Twelve years ago Friday, the USS Cole was the target of a suicide-bomb attack that killed 17 sailors while the warship was moored in the Gulf of Aden.
Today, the victims’ families and friends still await justice, as the accused mastermind of the attack — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — awaits trial at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Next week, al-Nashiri’s case and that of the alleged 9/11 attack planners will inch toward trial, with another round of pretrial hearings that will determine how the eventual trials will be deliberated.
In the meantime, congressional Republicans have expressed suspicions that the Obama administration intends to move Guantanamo detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center, a currently unused detention facility in northwest Illinois.
Congress blocked a 2009 effort to make such a transfer by the administration, which had tried to close the Guantanamo center and have its detainees tried in civilian court.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Oct. 2 that the Thomson facility would house U.S. inmates, not Guantanamo detainees.
But in an Oct. 4 letter to President Obama, Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said recent Justice Department proceedings in Illinois “clearly tips your Administration’s hand that it intends to proceed with a reckless plan of transferring terrorist detainees to the U.S. Homeland.”
Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in an Oct. 2 statement: “The Obama administration has been trying for years to open Thomson prison in order to transfer terrorists from Guantanamo Bay into the United States. Congress has vehemently denied this request and has refused funding for the prison at every step of the way.
“This back door move by the Obama administration to open Thomson and reject the will of Congress and the American people is dangerously irresponsible, and will be met with the full and unfettered opposition of the Appropriations Committee.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler confirmed that the administration is reprogramming funds to purchase Thomson, but said it is a low-cost solution to alleviate overcrowding in existing federal prisons and that federal law prevents the transfer of Guantanamo detainees.
“Specifically, it will be used for administrative maximum-security inmates and others who have proven difficult to manage in high-security institutions,” she said Thursday in an email to The Washington Times.
Pretrial motions hearings at Guantanamo have been beset by delays to accommodate the detainees’ observance of Ramadan, and by unforeseen events such as Tropical Storm Isaac, which forced the postponement of August’s motions hearing until this month.
Many more rounds of pretrial hearings are expected for USS Cole and 9/11 cases before they go to trial due to the number of court motions filed — the majority of them by the defense.
In general, defense attorneys in both cases argue that the military commissions system — under which the detainees are prosecuted, judged and sentenced by military officials — is biased toward the government and ensures the trials will end in convictions.
Human rights groups, which also have filed motions, argue that the system is illegitimate and that defendants should be tried in federal court under civilian rules of law.
Prosecutors argue that the military commissions system is better suited to handle terrorism cases than federal courts, in part due to the amount of classified material involved in the cases.
There are 166 detainees at Guantanamo — 34 of whom have been designated for prosecution, including those accused in USS Cole and 9/11 attacks, and 46 who could be detained indefinitely. Eighty-six have been cleared for release by a task force consisting of CIA, Defense Department, Justice Department and FBI officials.