Surviving Families, Victims of Cole Attack Seek Justice

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2012 — Fam­i­ly mem­bers who lost loved ones dur­ing the USS Cole attack and two sur­vivors urged yes­ter­day that jus­tice be served in the quest to ensure a fair tri­al for the accused mas­ter­mind of the 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.

Nashiri is charged with sev­er­al crimes, includ­ing a role in the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the Cole as it was refu­el­ing in Aden Har­bor, Yemen. Sui­cide bombers det­o­nat­ed an explo­sives-laden boat direct­ly against the ship’s port side, killing 17 sailors and wound­ing 37 oth­ers.

Among the sur­vivors was James Par­li­er, the ship’s com­mand mas­ter chief pet­ty offi­cer, who worked direct­ly for the Cole’s cap­tain and trav­eled to Guan­tanamo Bay to watch the pre­tri­al pro­ceed­ings.

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. She 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.

She 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?” he said.

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.”

Eleven years after the attack, Mas­ter Chief Pet­ty Offi­cer Paul Abney, who was sit­ting in the ship’s mess when the explo­sion 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.

Abney also scoffed at the notion that Nashiri, as a defen­dant, is like­ly to have access to nation­al secrets that even he isn’t enti­tled to because he has no need to know. “It does­n’t feel fair,” he said, “but that’s the process and the rules.”

He 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.

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-Qai­da 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,” she said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)