It’s been more than two decades since Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri allegedly plotted the attack on the USS Cole that killed seventeen sailors and wounded 37 more.
Now, Presiding Judge, Army Col. Lanny J. Acosta Jr., says it’s time to decide whether al-Nashiri’s confession can be used against him.
Defense attorneys say it was illegally obtained by the CIA.
The terrorists used an inflatable speedboat to carry a bomb to its target.
The resulting explosion left a gaping 40-foot-wide hole on the port side of the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer.
US investigators later determined al-Nashiri assisted in al-Qaeda orchestration of the attack.
As reported June 30 by The New York Times, Col. Acosta recently heard closing arguments from attorneys in regards to multiple issues.
DOJ Prosecutor Edward R. Ryan refused to concede that CIA treatment of Nashiri constitutes torture or inhumane treatment.
He did acknowledge, however, a Justice Department concession that confessions obtained while in CIA custody should be treated as “statements obtained by the use of torture or by cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, The Times reported.
In 2002 Nashiri was captured in Dubai and transferred through a number of locations and black-sites, including a CIA prison at Guantánamo Bay.
While in CIA custody, Nashiri faced waterboarding, forced nudity, extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, and even a mock execution.
He was afterward transferred to U.S. military custody in 2006 and arraigned by a military commission in November, 2011.
Nashiri’s defense counsel, Annie W. Morgan, told the court that her client was already broken through at least 200 CIA interrogations by the time the alleged abuses occurred in 2017.
“There is nothing voluntary when you assess the totality of the circumstances,” Morgan reportedly argued.
I reached out to Retired USAF senior intelligence analyst and counter terrorism expert Lt. Col. Tanya Hildenbrand (who served at Guantánamo Bay) to get her take on developments in the case.
“I never saw any torture at Guantanamo Bay,” she remarked, “DOD went above and beyond to accommodate detainees to include providing prayer rugs, prayer beads, and Qurans.”
“Calls to prayer were rung three times a day and appropriate Islamic diet was provided,” Hildenbrand explains.
Although many view treatment of al-Qaeda operatives in black-site prisons as unacceptably barbaric, Lt. Col. Hildenbrand points out largely unreported realities of working with enemy combatants who want Americans dead.
“The military guards endured harsh treatment,” Hildenbrand explains, “They had urine, feces, other bodily fluids (separately and mixed) thrown at them constantly. Guards usually wore goggles and trash bags over their uniforms to protect themselves from the human excrement.”
In September 2022, former USS Cole Commander Kirk Lippold shared lessons with students of Liberty University.
“One never knows how the hand of Providence is going to guide your life,” Lippold was quoted, “Clearly that day, I felt a presence with me that allowed me to stay calm, stay focused, and be able to make the best decisions possible to save my ship and save as many lives as possible. And there were some tough decisions that were made that day.”
So, while arguments about al-Nashiri’s human rights continue, it should be understood that tough decisions protect human liberties every day.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s right to a fair trial is a privilege paid for with American blood.
In light of that fact, perhaps it’s appropriate to take time on Independence Day 2023, to remember the seventeen sailors who lost their lives while defending our freedom on the U.S.S. Cole.
31-year-old Lt. j.g. Andrew Triplett; 35-year-old ETC Richard D. Costelow; 30-year-old EW1 Kevin S. Rux; 21-year-old HT2 Kenneth E. Clodfelter; 24-year-old EN2 Mark I. Nieto; 24-year-old EW2 Ronald S. Owens; 32-year-old OS2 Timothy L. Saunders; 22-year-old MS3 Ronchester M. Santiago; 19-year-old MSSN Lakeina M. Francis; 21-year-old ISSN Timothy L. Gauna; 22-year-old SMSN Cherone L. Gunn; 19-year-old ISSN James R. McDaniels; 22-year-old SN Lakiba N. Palmer; 19-year-old ENFN Joshua L. Parlett; 19-year-old FN Patrick H. Roy; 26-year-old FN Gary Swenchonis Jr.; 19-year-old SN Craig B. Wibberley