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Families of U.S.S. Cole Sailors Unhappy with Delayed Justice Aren't the Only Sufferers

Truer words were rarely spoken than those uttered by Retired Navy Comdr. Kirk Lippold, the defense advisor to Military Families United, when he said the relatives of the sailors killed and wounded in the attack on the destroyer U.S.S. Cole in Yemen have been waiting eight years for the accused to be tried and that “Justice delayed is justice denied.” If the phrase isn’t exactly novel maybe that’s because words to that effect appeared in the Magna Carta, a milepost of Western jurisprudence, back in 1215 A.D. The document also enshrined the right to habeas corpus, granting appeal against unlawful imprisonment.


Lippold commanded the Cole Octiber 12, 2000, when it lost 17 crew members in a tragic terrorist bombing. He was among those who met with President Obama Friday(Feb. 6) to to oppose Obama’s January 22nd order to close Guantanamo prison, Cuba, where an al-Qaida suspect accused of masterminding the Cole attack is being held. Obama acted owing to “the military commission’s failure to bring those in detention to swift justice,” his press secretary Robert Gibbs understated.

Adding to the frustration of the Cole families, the previous day Gitmo Convening Authority Susan Crawford dropped charges against that very al-Qaida suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, on grounds he confessed to plotting the ship’s bombing “only because he was tortured by U.S. interrogators,” the Associated Press reported. Indeed, the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) confessed the man was subjected to waterboarding, an agonizing form of torture akin to drowning. According to a report in The Miami Herald(Feb. 7), Obama assured his visitors al Nashiri would remain in custody and eventually tried.

While I don’t know the merits of the charges against al Nashiri, it’s a fact the U.S. has freed the overwhelming majority of Gitmo prisoners for lack of proof. The first three inmates charged were a chauffeur for bin Laden and two juveniles, not exactly “the worst of the worst,” as Dick Cheney once alleged. Unless, of course, you count Sami Al-Haj, an Al Jazeera reporter recently freed from Gitmo after six years of detention as a “terrorist” because he was trained in the use of a camera! The suspicion Bush ordered dragnet arrests of thousands to make it appear the world is full of anti-American “terrorists” grows stronger every day.

According to his lawyer, Al-Haj was questioned 120 times by interrogators who pressed him to say Qatar-based TV network Al Jazeera is an al-Qaeda “front.” Defense lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, founder of the human rights group “Reprieve,” in an interview with Pacifica Radio’s Amy Goodman noted Gitmo’s chief prosecutor Col. Morris Davis resigned on grounds a Bush official told him there could be no acquittals of suspects, proof the whole shebang is rigged. By the way, Obama’s aides are saying they’re not inclined to prosecute adult CIA goons that tortured captives because they were “following orders,” (the old Adolf Eichmann defense) while confessions have been wrung by those same CIA torturers out of Arab juveniles for following orders or, in most cases, for having done nothing at all.

Lawyer Smith says the 270 remaining Gitmo prisoners are the tip of a massive iceberg in which 27,000 prisoners of the U.S. are secretly frozen. Reprieve claims 32 vessels have been converted to prison ships in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere to house them, far from the prying eyes of the Red Cross and reporters. One vessel was spotted tied up in Lisbon harbor. The U.S. also funds what Smith calls “proxy prisons” in Morocco, Egypt and Jordan---where inmates “have been severed from their legal rights.” One of Smith’s clients, Benyam Mohammed, said the only “evidence” his Moroccan interrogators extracted from him they got by torturing him with a razor blade to his genitals.

Writing in the January-February The Catholic Worker, Managing Editor Matt Vogel points out the U.S. military estimated that since it began the “War on Terror” in 2001, it has detained over 80,000 people and “all have been held without trial, charges or access to lawyers, hidden away from the outside world, and many prisoners faced torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment…and as we press President Obama to shut down Guantanamo, we cannot forget the rest of those the US has disappeared.”

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Vogel writes as of this January 1, the U.S. was to transfer to the Iraqi Interior Ministry those prisoners among the 15,800 it is holding in Iraq it considers dangerous and to liberate the rest. And just as it had no proof against the majority of Gitmo prisoners, Vogel notes the Pentagon is scrambling to “to find evidence of criminality for the roughly 5,000 prisoners it considers dangerous.” He writes, “This underscores the fact that thousands of people have been held without access to courts or lawyers and without charge, many for years.” And although Bush said in 2006 “the secret prisons are now empty” Reprieve says since then there have been 200 cases of rendition and secret detention.

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Getting back to the Cole families, if it’s a denial of justice to keep them waiting year after year for a trial, what has al Nashiri suffered to have been held without due process all these years and tortured as well? Like so many other victims of Bush Justice, this man has been punished even before he has been tried. Do Americans ever think of the tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims, including children, arrested illegally and separated from their families who are rotting in the holds of prison ships and dungeons, with no lawyers and no Red Cross visits, denied the due process of law that existed even in the Magna Carta?

To see how far America has sunk into totalitarianism, one has only to recall that during World War II USA received thousands of German prisoners from General Rommel’s Africa Corps and elsewhere, many of them hardened Nazis. Put to work on farms in the Midwest, they were treated fairly and without brutality. Some attended church on Sundays and got to see what life in America was like. After the war, a good number of them pleaded to remain. By contrast, Bush-Cheney prisons are recruiting posters for extremists.

If President Obama expresses compassion for the families of the Cole sailors but fails to prosecute Bush and his henchmen who devised and executed torture policies against Muslims, he will be signaling the world he believes Americans are above the law and hence, a master race. That is, of course, what Hitler believed about Germans. Cmdr. Lippold was right that justice has been delayed for the Cole families. He’d be right, too, to denounce the policy of false imprisonment by the Bush regime. A nation without empathy is a nation without a soul.

Sherwood Ross

Sherwood Ross is a veteran reporter and public relations consultant. He formerly worked for the City News Bureau of Chicago, the Chicago Daily News, and as a columnist for wire