USS Cole bombing trial guide

The U.S. Navy released this view of damage sustained on the port side of the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Cole after a suspected terrorist bomb exploded during a refueling operation in the port of Aden, Yemen, Thursday, Oct.12.2000.
The U.S. Navy released this view of damage sustained on the port side of the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Cole after a suspected terrorist bomb exploded during a refueling operation in the port of Aden, Yemen, Thursday, Oct.12.2000. ASSOCIATED PRESS


Next hearing: None set. Then Judge Vance Spath abated the trial on Feb. 16, 2018 freezing an ambitious calendar he set for 2018, and subsequently retired to become an immigration judge. Before his replacement held d a hearing, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit put a hold on any USS Cole proceedings at Guantánamo to consider a challenge brought by defense lawyers to Spath’s job pursuit.

Our report is here: Frustrated judge halts USS Cole trial ‘until a superior court tells me to keep going’

Charges: Nashiri is charged with perfidy, murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, terrorism, conspiracy, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, and hazarding a vessel. He is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s bombings of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole Oct. 12, 2000 and the French oil tanker HMV Limburg in Oct. 6, 2002. He was arraigned at Guantánamo on Nov. 9, 2011. Prosecutors seek the death penalty.

Judge: Army Colonel Lanny J. Acosta, who has yet to sit in the abated case. He succeeded two Air Force colonels who left service to become immigration court judges — Shelly W. Schools, who was assigned but never presided because her predecessor, Vance Spath, froze the proceedings in February 2018. Army Colonel James L. Pohl originally handled the case but assigned it to Spath in July 2014.

Prosecutors: Army Brigadier General Mark S. Martins, chief prosecutor; former New Orleans-based Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark A. Miller, lead trial counsel; Army Colonel John B. Wells and Air Force Major Michael A. Pierson.

Navy Lt. Alaric Piette.

Defense: Navy Lieutenant Alaric Piette and Navy Commander Brian Mizer, on an involuntary recall. Three civilian lawyers, with permission of the chief defense counsel, Marine Brigadier General John Baker, have quit the case invoking an ethics conflict after discovering a microphone hidden in their meeting room. They are: Richard Kammen of Indianapolis, veteran death penalty defender with “learned counsel” status; Department of Defense lawyers Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears, both civilians. The judge has declared their resignations “null and void” and considers them attorneys of record. Three military lawyers were removed from the case on Jan. 12 by the deputy chief defense counsel, Army Col. Wayne Aaron, because once Kammen resigned there was no skilled death-penalty defender to introduce them to the client and decide if they should be on the case. They were Air Force Majors Brett Robinson and Kenitra I. Fewell and Marine Major Tim McCormick.

At left, resigned defense attorney Richard Kammen at Guantánamo’s Camp Justice on June 14, 2013, sporting a kangaroo lapel pin. At center and right, in courtesy photos, are attorneys Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears. CAROL ROSENBERG


Born: Jan. 5, 1965 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Captured: October 2002 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, according to page 66 of the so-called Senate Torture Report. The UAE held him initially then handed him over to the CIA.

Detention: He was held in five secret CIA overseas prisons, including one co-located at the detention center at Guantánamo in 2003 and 2004, before he was brought back to the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba in September 2006, according to the public portion of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence “Torture Report.” He is one of three former CIA captives the U.S. spy agency has admitted to waterboarding during his secret custody. The agency also made video recordings of him undergoing secret “enhanced interrogation techniques” but destroyed the recordings in 2005.

Saudi Abd al Rahim al Nashiri during his Nov. 9, 2011 military commissions arraignment at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a sketch by artist Janet Hamlin approved for release by a court security officer.

Torture: Court documents and the Senate report show the CIA force-fed him Ensure “rectally” for going on a hunger strike in May 2004. He also was alternately kenneled like a dog in a cage and hung nude by his arms to the point where a medical officer worried his arms would be dislocated. Other techniques used on him during interrogations included a CIA officer revving a cordless drill Nashiri’s head while he was blindfolded, cocking a pistol near his head, threatening to sexually abuse his mother and, according to a 2016 account by one of his interrogators using a “stiff-bristled brush to scrub his ass and balls and then his mouth and blowing cigar smoke in his face until he became nauseous.”

Health: A U.S. military panel concluded in 2013 that he suffers depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but is competent to stand trial. At the request of his lawyers, the case judge ordered an MRI of his brain before the trial could begin.

Profession: Told a 2007 military review that he was a merchant in Mecca who by 19 was a millionaire. CIA profile released by the White House in 2006 said he was al-Qaida operations chief in the Arabian Peninsula at time of his capture.

Paramilitary background: CIA profile said he fought in Chechnya and Tajikistan and trained at the Khaldan camp in Afghanistan in 1992.


The 8,300-ton guided-missile destroyer is based in Norfolk, Virginia.

