Start At The Top
New York Times 'reports' below.
Failed to suggest that the ultimate responsibility lies w/ Billy Clinton.
He has waged this ridiculous crusade in return for campaign $$$.
He wanted the ship in Aden to curry favor w/ the leaders of Yemen.
January 8, 2001
Navy Inquiry on Cole Urges No
Punishment of Captain or Crew
By STEVEN LEE MYERS WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 —
Navy commanders overseeing an investigation of the suicide attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen in October have recommended that neither the ship's captain nor crew members be punished, even though they failed to follow certain security guidelines, officials said today.
The recommendation raises the question whether any American commanders will ultimately be held responsible for the Cole bombing, which killed 17 sailors, wounded 39 others and very nearly sank one of the world's most powerful warships.
The recommendation was made first by the naval commander in the Persian Gulf and endorsed by the commander of the entire Atlantic Fleet. It overturned the initial findings of an investigative officer who had concluded that the effects of the attack might have been mitigated if the Cole's captain had adhered to security measures, the officials said.
In reviewing those findings, however, the commanders argued that the Cole's captain, Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, made defensible decisions to revise some of those measures and to skip others. They concluded that none of the required measures would, even in hindsight, have stopped two suicide bombers from steering a skiff packed with explosives to the side of the Cole and detonating it, the officials said.
The Cole, for instance, did not have an Arabic speaker aboard when it pulled into the Yemeni port of Aden to refuel on the morning of Oct. 12, as required by security guidelines issued by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the officials said.
Commander Lippold also decided against having officers stand watch on the bridge, assigning them instead to the quarterdeck. Nor did he order the crew to prepare fire hoses that could have been used to repel attackers, the officials said. Since the crew believed that the skiff was part of a flotilla of harbor boats instead of a hostile boat, such precautions would not have made a difference, the officials said.
"You've got to weigh the performance of the crew against the outcome," a senior officer said today. "And had they done everything, it would not have changed the outcome."
The Navy's investigation focused narrowly on actions aboard the Cole itself, but its basic conclusion, first reported in The Sun of Baltimore on Saturday, will focus greater attention on the decisions by commanders in the United States Central Command that resulted in the Cole's stopping to refuel, at only a moderate level of alert, in a country known as a haven for terrorists.
Senior officials said last week that Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen planned to order a new review of accountability beyond the Cole. He decided to do so after a broader investigation by two retired commanders found significant shortcomings in security throughout the region. That investigation — led by Adm. Harold W. Gehman of the Navy and Gen. William W. Crouch of the Army — did not set out to assign blame for the Cole attack.
Some Navy officials have questioned whether the Cole was left vulnerable when it arrived at Aden. Even if there had not been a specific warning of a terrorist attack, there had been general warnings, and Yemen was considered insecure enough that the American Embassy there was closed as a security precaution on the day the Cole stopped to refuel.
"We didn't have the kind of information that could have positioned him to deal with the threat," one Navy officer said, referring to Commander Lippold.
The new review being ordered by Mr. Cohen could assign responsibility to senior commanders in the gulf region, but while the services each have systems in place for establishing accountability, there is no clear mechanism for reviewing the actions of regional commanders.
Traditionally, the Navy has been vigorous in holding a ship's captain responsible for anything that happens on board.
The Cole's failure to follow basic guidelines for protecting the ship from attack — in the view of the senior admirals reviewing the investigation — did not reflect lapses in judgment or a general laxity toward security, the officials said. Instead, they concluded that Commander Lippold made deliberate revisions that were reasonable and defensible, the officials said.
The initial inquiry, led by a captain in the Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, found that the crew had failed to carry out nearly half of 62 security steps outlined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to protect ships from terrorist attacks.
Many of those, such as providing sailors standing watch with night- vision goggles, were deemed irrelevant, but the investigating officer concluded that roughly 10 others constituted critical lapses, including the positioning of the officer on watch on the quarterdeck and not the bridge, the officials said.
The investigator's conclusions, completed last month, were overruled first by the naval commander in the gulf, Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore, and then by the commander of the Atlantic Fleet, Adm. Robert J. Natter. The commanders concluded that the investigator's conclusions took security guidelines too literally and did not account for the captain's discretion.
One senior official said that while the Cole's crew may not have done everything by the book, its performance fell within an "expected range" of performance, in the commanders' view, and thus did not warrant punishment.
On Friday, Admiral Natter forwarded his recommendations to Adm. Vern Clark, who as chief of naval operations, is the service's senior officer. Admiral Clark could reverse the findings yet again, but the officials indicated that he is not expected to do so.
"If you have a small boat carrying out a suicide attack," one official said today, "there's not a lot you can do to stop it."