USS Cole families wait for justice

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 19, 2012

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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.
Among those present was Ronald Francis of Woodleaf, N.C., who lost his 19-year-old daughter, Seaman Lakeina Francis, in the attacks.
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.