It was commissioned, a formal ceremony, at Port Everglades, Florida, in 1996.

It was on a refueling stop in October 2000 when two al-Qaida suicide bombers drove a bomb-laden boat into the side, killing themselves and ultimately claiming the lives of 17 Americans.

Guantanamo Cole Attack.JPG
This Oct. 15, 2000 file photo shows investigators in a speed boat examining the hull of the USS Cole at the Yemeni port of Aden, after a powerful explosion ripped a hole in the U.S Navy destroyer. DIMITRI MESSINIS ASSOCIATED PRESS


They are represented at the hearings by shipmates and family:

Hull Maintenance Technician Second Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, 21, of Mechanicsville, Virginia.

Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow, 35, of Morrisville, Pennsylvania.

Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis, 19, of Woodleaf, North Carolina.

Information Systems Technician Timothy Lee Gauna, 21, of Rice, Texas.

Signalman Seaman Cherone Louis Gunn, 22, of Rex, Georgia.

Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels, 19, of Norfolk, Virginia.

Engineman Second Class Marc Ian Nieto, 24, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Electronics Warfare Technician Second Class Ronald Scott Owens, 24, of Vero Beach, Florida.

Seaman Lakiba Nicole Palmer, 22, of San Diego.

Engineman Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett, 19, of Churchville, Maryland.

Fireman Patrick Howard Roy, 19, of Keedysville, Maryland.

Electronics Warfare Technician First Class Kevin Shawn Rux, 30, of Portland, North Dakota.

Mess Management Specialist Third Class Ronchester Manangan Santiago, 22, of Kingsville, Texas.

Operations Specialist Second Class Timothy Lamont Saunders, 32, of Ringgold, Virginia.

Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis Jr., 26, of Rockport, Texas.

Ensign Andrew Triplett, 31, of Macon, Mississippi.

Seaman Craig Bryan Wibberley, 19, of Williamsport, Maryland.

In addition, a Bulgarian crewmember, Atanas Atanasov, 38, was killed in the Limburg bombing.

A U.S. Air Force honor guard carries the coffin of a killed sailor from a C-17 Air Force aircraft at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany Friday, Oct. 13, 2000. Seventeen sailors died and 33 were injured in the explosion on the USS Cole while it was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden. THOMAS KIENZLE ASSOCIATED PRESS


The Pentagon has built a $12 million Expeditionary Legal Complex with a snoop-proof courtroom capable of trying six alleged co-conspirators before one judge and jury, with an original vision of a six-defendant Sept. 11 terror plot conspiracy trial. Five men are charged in that case. Media and other observers are sequestered in a soundproofed room behind thick glass, at the rear, and hear the court audio feed on a 40-second delay. The judge at the front and his court security officer have mute buttons to silence the feed to the observers — if they suspect someone in court could spill classified information. Pentagon workers have installed a curtain inside the spectators gallery to wall off victims, chosen by lottery, from the other observers at the back of the courtroom.

President Barack Obama’s plan to close the detention center at Guantánamo, released Feb. 23, 2016, put costs of running the military commissions system at $91 million a year.

Later that year, Nashiri’s filed a legal motion with the judge seeking permission for the Saudi to spend hearing nights at the compound, in a holding cell outback. They argued he suffered on the commute between the court and the classified Camp 7 prison. The judge denied that motion.


Jan. 7, 2019: New USS Cole case judge quitting military to join immigration court.

Nov. 20, 2018: War court judge pursued immigration job for years while presiding over USS Cole case

Oct. 12, 2018: War court appeals panel rules against accused USS Cole bomber’s lawyers in ethics standoff

Sept. 14, 2018: Retiring USS Cole trial judge finds a new bench. In immigration court.

Aug. 9, 2018: New Air Force judge to preside in Guantánamo’s stalled USS Cole case

July 5, 2018: Frustrated USS Cole case judge retiring from military service

June 18, 2018: Federal court overturns Marine general’s war court contempt conviction

May 22, 2018: Federal appeals court calls of eavesdropping inquiry

May 11, 2018: Federal court wants to know who, if anyone is spying on Guantánamo defense attorneys

April 25, 2018: Navy hires firm that rebuilt the World Trade Center to expand the Gitmo war court complex

Feb. 21, 2018: War court prosecutor to appeal USS Cole case shutdown

Feb. 16, 2018: Frustrated judge halts USS Cole trial over defense lawyer stalemate

Feb. 15, 2018: Judge may seek testimony from Secretary of Defense to sort out USS Cole stalemate

Feb. 14, 2018: USS Cole judge says he hasn’t decided whether to have lawyers who quit arrested

Feb. 13, 2018: Military judge wants civilian attorneys arrested for quitting USS Cole case

Feb. 5, 2018: Secretary of Defense fires Guantánamo war court overseer

Jan. 19, 2018: USS Cole case lawyers who resigned defy judge’s order to appear at war court. Again.

