John Clodfelter’s son Kenneth was the first killed by the explosive-laden boat ramming the side of the USS Cole — but his was the last body to be found, 10 days after the al-Qaeda attack.
He said the defense is trying to paint al-Nashiri as a “nice guy, someone you want your daughter to bring home for Christmas.”
Particularly unsettling, Clodfelter said, is how al-Nashiri waves at the victims in the courtroom — as the suicide bombers in the boat that struck the USS Cole waved at sailors on the missile destroyer just before detonation.
“People so often keep thinking about them being al-Qaeda and they say very little if anything about the ship and the people that were on the ship that day,” he said, warning everyone in the press room “al-Qaeda has made it known that they want to kill as many Americans they can get their hands on.”
Senior Chief Petty Officer Joe Pelly, now retired, was aboard the ship that day and had to remove the bodies of his shipmates after the bombing.
“I don’t agree that he gets all these rights but, wonderful country that we have, we give it to him,” said Pelly, who added al-Nashiri appears to have it “pretty well here.”
“He doesn’t look like he’s hurting at all,” Pelly added.
But survivors of that dark day and their families carry plenty of hurt, as well as indignation over how their plight is treated in the media.
Pelly referenced a Jan. 5 Miami Herald article that led with the paragraph, “When victims of al-Qaida attacks want to talk to reporters at Guantánamo, retired Navy Capt. Karen Loftus squires the so-called ‘victim family members’ to Camp Justice’s press shed and introduces herself as their escort.” Loftus introduced today’s USS Cole victims.
“But you want to say he’s a victim,” Pelly said of coverage of al-Nashiri. “No doubt that he was tortured; that’s in writing. …What about the torture we have gone through?”
Not only were they unsure if their ship would be attacked again, but crew members could see jubilant partying on the coastline of Yemen the night of the bombing, he said.
“Torture: we lost 17 men and women,” Pelly said. “Torture: we had 39 wounded not counting the mental state of the survivors.” That includes his own post-traumatic stress disorder, affecting every day of his life but lost in the cacophony of court arguments about al-Nashiri’s claimed PTSD.
“He supposedly has PTSD from 2006 but nobody reports that about us,” he continued. “Think about survivors, the family members of the deceased — think about their PTSD.”
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sean Dubbs was also on the USS Cole that day. “It’s disheartening the limited coverage this trial has receive is a question about whether those of us standing here are victims,” he said. “We’re standing right here and we’re living with it every day.”
“We will be an outspoken voice from now until justice is served,” Dubbs promised.
Retired Command Master Chief James Parlier asked the assembled media to “please don’t be biased.”
“Please take everything into context and use it out of fairness,” Parlier said. “…One thing I saw that I knew that it was coming is that they were going to make it a human rights issue with Nashiri.”
Parlier said he was proud to watch the USS Cole pull into port weekend before last, returning to Virginia after its seventh deployment.
“After those sonofabitches tried to take her out,” he noted, adding, “I am proud to be an American.”
Martins said the next hearings in al-Nashiri’s case are tentatively scheduled for April 14-19, allowing plenty of time for a competency evaluation plus a physical exam planned by the defense.
Al-Nashiri, who denies he was al-Qaeda’s chief of Gulf operations, faces the death penalty if convicted. He’s already been sentenced to death in absentia by a Yemeni court in 2004.
Navy veteran Pelly simply said, “If he’s competent, let’s nail his ass.”
“If al-Nashiri believes what he did is within his belief and that’s what Allah wanted or his god, well then man up, per se …and stop hiding behind our Constitution.”
Stay tuned to PJM for ongoing coverage of the Guantanamo tribunals.