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The Betrayal of the USS Cole

On Thursday morning, sailors on board the USS Cole were lining up for an early lunch. Seventeen of them died as an Al Qaeda bomb on board a fishing boat tore through the hull outside the galley. The dead included 15 men and 2 women, one of whom had a young child. For three weeks the crew of the USS Cole struggled to keep their ship from sinking while working waist deep in water with bucket brigades, sleeping on the deck and living surrounded by the terrible aftermath of the terrorist attack.

The survivors, wounded and whole, received the words "Glory is the Reward of Valor" written on the bent steel removed from the site of the explosion that tore through their ship and their lives.

The President of the United States promised that justice would be done. “To those who attacked them we say: You will not find a safe harbor. We will find you and justice will prevail.”

Despite Clinton’s words, justice did not prevail.

The father of Hull Maintenance Technician Third Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter believed that there would be justice, but he was to be disappointed. “I just felt, for sure, you know, they’re not going to go ahead and just kiss off the lives of 17 U.S. sailors,” he said. “In fact, they didn’t do anything.”

Walid bin Attash, a planner of the USS Cole bombing and who also played a role in the 9/11 attack, is still at Gitmo. His trial continues to drag on while he and his lawyers play games. Rahim Hussein al-Nashiri, another of the planners, is still awaiting trial. But Mashur Abdallah Ahmed al Sabri, one of the members of the USS Cole cell, has already been released by Barack Obama from Guantanamo Bay.

Sabri was rated as a high risk terrorist who is ”is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies”, but that was no obstacle for Obama who had already fired one Secretary of Defense for being slow to free dangerous Al Qaeda terrorists and was browbeating his latest appointee over the same issue.

The very paperwork that was used as the basis for the decision to free Sabri describes him as “a member of a Yemeni al-Qaida cell directly involved with the USS Cole attack”. This cell “conducted surveillance” on the targeted vessel and “prepared explosives for the bombing”. Sabri had been arrested in Yemen for his involvement in the attack before he managed to make his way to Afghanistan.

Now he has been sent to the homeland of terrorism, Saudi Arabia.

After praising the “beautiful religious tradition” of Islam, which the USS Cole terrorists had “twisted”, President Clinton had promised that, “America will not stop standing guard”.

But under him, it never even started standing guard.

While Osama bin Laden prepared for US retaliation, evacuating Kandahar and escaping into the desert, President Clinton rejected military action against the terrorists claiming that the evidence against Bin Laden was not strong enough. The State Department warned that attacking Bin Laden would “inflame the Islamic world”.

Very little has changed since then. Muslim terrorists strike and we are told to close our eyes and appease harder or we risk inflaming the tender sensitivities of the Muslim world.

Most Americans have grown numb to the parade of Islamic terrorists triumphantly exiting Gitmo as free men. No matter their risk rating, the Arabic names, the dark smirks and scowls all come to blend together. But Sabri is not just another Bin Laden bodyguard or operative. His cell has American blood on its hands.

The USS Cole attack was the final step on the road to 9/11. Our government’s inaction sent a message that America could be hit hard and we would not retaliate. It told Al Qaeda that American blood was dirt cheap and that the murder of our people came with no price.

These days we are sending that same message all over again.

Obama’s release of Sabri is yet another page in that same dark history. It is a betrayal of the dead and the wounded. And of their families. It is a betrayal of the promise made by his Democratic predecessor, vowing, “After all they have given us, we must give them their meaning.”

In 2009, Obama had met with USS Cole families and promised them swift action. But a year later the families were accusing his administration of inaction and broken promises. His statement on the tenth anniversary of the attack made no mention of bringing the attackers to justice. Instead he stated that, “We will honor their legacy of selfless service by advancing the values that they stood for throughout their lives.” What were these values and how did they justify releasing one of the Cole cell terrorists?

From Clinton to Obama, there has been a long shameful tradition of substituting vague generic sentiments for justice. Of speaking of honor and healing, of pain and history, of tragedy and courage, while giving the killers behind the attack yet another pass. There is neither honor nor courage in that. Mashur Abdallah Ahmed al Sabri has left American custody as a free man. It is not inconceivable that Obama will free even the masterminds of the USS Cole attack. As he empties Guantanamo Bay of the monsters squatting in its darkest corners, he slowly works his way toward the worst of the worst with an eye to letting them all go.

After the USS Cole attack, President Clinton contended, “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act.” This uncertainty and lack of conviction continues to haunt our War on Terror. Behind every statement about courage and honor, there is an “if”. Lurking behind every promise of action is yet another “if”. And these “Ifs” keep anything from being done.

Clinton’s fight against Al Qaeda lacked any conviction that we were right and they were wrong. And that is why during the Clinton years, we lost and they won. Obama is not bothered by the hanging “If”. He knows that we are wrong and if the terrorists are not quite right, they are still more right than we are.

That is why Obama freed Sabri. It is why he freed a legion of other Gitmo inmates. It is why he has made shutting down the prison for Islamic terrorists into one of the major goals of his administration.