Jan. 17, 2018: USS Cole case judge asks chief judge to rule on release of war court audio recordings

Jan. 9, 2018: Prosecutor says war court has audio of Marine general scoffing, laughing

Dec. 20, 2017: Plan for eavesdrop-proof legal meeting site has a ‘listening room’

Dec. 3, 2017: Marine general asks federal court to overturn his contempt conviction

Nov. 22, 2017: Pentagon upholds Marine general’s contempt conviction in USS Cole legal dispute

Nov. 17, 2017: Captive, judge oddly agree neither can force lawyer to go to Guantánamo

Nov. 16, 2017: New York federal judge declines to quash Guantánamo subpoena

Nov. 14, 2017: The Pentagon paid $370,000 to rent an MRI for the war court. It doesn’t work.

Nov. 13, 2017: Navy SEAL turned lawyer defending alleged USS Cole bomber

Nov. 10, 2017: Law professor seeks federal court protection against forced video testimony to Guantánamo

Nov. 8, 2017: USS Cole’s deck was scene of ‘chaos, panic’ after al-Qaida’s bombing

Nov. 7, 2017: Pentagon blames glitch for use of Gitmo war court kill switch

Nov. 4, 2017: Federal judge blocks military judge from having U.S. marshals seize defense attorney

Nov. 3, 2017: Pentagon official frees Marine general confined to quarters at Guantánamo. For now.

Nov. 3, 2017: Lone Navy defender refuses to question witness in USS Cole hearing

Nov. 2, 2017: Resigned USS Cole case lawyers to defy war court judge’s order — again

Nov. 2, 2017: Federal judge orders USS Cole case to continue after defense lawyers quit

Nov. 1, 2017: Air Force judge sends Marine general lawyer to 21 days confinement for disobeying orders

Oct. 31, 2017: Guantánamo judge orders contempt hearing to try to end defense revolt at war court

Oct. 30, 2017: USS Cole prosecutors want no-show civilian attorneys found in contempt of war court.

Oct. 29, 2017: Civilian lawyers defy judge’s order to appear at war court

Oct. 23, 2017: Defense lawyers quit. Not so fast, says war court judge, who orders them to Guantánamo

Oct. 16, 2017: Supreme Court won’t hear USS Cole case challenge to Guantánamo war court

Oct. 14, 2017: Will the Obama-era war court prosecutor stay on? No word yet.

Oct. 13, 2017: Guantánamo’s USS Cole death-penalty case in limbo after key defense lawyer quits

Oct. 2, 2017: Guantánamo gets MRI on four-month deployment, for one detainee?

Aug. 1, 2017: Admitted terrorist testifies behind closed doors at Guantánamo

March 15, 2017: Judge setting USS Cole bombing trial for 2018

March 14, 2017: USS Cole judge declares media transparency challenge moot

March 13, 2017: Emotionally drained crew kept USS Cole afloat while FBI collected evidence

March 10, 2017: Going to Guantánamo war court makes USS Cole defendant want to puke

March 9, 2017: Saudi plea deal to test Trump’s call for halt of Guantánamo transfers

March 7, 2017: Guantánamo judge orders CIA testimony on destroyed ‘Black Site’ videotapes

March 6, 2017: War court debates whether CIA is monitoring medical care of captive it waterboarded

Feb. 10, 2017: Trump Justice Department delivers CIA ‘Torture Report’ to federal court

Dec. 29, 2016: Federal judge preserves CIA ‘Torture Report’ after war court wouldn’t do it

Dec. 16, 2016: Lawyer says USS Cole trial could start in 2018

Dec. 15, 2016: Media appeal averts closed USS Cole case testimony

Dec. 14, 2016: Guantánamo lawyer: We need to hear from the torturers

Dec. 13, 2016: USS Cole case defenders seek data on death of Kuwaiti man killed by a drone attack

Nov. 3, 2016: Prosecutor orders special probe of war court defense teams

Oct. 19, 2016: Stubborn witness testifies at Guantánamo by video after night in Virginia jail

Oct. 18, 2016: War court judge has U.S. Marshals seize no-show war court witness

Oct. 16, 2016: Alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind wants war court sleepover

Sept. 9, 2016: ‘Don’t forget the Cole,’ bombing survivor implores after Guantánamo hearings

Sept. 6, 2016: After 18-month hiatus USS Cole trial participants return to Guantánamo

June 30, 2016: USS Cole case judge orders first Guantánamo hearing since 2015

Updated: Feb. 15, 2019

Carol Rosenberg reports on the U.S. base and prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. She joined the Miami Herald staff in 1990 as Middle East correspondent. Her Guantánamo coverage has received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and the ABA Silver Gavel among other honors. She was also part of a Herald team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News coverage in 2001.