USS Cole bombing suspect makes no plea in hearing
The USS Cole was damaged by a terrorist bomb while re-fueling in Yemen in 2000.
November 9th, 2011
06:52 PM ET

USS Cole bombing suspect makes no plea in hearing

By CNN Sr National Security Producer Charley Keyes

The suspected mastermind behind the bombing of the USS Cole - the 2000 attack that took the lives of 17 American sailors - stepped into public view Wednesday inside a military commission courtroom at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay Cuba.

Abd al-Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al-Nashiri did not enter a plea in his arraignment after the charges were read.

No trial date has been officially set. But inside the courtroom the prosecution, after calling for a trial in early February, appeared to compromise with the defense to push it out exactly a year, to November 9, 2011.

Later, outside the courtroom, defense attorney Richard Kammen predicted it could be much later than than, pointing to the usual schedule of death penalty trials in civilian courts, with delays running two-and-a-half or three years.

Al-Nashiri dropped from sight after his capture in 2002 and subsequent detention - first in secret facilities overseas and then at Guantanamo. When he was led into the courtroom he appeared at ease, smiling occasionally at his lawyers and the judge. He was clean-shaven and sat slumped in his chair at the end of the defense table. He was not wearing restraints, but four military guards sat nearby.

Al-Nashiri is charged with killing 17 American sailors in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. The attack left dozens of others were injured and a gaping hole was blown into the side of the warship.

Officially, the charges against him include "murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, terrorism, conspiracy, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, and hazarding a vessel," according to the military commission's website.

The case will turn the international spotlight back on the United States' treatment of some of its most notorious terror suspects and on the latest updates to military commission procedures. And it's seen as test of those procedures prior to placing the conspirators in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on trial.

In their arguments at the preliminary hearing, members of al-Nashiri's defense team suggested that the torture of their client during his detention and the delay in bringing the case to trial would be a central part of their case. Al-Nashiri was waterboarded and threatened with a power drill during interrogations, according to U.S. documents and official accounts.

Civilian defense lawyer Richard Kammen questioned at length the presiding officer of the commission, Army Col. James Pohl, about his knowledge of the case, his personal views on the potential death penalty in the case - the first for a military commission - and whether the United States had "sacrificed its moral authority" by allowing torture.

Pohl refused to answer some of the defense questions, but insisted he would conduct a fair trial according to the law and legal precedents. "The rules are the rules," Pohl said. "I am a simple guy. I just follow what the rules say."

Pohl denied a defense motion seeking to clarify whether al-Nashiri would continue to be held at Guantanamo even if he was acquitted of the murder and terrorism charges against him. The defense claims that information would have an impact on how the panel of military officers - which will serve as a jury in the case - are selected and reach a verdict.

The Saudi-born al-Nashiri, 46, wore a loose white tunic supplied by the Guantanamo detention facility. Pohl told al Nashiri he could choose to appear in court wearing civilian clothes.

The judge also asked al-Nashiri if he spoke English. He answered that he spoke Arabic and would rely on the simultaneous translation of the proceedings he receives through his headset. But he also appeared to understand and speak some English, at one point telling the judge "one minute" as he leaned over to talk to his lawyers.

"Take all the time you need to talk it over, to understand my questions," Pohl said.

Family members of the USS Cole victims watched the proceedings from the spectator gallery at the back of the courtroom at Guantanamo, as well as through a special closed-circuit feed set up for them at the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia.

A television feed also was set up at the base movie theater at Fort Meade, between Washington and Baltimore, where the sign outside advertised adult tickets for the film "Dolphin Tales" at $4.50.

In a last-minute surprise, the Defense Department said members of the public, in addition to journalists, could watch the closed-circuit proceedings at Fort Meade. That announcement was made so late and so quietly on the new military commission website,, that few people seemed to take notice or know how to request military permission and escort to the theater. The new website and the remote viewing of the proceedings at Norfolk and Fort Meade are part of an effort by the military commission to be more transparent.

In addition to more than a dozen journalists watching at Fort Meade, as well as military officers and defense department officials, there was only one member of the public. Aisha Ghani is studying military commissions as part of her work on her Ph.D. at Stanford University.

All recording and photography of the proceedings was banned, both at Guantanamo and at the remote locations. The Defense Department has the ability to blank out the closed-circuit audio, with a 40-second delay switch, to protect secrets.

At one point Wednesday the transmission fell silent amidst a courtroom discussion over a defense motion that their mail communication be protected from inspection by the prosecution or detention authorities. But it was unclear whether that interruption was a technical glitch or an effort to protect classified information.

The arraignment lasted four hours, and the judge hinted that another hearing would take place in January.

In a question-and-answer session with journalists in Guantanamo, family members of sailors killed in the USS Cole bombing said they were glad the case was moving forward.

"This arraignment has got us started on the right track," Saundra Flanagan said, adding that she wanted al-Nashiri to pay for the lives he took. "So many lives have been changed permanently, forever."

John Clodfelter told how his son, who was killed in the bombing, was so close to the blast that he was the first to die and the last victim to be found. "I think he (al-Nashiri) needs to get the death penalty ... if not worse," Clodfelter said. "The only way (terrorists) are going to stop is if we make them stop."

