GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — Nearly 12 years after al Qaeda terrorists killed his son, Jesse Nieto still has a bumper sticker on his car that reads: “Remember the Cole.”
This week, he traveled to the U.S. Navy base here with about a dozen other relatives of the 17 sailors killed in the attack on the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000, to witness a three-day pre-trial hearing in the case of the man accused of plotting the assault. Thirty-nine others were injured.
Mr. Nieto said the bumper sticker is one way to let others know of the sacrifice his 24-year-old son, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Nieto, made in what would be the opening days of the war on terrorism.
“I’ve had it on there since 2000. Every so often somebody will run by it, and they’ll say, ‘Get over it. It’s been 10, 12 years, get over it.’ You don’t bury your youngest child,” he said.
Abd Al Rahim Hussayn Mohammad Al Nashiri, a 47-year-old Saudi of Yemeni descent, is accused of masterminding the attack against the Cole, which was refueling off the coast of Yemen when two men dressed in civilian clothing sailed up to the destroyer in an explosives-packed boat and rammed it.
There was no military response to the attack, and legal proceedings have been slow. The families of the Cole crew are fighting to make sure Al Nashiri faces a full military trial, four years after he was first charged and 10 years after he was arrested.
“Petty Officer Kevin Rux was my son. Is my son,” said Saundra Rux Flanagan of Bridgeport, W.Va. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s always in my heart and he’ll never die.”
He was 30 when he died.
“It has taken us a long time to get to this point,” she added. “It might take us a long time to get to court. To the final trial. But we’ll be there, we’ll be there waiting and watching, listening and praying for the best outcome.”
Al Nashiri was arrested in 2002, and detained and interrogated by the CIA until 2006, when he was sent to Guantanamo Bay. He was first charged in June 2008.
In 2009, the Obama administration dropped the charges and attempted to try Al Nashiri in federal civilian court. Congress blocked funds that would enable that to happen, and the military commissions systems underwent another rewrite.
The charges against Al Nashiri were renewed in 2011.
Now, Al Nashiri’s trial is scheduled for November, but it could be delayed until the spring or summer of 2014. About 100 motions, a majority filed by the defense, will need to be addressed by the judge before the case goes to trial.
The case is a test of the military commissions system and is the first capital case since the system was reformed in 2009.
Critics say the motions are a delaying tactic, but the defense says the motions are necessary to address basic issues of how the case will be tried because of the lack of history for cases tried under military commissions.
Chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins defended the military commissions system, comparing the hearing to one comparable under federal civilian court.
During the hearing this week, chief judge Army Col. James Pohl ruled on fewer than one-fourth of the motions. The next hearing for Al Nashiri is scheduled for the end of October.
As far as the families and survivors are concerned, the procedural issues are necessary to get to a trial date, but they are still frustrated by the legal process.
“I heard a lot of things about Nashiri’s rights,” Joe Pelley, a senior chief petty officer who survived the attack.
“Personally I don’t care about his rights, because he didn’t care about our rights. … He didn’t care that he masterminded this whole operation to blow up, in my opinion, innocent people.”