The USS Cole attack sent a message to Islamic terrorists that American lives did not matter to our government. Obama’s release of Sabri tells ISIS, Al Qaeda and its brethren the same thing once again.

“They have given us their deaths, let us give them their meaning,” President Clinton declared. After all these years have passed, their deaths remain a debt that this country has yet to repay with meaning. The dead do not ask us for glory. Despite the promises of past governments, they have been forgotten beyond the close circles of their shipmates and their families. But they have a right to justice.

The valorous dead of the USS Cole have been betrayed too many times to count by each administration. Somewhere their restless spirits wait for a safe harbor in a better America that will see justice done.


  1. Anonymous8/5/16

    Is this not an act of war? Terrorism refers to attacks on civillians?

  2. I am surprised there have been no rogue private citizen black ops by retired Special Ops veterans to totally neutralize these released Gitmo detainees. Before they can return victoriously to the Cauldron of non-humanity that is the muslim world.......

  3. Anonymous8/5/16

    In the 1970's, as a backpacker in Egypt, I was followed by several village boys. Soon, they started throwing stones. Perfectly acceptable fun to their families; like torturing a dog, cat, mule. I'd never know who threw it. Who to catch? Didn't matter. Catch one and beat the crap out of him.

    Took me one minute to understand the difference between war and justice. How can our government persist in willful blindness, weakness and indecision? This earns only disdain and eagerness to attack.... And the whole Muslim world is watching.

  4. Anonymous8/5/16

    In 1985, the Beirut Islamic Liberation Organization kidnapped four Soviet diplomats. The soviet Spetzgruppa Alpha quickly captured family members of the kidnappers, and sent one's testicles to the kidnappers before killing him.

    The diplomats were returned and no problems thereafter.

  5. Anonymous8/5/16

    I hear that the Gitmo inmates get the same medical care as the soldiers who guard them. Must be pretty expensive fixing a lifetime of dental neglect, poorly mended bones, rickets, parasites, STD's, immunizations, prescriptions. They must be in good fighting condition when released.

  6. Anonymous8/5/16

    Job ratings are a point of pride for sailors, especially for the sailors that keep a destroyer's power plants running.

    These engineering ratings are also the primary damage control force on a destroyer fighting fires that occur on a frighteningly regular basis.

    Hull Maintenance Technicans' constant training and hard work kept the Cole from sinking in a foreign port.

    Eugene Clodfelter is a Hull Maintenance Technician.

    There is no "Home Maintenance Technician" job rating in the Navy.

    Mr. Greenfield's articles are always outstanding, but gosh I hope he would fix this minor oversight.

  7. sorry about that, yes you're right of course

  8. Thanks for the memories Daniel. Excellent as always. The Irishman.

  9. Anonymous9/5/16

    You have clarified, very succinctly, the Cole incident for me. Again you educate this 66 year old retired math teacher who thought she knew her history. I lived through this attack, and followed the msm as if they spoke truth, and needed a clearer picture of the reality of the terrorism involved. And the protection of the planners and bombers. Now I know. Thank you Sir. God bless you.

  10. Anonymous9/5/16

    The left intends to hand our heads to the muslims. Period... They hate us all. Why America does not understand this, I do not know.

  11. Thank you for the article.

    In my view, if Hillary is elected, the sell out of America will accelerate dramatically. I think that Trump, for all his faulty economic views (and they are many), would take his oath of office seriously and defend America.

  12. Common 'tater10/5/16

    Another well written and "spot on" assessment of our useless leadership in DC. We have had a string of failed presidents that have failed to respond adequately to these attacks. Our useless collection of eunuchs in congress have failed in their duty by failing to impeach these bums like BHO.

    The reason we keep getting stuck on "terrorism" as the problem, is it relieves our useless leaders of the responsibility to identify and strike the state sponsors of these acts of war. These become "crimes" and are treated as such.

    Just as in our inner cities, the "criminals" get a reduced sentence for good behavior and are back on the street for more mayhem. Of course, if these slugs represent the minority or special class de jour, then there can be no punishment as we must have somehow provoked this and are in fact the guilty party.

    Perhaps you have some better inside info than I do. I suspect that if Trump wins the nomination in Cleveland, the Ferguson and Rodney King riots will be tame in comparison. If Hillary gets elected, there may be a mutiny or coup attempt. If Trump gets elected, there will be a major uprising. My instincts and sources tell me there are plenty of possible operatives here and on our borders.

    I don't think this will end well.

  13. Anonymous10/5/16

    The precondition to any political dialog on the finer points of civil society is a safe, stable geographical domain. Our State and Defense forces are charged with this obligation. Our security as a nation and as citizens should be foremost.

    Pompous preaching about tolerance of other systems, religions, cultures be damned. Let's open our eyes and realize that we live in the best country that ever has been. We and our ancestors made it. We can be proud of it. Now let's keep it.

  14. Anonymous11/5/16


    Thank you for highlighting the murder of Americans at the hands of those who should no longer be walking amongst us. Rarely a week will pass and I haven't thought about the nasty business that occurred at the port of Aden.

