten case on a faraway U.S. military base the place the notion of justice appears elusive because the conflict on terrorism recedes from reminiscence and the battle in Ukraine takes heart stage.

“I can’t identify one other case in United States historical past, a legal case, that has taken 20 years to prosecute,” mentioned Anton J. Gunn, whose brother Cherone, a seaman apprentice, was killed within the bombing at age 22.

Mr. Gunn and his father, a retired Navy chief petty officer named Louge “Lou” Gunn, traveled collectively to Guantánamo Bay to look at hearings in 2012. Lou Gunn died in 2016. He was 65. Now, each the daddy and the son are buried at Arlington Nationwide Cemetery in Virginia.

“It’s disappointing and demoralizing,” Mr. Gunn mentioned. “I’m a affected person man, and I simply wish to hear the main points. I’m not even presuming guilt at this level. I wish to get previous the procedural motions of what’s admissible and what’s not admissible, this delay and that delay. Let’s get to the trial.”

One of many two individuals watching the hearings in late June was Denise D. Woodfin, a retired Navy lieutenant commander with a Purple Coronary heart from the assault. If nobody represented the fallen, “it will be a tragedy and a disservice not solely to our Gold Star households but additionally the crew,” she mentioned. Gold Star households are family of U.S. navy members who died within the line of responsibility.

She was within the court docket on Nov. 9, 2011, the day that the prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was formally charged, 9 years after his seize. She has returned eight extra occasions to honor the lifeless, particularly those that died after the bombing.

For some, there’s a sure consolation or solidarity in coming again to the bottom, the place troopers in battle gown chaperone them as distinguished guests. The federal government has constructed a cottage for them and their memorabilia. They collect there and maintain photographs of the crew, memorial plaques and commemorative cash, a quilt with the ship’s crest and a weatherworn Cole flag that had flown above the court docket compound.

Mr. Nashiri, 58, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, is accused of being the mastermind of the bombing.

Prosecutors painting him as a deputy to Osama bin Laden who, utilizing aliases, rented a protected home and helped buy explosives for the boat bomb that terrorists used within the suicide assault on the Cole. Federal brokers have testified that he was recognized as such in early 2000s interrogations with Yemeni witnesses who’re lifeless or who can’t be discovered to testify, and that Mr. Nashiri later bragged about his function.

Protection legal professionals dispute the reliability of the testimony as hearsay and have requested that it’s excluded from his eventual trial. In addition they problem confessions he made at Guantánamo Bay after he was tortured by the C.I.A. The decide has but to rule.

The case in opposition to Mr. Nashiri is the longest-running loss of life penalty case within the conflict in opposition to terrorism. Quite than being taken to the US for trial after his arrest in Dubai in 2002, he was held for 4 years within the C.I.A.’s secret abroad prisons. There, psychologists used waterboarding and other forms of torture to attempt to get him to reveal Qaeda secrets and techniques.

These actions hang-out the case to today. To the households’ dismay, a spotlight of the court docket’s consideration has been whether torture has tainted the case, a thorny matter that has slowed the trail to a trial.

Within the interim, U.S. drone strikes have killed three different males who, in accordance with U.S. intelligence, had key roles within the Cole assault.

Typically Mr. Nashiri sits passively in court docket, a distant determine who hardly ever seems again from his seat 50 toes from the gallery. Typically he listens to the proceedings from an outsized holding cell adjoining to the courtroom.

This photograph has been described as Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri earlier than the Cole assault.Credit score…ABC, through Related Press

Within the first years, a core group of navy retirees would converge on Andrews air base in Maryland for the flight to Guantánamo Bay to witness the court docket that George W. Bush constructed after Sept. 11. They assembled within the distinguished guests’ lounge on a Saturday or Sunday to fly within the firstclass cabin of a constitution flight for per week of hearings that started on Monday.

In court docket, they nonetheless get particular seats within the gallery behind the prosecution. A blue privateness curtain separates them from different court docket watchers, the journalists and the authorized observers.

However now a lot of the seats of their part are empty.

In 2020, former Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jesse Nieto, 76, died of a heart attack with out ever seeing the trial of the person who was accused of masterminding the bombing that killed his son, Petty Officer Second Class Marc Ian Nieto, 24. John Clodfelter, 72 who usually spoke of seeing the trial on behalf of his son Petty Officer Second Class Kenneth Clodfelter, 21, died in 2021. That was lower than three years after Kenneth’s mom, Gloria, 64, passed away.

“There nonetheless must be some sort of justice,” mentioned James G. Parlier, 66, a retired Navy command grasp chief who was on board the Cole the day it was attacked and has misplaced depend of what number of occasions he has attended hearings. “The courts must see that we’re watching and sitting within the gallery, not letting this go, till there may be an finish to the pretrial hearings.”

Thomas Wibberley, 74, mentioned he first noticed the hearings at Guantánamo Bay seven years in the past after a former prosecutor made a private enchantment to him and his spouse, who misplaced their son, Seaman Craig B. Wibberley, 19, within the assault. “It meant loads to have members of the family within the courtroom,” he recalled Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins telling them, notably for the legal professionals and the decide.

A relative newcomer to the case, Mr. Wibberley has returned 12 occasions. Within the course of he has gone from a quiet, reserved scholar of the proceedings to an aggrieved father agitating for the trial to begin.

He says there may be loads of blame to go round for the limitless nature of pretrial proceedings — protection legal professionals maneuvering, authorities procrastination, the pandemic that closed the conflict court docket for about 500 days.

Mr. Nashiri was not even formally charged till 2011, a delay that Mr. Wibberley blames on President Barack Obama, who in 2009 put all Guantánamo cases on hold to overtake the conflict court docket and provides capital defendants higher rights. That course of took greater than a yr.

Mr. Wibberley has watched federal brokers testify in prolonged hearings on the admissibility of rumour from their investigations in Yemen and about their 2007 interrogation of the prisoner.

It has been fairly the schooling, Mr. Wibberley mentioned. Alongside the best way he has concluded that it’s time to assemble a jury of navy officers and maintain the trial with all allowable proof, figuring out that prolonged appeals will comply with any capital conviction.

“Even when he’s convicted, he’ll by no means be put to loss of life,” Mr. Wibberley mentioned. “All we’re going to get is proof of who did it.”

The present case decide, Col. Lanny J. Acosta Jr., is predicted to determine some key pretrial points within the case this summer season, then step right down to retire.

Will probably be as much as the following decide, the fourth on the case, to attempt to steer the case to trial.

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