Retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold – the Cole’s commanding officer when it was bombed in Yemen in 2000 – was among a dozen people who met with Obama and have been angered by the decision.“I was certainly disappointed with the decision to delay the military commissions process,” Lippold told reporters before the meeting. “We have already waited eight years.”
We’d been had.
Binyam Mohamed — the al Qaeda operative selected by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) for a catastrophic post-9/11 attack with co-conspirator Jose Padilla — was released 17 days later. In a follow-up conference call, the White House liaison to 9/11 and Cole families refused to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding the decision to repatriate Mohamed, including whether he would be freed in Great Britain.
The phrase “swift and certain justice” had been used by top presidential adviser David Axelrod in an interview prior to our meeting with the president. “Swift and certain justice” figured prominently in the White House press release issued before we had time to surrender our White House security passes. “At best, he manipulated the families,” Kirk Lippold, commanding officer of the USS Cole at the time of the attack and the leader of the Cole families group, told me recently. “At worst, he misrepresented his true intentions.”
Bob Hemenway, who lost a son at the Pentagon, summarized the feelings of all interviewed by stating the meeting was “a set-up. It was a political ploy. We were pawns. What a waste. We were a show case. It was a farce.” The former Commander of the USS Cole, Kirk Lippold, pointed out that he requested a list of those who attended the two June meetings but has so far been refused.
…Debra Burlingame, the sister of the pilot of American 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, explained that the families asked substantial questions which were either not answered or hardly answered. She stated that “Holder was sorry he walked into that room. For one hour they did not accept his platitudes. The questioning was aggressive, hard, and pointed. They got the message that these people were not going to be satisfied with the celebrity appearance and vague remarks. “
Family members were angered at being blind-sided, such as finding out after the fact that Jennifer Daskal was present at both meetings. Ms. Daskal is now a member of the DOJ detainee review task force. Previously she was the senior counter terrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, where she wrote that the military commissions were “illegitimate, dysfunctional, and a kangaroo court.” Alice Hoagland, whose son Mark Bingham died on Flight 93, remarked that she was appalled and that “Mr. Holder has a pre-disposition to listen and be swayed by the political opinions of these human rights groups. I felt violated and betrayed.” Debra Burlingame went further when she stated that “I would never have talked about the last moments of my brother’s life with a woman sitting there who has championed the rights of the people who killed him.”
Furthermore, all of those interviewed felt that it was offensive for Obama to choose Ms. Daskal as a member of the task force, especially since he did not see the need to have the family members represented. They noted that she has written extensively about the human rights of the terrorists but has never acknowledged the victims and their families. Shirley Hemenway pointed out that not even one family member was chosen to represent the families on any of the task forces. To her this shows that “Obama’s mind is already made up.” Gordon Haberman, whose daughter Andrea died at the World Trade Center, concurs and explained that five months ago, when the task forces were established, President Obama had the opportunity to confer with the family members but chose not to do it and “it is very disappointing to me; the lateness of this meeting.”
.… family members also voiced their outrage at the fact that Obama constantly talks about the human rights of the terrorists. ….Maureen and Al Santora , whose son was a New York firefighter, felt that “our government has forgotten the 3000 families in favor of the foreign governments… the country is in chaos and his first order of business is to close Guantanamo Bay. You got to be kidding me. What is he doing it for, because the image has tainted the U.S? We are bending over backwards for these terrorists to get world support. Give me a break.”
…. Van Laere, who lost a brother at the World Trade Center, stated “we do not want revenge; we just want justice and no one seems to understand the pain we suffer.” At the meetings they voiced their dissatisfaction and commented that the terrorists are not American citizens and should not be granted American rights. Joe Holland, whose son died at the World Trade Center, noted that “the terrorist’s rights are well taken care of and we have no rights and we ARE American citizens.”
Maureen Santora felt that “it is time for Americans to understand these (the terrorists) are not poor individuals. They have been elevated to victims…The terrorists are getting the benefit hands down and the victims are getting nothing. We need to make it very clear who is the enemy.” Debra Burlingame summed up the feelings of those interviewed by stating that “the last thing that the Obama administration wants is to consider what the victims want. They are at the bottom of the totem pole when it come to weighing in on policy… We are only another stake holder that can cause problems for them regarding the public relations on what they decide.”