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Published: Sunday, 5/11/2008

Don't forget the Cole

ON OCT. 12, 2000, a tiny fishing boat pulled alongside the USS Cole and a bomb blast blew a gaping hole in the side of the Navy destroyer as it refueled in the African port of Aden, Yemen.

Pursuing justice in connection with the stunning tragedy, which killed 17 sailors less than a year before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on this country, was once a top American priority. But almost eight years later, that no longer seems to be the case, which is a national shame.

All the defendants convicted in the attack have either escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni authorities. Last fall, a Yemeni who helped organize the bombing was secretly released by the government.

That individual, Jamal al-Badawi, was jailed again but only after a U.S. protest, and he reportedly is allowed to come and go as he pleases. To compound the injustice, Yemen refuses to extradite al-Badawi and an accomplice to the U.S., where they have been indicted on murder charges.

Two suspected ring leaders of the Cole attack are beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, held at the U.S. military installation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where it's unclear when or if they'll by tried by the military. Other Cole conspirators were freed after serving short prison terms and two even went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.

Yemeni officials have sent clear signals that they are not seriously interested - if they ever were - in punishing those responsible for the attack.

In addition, former and current American officials have, to their discredit, let the incident slide.

Bill Clinton, who was president at the time, vowed to hunt down the terrorists behind the Cole attack and see that justice prevailed, but the investigation was hobbled from the beginning by inter-agency clashes and blunt resistance from Yemeni officials.

In March, 2002, President George Bush said his administration was working with Yemen to prevent it from becoming "a haven for terrorists," but his limited attention span already was shifting to Iraq, which had nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

These lapses have left Al Qaeda free, to this day, to boast about the Cole bombing as one of its greatest military victories.

The U.S. government should not allow the Cole to become a forgotten footnote that no one is willing to either avenge or resolve.

Letting the incident drift into the backwater of history only serves to disrespect the memories of those who perished.



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