    I was on deployment with Marines on the USS Tarawa (13th MEU) when it was announced that our port call in Muscat was cancelled. Our force was sent South to Yemen as fast as the ship could. When we arrived (morning day after) the sailors were stunned, sobbing, and told us exactly what occurred. They specifically told me/us they saw the boat and the perpetrators casing the ship by driving closely. They, and other small watercraft, were repeatedly told by ship communication to stay away from the ship. The sailors were prohibited to lock and load the 50cal because that would require the Captain's approval. If allowed to properly defend themselves this would not have happened.

    The locals explained to us in broken English that it was AL Qaeda, and pointed in the direction where the operatives largely were expected to be; these locals even went as far as explaining the jihadis determination and their hatred. There appeared to be mass confusion in the state department and the intelligence community, but I don't necessarily agree. The fact is, all we needed to do is use local resources and determine how the Islamists waste to be killed and order the assault. Not long after we didn't act I watched the twin towers get hit. I knew exactly what was going on and was so upset because it was almost entirely avoidable.

    If seeing the bloated bodies pulled out of the sea floor and and the human remains blown into the bulkhead weren't enough, and then watching the lies coming from the state department about Benghazi, followed by the lies that Islam HAS NOTHING to do with the continuing violence, I've never forgot what happened to these people. A lowly Lance Corporal could have helped prevent the death of thousands. But nobody listened. We must listen.

    Thanks for not forgetting about us.

    SSGT Stihlman

  15. Daniel, sharp as always, true as always, but dead wrong. The country is on the verge of electing a president with clear fascists tendencies: populism, nationalism, cult of personality ... Obama will look like Lamb of God compare to Trump. And our intellectual elite prefer not to see this.

    1. I really can't See who is the lesser of two evils this time. I used to think at least our separation of powers would protect us. No more. Buy guns. Buy ammo.

  16. Anonymous12/5/16

    In colonel David Hackworth's book 'About Face' he gives examples about how the US military can't remember shit (CRS), which is a criticism of how the US military often forgets past lessons learned. From what I've read about the attack on the USS Cole, the ship had been tied up alongside the pier for a few hours when the attack occurred.

    Why did the ship not have protective barges in place around its perimeter? I made several deployments to the Persian Gulf in the 80s and 90s in the USN and the *first thing* that happened when we entered port was tugs came alongside placing barges (each about 120 ft by 20 ft) next to the ship as a defensive barrier against SMALL BOAT ATTACKS.

    US Navy/ CRS/ USS Cole: Where's that story? Why wasn't some admiral dismissed?

    Why the F... was the Cole in that S..hole port in the first place? We needed gas? We have USNS tankers. We needed to establish good relations with Yemen? Who gives a good F... about Yemen? They got NBFD (nothing but f...ing desert) and are populated by a bunch of medieval, uneducated barbarians.

    But yeah, let's release all the terrorists from GITMO because according to WIMPY democrats (yes, their main problem above all others, is that they're a bunch of girly wimps) if we make terrorists angry by fighting back or capturing them, they'll do bad things to us. All the way up to September 1939 The Times of London excluded stories/ editorials that were critical of Hitler and the Nazis because such stories might anger Hitler and company. But in truth, Neville Chamberlain did not have the example of a Neville Chamberlain as an historical guide, but today's fascist liberals do, so they have that going for them.

  17. It is an outrage a day and though many of us are not numbed by it, what are we supposed to do about it?

  18. Anonymous12/5/16

    The USS Cole was on its way to support the sanctions regime against Iraq when it pulled into its refueling stop at Aden. The attack was NOT terrorism. It was a fully successful combat operation, conducted by Al Qaeda, in support of their ally, Iraq. That’s what allies do for each other in wartime.

    Maybe if we start treating this as a war, we will be able to start discussing this rationally.

  19. Anonymous12/5/16

    What was ever done by the US on behalf of the sailors killed in the USS Stark attack (in which an Iraqi jet slammed an exocet missile into the USS Stark).

  20. DenisO12/5/16

    Considering the cost of a military trial, appeals, and protecting the prisoner, travel expenses of liberal Congressmen who will bring their staffs to Gitmo, etc., it would be simpler to put out a reward for the head of the released terrorist. If he was Sunni, circulate the reward posters in Shiite mosques, if he was Shiite, ditto in those mosques. Maybe images of the head with a thumb attached would be enough. They need very little reward for killing one another, so it could be easily done.

  21. Thank you for keeping alive their sacrifice, and holding truth before the eyes of American citizens. I do not know how President Obama justified the release of murderers. Statecraft and stagecraft seem to mix when politicians speak. But in America, the People ultimately do the talking. Let ISIL know we will not be silenced.

  22. Anonymous20/5/16

    Thank you for keeping their sacrifice alive, and keeping the truth out in front of our eyes. President Obama's acquiescence is something I cannot understand. But the People will not allow an enemy to go unpunished, and will demand truth. ISIL and its infiltration network are trying desperately to brainwash Americans and agitate every issue so that we divide ourselves to a point where it becomes challenging to put our pieces back together again. They cannot reach deeper than social challenges, because at our core is a love of unity, bravery, justice and truth. We are America. We will not become undone by chicanery or sermonizing.


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