Nearly eight years ago, 17 American sailors were killed and dozens wounded when the USS Cole, a Navy destroyer, was attacked while it refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.
This past week, the Pentagon announced it will seek the death penalty against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, who allegedly helped plot the attack. Charges include conspiracy to violate laws of war, murder, treachery, terrorism, destruction of property and intentionally causing serious bodily injury. He is the first person charged in the United States in connection with the attack.
The Pentagon needs to demonstrate that the United States will vigorously defend its service members. Al-Nashiri will be tried in a military tribunal, once charges are approved by the Department of Defense. The tribunal will receive intense media scrutiny given the scale of the attack and allegations by al-Nashiri that he confessed to helping plot the bombing of the Cole because he was tortured by American interrogators. He has been held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay since 2006.
It remains to be seen if the military court excludes evidence obtained under duress. Al-Nashiri was among terrorist suspects subjected to waterboarding in 2002 and 2003 during interrogations in secret CIA prisons, CIA Director Michael Hayden said earlier this year. CIA personnel were banned from using waterboarding in 2006.
Officials say there is other evidence to make a case against al-Nashiri. They allege that al-Nashiri is a member of al-Qaida and met with Osama bin Laden on several occasions. It is also alleged that al-Nashir rented apartments overlooking the port in Yemen to prepare for the Cole attack. Al-Nashiri allegedly salvaged explosives from a failed attempt to blow up the USS The Sullivans in January 2000 and refitted that boat, which was used to attack the Cole. The attack occurred after consultation with bin-Laden.
Just as the Pentagon needs to seek justice on behalf of the victims of the Cole bombing, they also should conduct a tribunal that is just. This is an important opportunity for the United States to demonstrate that due process and justice are core values.