Cohen Absolves USS Cole Skipper, Crew
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2001 Neither the captain nor any crew member of the USS Cole will be punished because of the Oct. 12 terrorist attack on the destroyer in Aden, Yemen, senior DoD and Navy leaders announced Jan. 19 at the Pentagon.
During his last DoD press conference, then-Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said he agreed with the Navy's just-released Judge Advocate General Manual Proceeding report, which investigated whether the Cole's captain and crew had been negligent or deficient in executing their force protection duties. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was sworn in Jan. 20.
Referring to the 1,600-page report, Cohen said Navy leaders concluded that the overall performance of the captain and his crew does not warrant punitive action.
"I agree with that conclusion," he said. "However, the question of accountability is deeper and more complex than the performance of the crew alone." Cohen was accompanied at the briefing by Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations.
Cohen said no one person or persons are to be blamed for the attack on the Cole. That responsibility, he remarked, "belongs to all of us in leadership positions." The bombing killed 17 sailors and wounded 39.
"Under the circumstances, the full implementation of the force protection plan probably could not have prevented the attack," he added.
Cohen remarked that senior DoD leadership "including myself ... needed to engage more vigorously in examination of the range of potential threats. Clever, committed terrorists are predators who will always search and look for weaknesses, and we simply have to do a better job of finding and correcting those weaknesses before the
terrorists find them and exploit them."
Danzig and Clark said they agreed with Cohen's assessment, with Clark noting "there is a collective responsibility here -- and that we in the chain of command share responsibility for what happened." Clark said the terrorists apparently had planned the Cole attack at least 18 months in advance.
"The investigation clearly shows the commanding officer of the Cole did not have the specific intelligence (information), the focused training, the appropriate equipment and on-scene security support to effectively prevent or deter such a determined, such a pre-planned, assault on his ship," he said.
Clark ticked off some important lessons learned from the Navy's Cole report:
o "We must do a better job of both training and equipping our ships to operate within reasonable risk, and that means risk will never go away completely ... . We must do this especially when our ships are called upon to operate in high-threat areas."
o "It is quite clear that there is collective responsibility for oversights in pre-deployment training, for threat awareness, and in-theater support for entering new ports."
o "The Navy must take force protection to a new level and challenge every assumption we have about how we conduct our operations around the world."
Danzig felt that port security at Aden, which was outside the Cole captain's purview, was inadequate.
"We need to sharpen the degree to which we secure host-nation support security arrangements and make sure that our captains are well informed with regard to them. It doesn't seem to me, in this instance, to have been a good match in that regard," he said.
Cohen, Danzig and Clark all cited the Cole's captain, Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, and his crew for heroism in keeping the destroyer afloat and tending to wounded after suicide bombers blew a gaping hole at the waterline on the ship's left side.
"Words can't adequately capture the deep sense of sorrow and loss that all of us in the United States Navy and in the nation feel for the 17 sailors who gave their lives in service to the country," Clark said. "Our hearts today again go out to the families, the friends, the shipmates and the other loved ones of the Cole family.
"And, certainly, this investigation points out the true heroism of the men and women of the Cole."
The Navy's Cole report findings will be incorporated with force protection recommendations provided by the Gehman Crouch Cole Commission report which was released Jan. 9. The FBI investigation seeking the perpetrators of the Cole bombing is ongoing.
An edited, publicly accessible version of the Navy's Cole report is available at www.foia.navy.mil/usscole.