Family of Lakeina Francis still seeking justice for USS Cole victim
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009
By Steve Huffman
The parents of a Navy sailor killed in a terrorist attack on the USS Cole said they’re happy that President Obama agreed to meet Friday with families of those who died.
Obama also met with 9/11 victims at the White House in an emotional gathering.
But Sandra Francis and her husband, Ronald, said they didn’t know of the meeting until 6 p.m. Thursday, and didn’t have enough time to get to Washington.
Their daughter, Lakeina Francis, was 19 when she died in the terrorist attack in Yemen.
Members of the Francis family live in Woodleaf. Lakeina was a graduate of West Rowan High School.
“This is a treat, an honor, a surprise,” Sandra said of the fact that Obama was meeting with families of Cole victims. “We tried for eight years to meet with Bush.”
Seventeen sailors died in the attack on the Cole.
But Ronald Francis said he was disappointed with a senior judge’s decision earlier this week to drop charges against an al-Qaida suspect in the Cole bombings.
The charges against suspected al-Qaida bomber Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri marked the last active Guantanamo Bay war crime case.
“Where’s it going to end?” Ronald asked. “These guys are getting a free ride. Are we going to get justice or not?”
In Friday’s meeting at the White House, Obama promised the roughly 40 family members in attendance that the meeting would be the first of many.
Some of the victims’ relatives said they welcomed the president’s gesture. Still, they aren’t entirely convinced his decision to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility, where terrorism suspects are being detained, and halt legal action on their cases is the right thing to do.
Obama has expressed concerns about the fact that detainees have been held for years without trial. He has signed an executive order to close the facility within a year while the administration reviews other options for seeing that the detainees get their day in court.
A Pentagon spokesman said the charges against al-Nashiri were dismissed without prejudice, meaning new charges can be brought again later. He will remain in prison for the time being.
Ronald Francis said he worries that al-Nashiri will be released and return to Yemen, and that chances of ever prosecuting him again will be slim.
“We need to impress upon Obama, we need accountability,” Francis said. “We’ve lost all the way around, we’re not getting any justice.”
He said he was equally concerned that if, as government leaders have repeatedly said, they’re seeking justice in the Cole case, why does Yemen retain favored nation status with the United States?
“I have a whole lot of questions I haven’t had answered,” said Francis, who is retired from the Navy.
His wife said Lakeina’s room remains much as it was at the time of her death. There are plaques given in her honor that have added, and correspondence they’ve received from people around the world.
Sandra Francis said a ceremony held in Norfolk, Va., last Oct. 12 marked the eighth anniversary of the attack on the Cole.
The ship was there for the ceremony, Sandra said, and members of about 10 families who lost loved ones in the attack were on hand.
“We were truly, truly honored,” Sandra said of the Navy’s efforts to remember her daughter.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.