From Yemen to Manhattan

In military courts, the terrorists win, the people lose.

On November 2, two days after Uzbek Muslim Sayfullo Saipov killed eight people in New York City, U.S. District Court judge Royce Lamberth denied defense requests to halt hearings at Guantanamo in the case against Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, charged with masterminding the bombing of the USS Cole on October 12, 2000. 

Back on October 16, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand an appeal court decision that al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, should face a trial by a military commission. Al-Nashiri argued that military commissions only have authority in cases that occurred during armed conflict, and that the United States was not at war with al Qaeda at the time. Authorities charged that al-Nashiri was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, planner of the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

At his first court appearance in Guantanamo in 2009, al-Nashiri said he wanted to work with both civilian and military lawyers. Melina Milazzo of Human Rights First called the military justice system “inherently flawed,” and she might have had a point. Relatives of the Cole victims had a stronger case that inherently flawed tactics led to the death of their loved ones. 

While passing through the Suez Canal, the guided-missile destroyer welcomed aboard Egyptian souvenir vendors. As crew members and investigators believed, the Egyptians were gathering intel on the ship, which enabled terrorists to prepare for the Cole’s refueling stop at Aden. The Yemeni pilot who guided the ship into port appeared agitated and Yemeni workers refueled the ship with unusual speed before departing.  

The Cole was under “Threat Condition Bravo,” which meant that crew could not fire unless fired upon, and could not fire without permission from the captain or superior officers. Such permission would not have mattered because, as a gunner’s mate confirmed, the guns were not even loaded. That enabled two men in a motorized dingy to approach the Cole unchallenged and detonate explosives.

“There was a thunderous explosion,” recalled Cole commander Kirk Lippold in 2010. “You could feel all 505 feet and 8,400 tons of guided missile destroyer violently thrust up and to the right.” The massive blast wounded 38 U.S. sailors and killed 17, including Lakiba Nicole Palmer, 22, married and mother of a young child. 

Palmer grew up near naval bases in San Diego and worked hard to fulfill her dream of joining the Navy. As friend Shawana Phillips told reporters, “it meant so much to her to wear that uniform . . . she was so proud of what she was doing, seeing the world, serving her country.” As Likiba’s math teacher Paul Locher said, “You never think a terrorist is going to kill someone you know.” San Diego named a street after the slain sailor.

Surviving crew saved the Cole from sinking and the destroyer was towed back to the United States and repaired, at huge expense. Despite the massive losses, President of the United States Bill Clinton did not strike back against the terrorists, and they too learned a lesson. 

“The USS Cole attack was the final step on the road to 9/11,” wrote Daniel Greenfield. “Our government’s inaction sent a message that America could be hit hard and we would not retaliate. It told al Qaeda that American blood was dirt cheap and that the murder of our people came with no price.”

Al Qaeda succeed in killing nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri was not captured until 2002 and the case against him went nowhere during the two administrations of George W. Bush. In 2010, the 44th president, formerly known as Barry Soetoro, met with survivors of the Cole and 9/11 attacks and promised swift action.  

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said al-Nashiri “should be brought to justice” and “I believe in this case we will see justice done.” The 9/11 and Cole survivors didn’t see justice done, but they might have noticed that the 44th president, in effect, served as the terrorists’ pro bono attorney. In 2016, the president duly released Mashur Abdallah Ahmed al Sabri, a terrorist directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole

A full 17 years after that deadly attack, Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri has still not been brought to justice. This should confirm that nothing would be gained by moving Sayfullo Saipov to Guantanamo. In civilian courts, the stateside terrorist lobby will sandbag the proceedings by any means necessary, so the case could easily drag on as long as al-Nashiri’s. 

“Diversity” immigrant Sayfullo Saipov killed for the Islamic State, remains fully content with his actions and knows the legal system, civilian or military, works in his favor. Given that reality, prudent action should aim to keep terrorists out of the legal system. When terrorist attacks occur, police might follow the example of San Bernardino, where officers shot dead Muslim mass murderers Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik

For his part, President Trump should end the “diversity visa” lottery, toughen vetting, and extend the travel ban. That will help keep Islamic terrorists such as Sayfullo Saipov from entering the country in the first place. 

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