By Jim Kouri
Family members of sailors killed during the al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole, almost 12 years ago, were joined by Navy survivors yesterday in urging that justice be served in the quest to ensure a fair and swift trial for the reputed mastermind of the terrorist attack.
“The family members and survivors appeared grim-faced, and some choked with emotion as they spoke to reporters at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, following the second day of a pretrial hearing for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri,” according to Donna Miles of the American Forces Press Service
Nashiri was indicted for several felony offenses, including his role in the October 12, 2000, terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole as it was docked and refueling in Aden Harbor, Yemen. Suicide bombers on a small craft detonated an explosives-laden boat directly against the ship’s port side. The bombing killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 37 others.
The Convening Authority referred the charges to a capital military commission, therefore, if convicted, Nashiri could be sentenced to death.
A military commission is a military court of law traditionally used to try law of war and other offenses. “An alien unprivileged enemy belligerent who has engaged in hostilities, or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States, its coalition partners or was a part of al-Qaeda, is subject to trial by military commission under the Military Commissions Act of 2009,” according to the Act.
The military commission legal system begins when the prosecution drafts charges against individuals subject to the Military Commissions Act of 2009.
Charges may then be sworn by any person subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Once charged, a person is referred to as “the accused.” Individuals subject to trial by military commission are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Convening Authority decides whether to refer any or all charges to trial. A referral requires a finding of probable cause, similar to a grand jury in civilian court returning an indictment. If the Convening Authority decides to refer a case to trial, a military commission is created.
Families and survivors seek justice
One of the survivors — James Parlier, the ship’s command master chief petty officer — who worked directly for the Cole’s captain, traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to watch the pretrial proceedings.
According to Miles, Parlier admitted yesterday that seeing Nashiri during his first visit to Guantanamo Bay since Joint Task Force Guantanamo was stood up “brings up a lot of raw emotion.”
“This is a long process, and it has been tough for all of us,” he said, noting that the attack affected not only the sailors killed and their families, but also their shipmates, who continue to suffer from physical injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Every person on that ship lost something,” agreed Ronald Francis, a retired sailor whose 19-year-old daughter, Seaman Lakeina Francis, died aboard the Cole. “Everyone is now affected by the outcome of the USS Cole bombing.”
Olivia Rux said her life hasn’t been the same since her husband, Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Rux, an electronic warfare specialist, “was murdered” during the attack, Miles stated.
Rux shared with reporters the emptiness she feels and her personal struggle as one of the family members left behind “to figure out where I belong in this society that has been overlooked.”
Rux dismissed defense arguments during the pre-trial hearing that the military commission process is being rushed, denying Nashiri the opportunity to receive a fair trial, according to Miles.
Rux recalled the painful wait for news after the attack, not yet knowing if loved ones and shipmates were alive or dead, and the agony of having to bury their loved ones. “Where is the justice in that?” she asked.
Francis questioned, after hearing members of the defense team challenge the fairness of the military commission system, who’s thinking about those whose lives were cut short, or were left behind?
“When the defense talks about justice, where is the justice [for the] sailors aboard that ship?” Francis asked.
He said he wanted to “see the process and justice done –- not only for my daughter, but for all the shipmates that were on that ship.”
Master Chief Petty Officer Paul Abney, who was sitting in the ship’s mess when the al-Qaeda bombing occurred, said he traveled to Guantanamo Bay to seek closure. “I am here to witness justice and to see this process to take place,” he said.
He disputed the defense team’s arguments that military commissions aren’t legitimate court proceedings and insisted that alleged terrorists don’t deserve the right to be tried in the United States, according to Donna Miles.
Abney commended the efforts those conducting the commission are making to ensure that Nashiri receives a fair trial. “They are doing their job to be as fair and honest as possible, and we need to let the process go as it was set up at this place, in this time,” he said.
James Parlier agreed that the legal process has been “more than fair, I believe, with Nashiri.” But he made no secret of what he hopes the outcome will be.
“I pray to God that we do prove that he worked with [deceased al-Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden and his cell, creating the nightmare for us that he did,” Parlier said. “And I pray that one day, as an older man, that I see him receive the justice that he deserves.”
Jesse Neito, whose son, Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Neito, was killed in the attack, lamented that justice has been “slow, very slow.” He expressed hope that he “will be able to see and be alive when the outcome resolves itself.”
Rux was more direct: “I have nothing but time to wait until that detainee draws his last breath.”