USS Cole Commander Discusses Obama Meeting
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
One of President Obama's first acts in office was to sign an executive order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The administration is reviewing how to proceed with cases against the suspected terrorists imprisoned there. On Friday, the president explained his decision to family members of those killed in the September 11th attacks and in the bombing of the USS Cole.
President Obama met at the White House with about 40 family members. Also in that meeting was the commanding officer of the Cole, when it was attacked on October 12th, 2000 off the coast of Yemen. He is Commander Kirk Lippold, now retired from the Navy, and he joins us here in our studios. Thanks for coming in.
KIRK LIPPOLD: Thank you for having me in.
BLOCK: Commander Lippold, what was your position going into that White House meeting on Friday?
LIPPOLD: I was very guarded. I was somewhat concerned because the president had clearly signed out his three executive orders, regarding Guantanamo Bay and the status of the detainees. And he had done so without ever consulting with the families or anyone that was involved in the ongoing war on terror. So it seemed like it was somewhat of a unilateral decision that didn't take into consideration anyone else.
BLOCK: Well, tell me more about that meeting at the White House. What was the tone? What was the nature of the discussion? Who was talking, and who was listening?
LIPPOLD: It was actually a good meeting. The president came into the room, walked around, introduced himself to every single person there. Then he spoke for 15 minutes to explain his reasoning behind the closure of Guantanamo Bay, the withdrawing of charges against not only al-Nashiri, who was the co- conspirator for the Cole attack, but also the 9/11 families and the dropping of the charges, as well.
After that 15 minutes, he sat down. And he spent 35 minutes taking questions, from both USS Cole and 9/11 families, and allowed them an opportunity to express their concerns, as well as ask what's the way forward going to be with respect to the detainees and how they're being handled.
BLOCK: We should explain that when you say they're dropping charges, it doesn't mean these guys are walking out of the doors of Guantanamo free men. They are being detained while they establish what sort of procedure will be used going forward.
LIPPOLD: That is true. The legal term is without prejudice. Now one thing the president did do is, we discussed how we're going to prosecute them. He did mention that the door was still open with respect to trying them within the federal court system.
He also opened the door that the prosecution of the detainees may occur under a revised military commission's process. I think that is significant because we're fighting a war. And the prosecution of these terrorists should remain under DOD control.
BLOCK: Does that mean you would not be satisfied by a prosecution that went through the federal court system?
LIPPOLD: I think we would need to be very careful in doing that. Obviously, there would be a lot of people very concerned with how certain evidence was gathered. I don't want to get into the debate or the issue as to whether anything that came out was obtained through, what some people would consider, torture and another person considers to be enhanced interrogation techniques. Clearly, there were measures that went beyond what is accepted practice in the military - or the Army field manual. But this is a war. We're not talking Miranda rights here. We're talking about ensuring the safety of Americans, and our national interests, not only here in the United States, but worldwide, as well.
BLOCK: Commander Lippold, if you went into that White House meeting on Friday saying you felt guarded going in, how did you feel as you were leaving the White House?
LIPPOLD: When I came out, I was actually pleased with the president in the fact that he, in his first two weeks of his administration, took time from what is, obviously, a very busy schedule given the current problems we're having economically, to meet with these families. For the first time, a president met with the families of USS Cole.
President Clinton attended the memorial ceremony. President Bush never met with the Cole families. President Obama did that. But there's a larger sense here. Because he met with the Cole families and the 9/11 families together, for the first time, I think it's a recognition that the war on terrorism spans now a third administration. The war was ongoing during the Clinton administration. We failed to see it.
Before there was 9/11, there was 10/12. It is a recognition that we've been fighting this war for a long time, that it, in fact, is going to be a longer war than everyone anticipated. But, eventually, we are going to be able to do a number of things - that there is going to be a larger and more holistic approach that is going to keep this country safe. And people are going to start working toward that end.
BLOCK: Commander Lippold, thanks very much for coming in.
LIPPOLD: Thank you for having me in.
BLOCK: That's retired Navy Commander Kirk Lippold. He was commanding officer of the USS Cole when it was bombed in 2000. He's now a senior military fellow with the advocacy group Military Families United.
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