And other oddities:
The latest news on Gitmo detainee Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, in US custody since 2002, is that the Military Commission can not confirmthat he will be released if found not guilty. Its not in the Military Commission’s jurisdiction to make those kind of pledges. Considering Nashiri was water boarded, its questionable if any of his statements will be allowed at trial, but prosecutors are confident that there is enough other evidence for a conviction.
Al Nashiri is charged with aiding the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in Aden port in 2000. The bombing killed 17 US service members and severely wounded dozens more. Al Nashiri selected the targets, the timing and coordinated the operatives. However, unexplored for a decade is the level of complicity by top Yemeni government officials and the failure of US intelligence to get a warning to the ship.
Prior to the attack on the USS Cole, Yemen’s then Interior Minister Hussain Arab issued al Nashiri a travel pass that enabled him to pass Yemen’s many internal checkpoints without search or question in the months preceding the terror attack. Al Nashiri also had a weapons permit issued by the Interior Ministry. These official documents were presented in Yemeni court during the 2005 trials of other conspirators.
In an interesting coincidence, Yemeni President Saleh ordered several top officials, including Interior Minister Arab, to travel from the capital Sana’a to Aden the night before the USS Cole was bombed there.
Saleh denied that Yemen was notified of the impending arrival of the warship. According to Centcom commander, General Zinni, in Congressional testimony, US naval officials followed the standard procedures for refueling including a two week advance notification to the host port.
It was also around two weeks prior to the attack that the military data mining group Able Danger and separately DOD analyst Kie Fallis picked up intel streams about an impending attack. Both made several attempts to obtain authorization to issue official warnings to no avail.
Kie Fallis quit the day of the Cole bombing. Able Danger’s Anthony Shaffer’s information never made it into the 9/11 report, although he tried. DOD later revoked Shaffer’s health insurance and forced him out over a “stolen” pen that he reported taking as a souvenir as a teen.
The NSA had the “Yemen hub” (a phone line in Yemen used by al Qaeda operatives for calls to and from bin Laden and others) under heavy surveillance for over a year prior to the Cole bombing, and for about a year after. There was a satellite trained on the house in Sanaa 24/7. Oddly, the NSA never learned of or reported on the USS Cole plot.
The CIA withheld information from the FBI about an al Qaeda summit, a high level meeting in Malaysia in January 2000, at which both the Cole and 9/11 were discussed. (See former federal investigator Ali Soufan’s excellent book, The Black Banners for more.)
Yemeni officials failed to cooperate with Soufan and other FBI agents in Yemen investigating the bombing. Some like the head of Yemen’s Political Security Organization in Aden, Hussain al Ansi, engaged in active misdirection and stonewalling.
Ten terrorists awaiting trial for the Cole attack escaped Yemeni prison in 2002 and after surrendering, their trials resulted in sentences of five to ten years. Most of escaped prison again in 2006. By 2008, all those convicted in the attack had their sentences commuted and were free. Al Nashiri, in US custody, was sentenced to death in Yemen in absencia in 2005.
The Jurist reports the Yemeni government sheltered (and lied for) al Nashiri after the bombing. The Congressional Research Service details the Cole bombers’ releases and notes that, according to the Washington Post, Al Nashiri had spent several months before his capture under “high-level protection” by the Yemeni government.
After the USS Cole attack, Interior Minister Arab was transferred, appointed by Yemeni President Saleh to the Shura Council. Arab resigned and joined the Pro-Revolutionary Military Council in March 2011.
Previous: (2007) The USS Cole Bombing in Yemen: What We Know Today
Related: Defense argues US was not at war in 2000, thus the Military Commission does not have jurisdiction.