He said he was glad to finally see the man accused of murdering his son.

"When we first saw him coming into the courtroom, he was just a pitiful looking person. I wanted to be able to face him, face to face, if nothing else to let him he hadn't got away with it."

Defense lawyer Kammen said the trial would be expensive. "If the government wants to do this fairly, the defense costs will be millions," Kammen predicted.

Kammen said he is restricted in discussing al-Nashiri since his client's statements court are considered top secret. About whether al-Nashiri had remorse, Kammen said, "We are not allowed to tell you what he has said. His responses are appropriate to the situation. This is not a person, in our view, without heart or feeling."

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Filed under: Gitmo • Terrorism
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. MK54

    Howard, typical right wing response...against just about everything.

    November 19, 2011 at 10:51 am | Reply
  2. j

    Department of Justice use torture to make suspects look unstable and therefor play into hands of jurors and conjured witnesses. Humiliation, drugging, sleep deprivation, stress positions, threats of physical violence, harassing relatives, etc... are commonly used.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:12 am | Reply
  3. j

    The Department of Justice use torture to make suspects look unstable and therefor play into hands of jurors and conjured witnesses. Humiliation, drugging, sleep deprivation, stress positions, threats of physical violence, harassing relatives, etc... are commonly used.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:12 am | Reply
  4. Lancesephyr1

    American politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties should stand up for the Americans who were murdered on the USS Liberty by Israel instead of acting like Israel-Firsters swearing allegiance to the Israeli flag at every moment like the typical AIPAC Al politicians who have sold out the USA into the USI (United States of Israel)!
    It sickens me that the survivors of the USS Liberty  and their dead comrades have been so dishonoured that politicians like Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama say diddly squate about them but constantly bleat about how America must stand up for Israel.
    It is time for Americans to demand at both local, state, and national levels like Republican and Democratic Party debates whether these Israel-Firster politicians will support a Congressional Inquiry which will take the testimony of survivors of Israel’s murderous attack on the USS Liberty under oath as this is still the only incident where American personnel were attacked by a foreign power, namely Israel, and where the survivors have been treated despicably, and their testimony never noted/recorded under oath by Congress.
    I also encourage all Americans but especially veterans as Veterans Day approaches to demand that their representatives in Congress initiate such an inquiry and, at the same time, seek to have a monument erected, or a park, bridge or street named after the USS Liberty in your own communities/city in order to honor the memories of your unarmed brothers in arms (which have been dishonoured by the sell-out AIPAC Israel-First politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties who have yet to hear under oath, the testimonies of eye-witnessed to Israel's murderous attack on the USS Liberty).
    Again you can see this information up for yourself by googling the official web site of survivors:
    Additionally, feel free to link the official website of survivors of the USS Liberty to your own Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other such page in order to raise awareness of how Israel murdered innocent unarmed Americans on the USS Liberty and in order to honour the memories of these brave souls, and to ensure that their sacrifice was not made in vain!!!
    Veterans, it’s time to see justice done in a way that puts America, and not Israel-Firster's  "PRECIOUS Israel" (said like Golem in the Lord of the Rings) first as Veterans Day approaches!!!!
    What else can you:
    – Demand a Congressional investigation and taking the testimony of survivors under oath (which has not been done to date unlike any other attack where Aericans were killed by a foreign nation)
    – Lobby for a bridge, park, street, building to be named after the USS Liberty
    – Have a monument erected in your City 
    Link the official site of the USS Liberty to your Facebook page and question the political candidates as to whether or not they will support a monument being erected or a street or park or bridge being named the USS Liberty Bridege et al to honour the memories of survivors and the dead of the USS Liberty. 
    Enough is enough of "Precious" and Israel-Firsters manipulating America and Americans!

    November 16, 2011 at 6:31 am | Reply
  5. mejazzbo

    A commanding officer who does not have his ship at "security alert" while refueling in a hostile port is negligent. This bombing stinks as bad as the USS Maine. Every sailor who has served aboard ship in US Navy knows it.

    November 13, 2011 at 8:43 am | Reply
  6. Steve

    A 'Saudi' ? Again? Maybe we're attacking the 'wrong' countries, eh??

    November 12, 2011 at 2:32 am | Reply
  7. redman83

    I don't care about the rights of terrorists. Torture him to death and donate his body to science.

    November 10, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  8. Wheatthins

    God, the internet makes people such ignorant, arrogant assholes. We are better than the men who did these things to us, therefore we must treat them as such. Torture to obtain confessions are what fascists, dictators, and authoritarian governments NOT our American republic based on the rule of law. Besides, there is probably much better evidence to convict this dirt bag with than some half assed water boarding session could provide. And let him have his trial and day in court, hes going to die anyways so whats the damn rush?

    November 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  9. J Walker

    What a waste of time, put a bullet in the back of his head and get it over with.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  10. Pistoya

    We should have just dispensed with the trial and just initiated the perpetual torture treatment. Keep him alive and torture this motherf_cker till near death and then revive him for the next 50 years.

    November 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Reply

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