Anniversary of USS Cole terrorist attack Saturday

by Wes Mayer

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The memorial to the victims of the USS Cole stands in Norfolk, Va.    

Saturday marks the 13th anniversary of a terrorist attack against the United States — an attack that cost the lives of 17 Navy sailors.

On Oct. 12, 2000, the USS Cole, a destroyer, was refueling in Aden Harbor, Yemen, when a boat packed with explosives collided with its side. The explosion blew a 40-foot-wide hole in the ship, killing 17 men and women serving our country and injuring 39 more. The attack was quickly tied to al Qaeda, an organization that did not become an American household name until a year later.

“People tend to forget things when they do not happen to them,” said Jesse Nieto, Coweta County resident, retired U.S. Marine and father of the late Engineman 2nd Class Mark Ian Nieto, one of the sailors who lost his life in the attack.

“We need to keep reminding everyone that these people are not satisfied. These people keep wanting to hurt us,” Jesse Nieto said.

Nieto remains very involved with USS Cole affairs and is still in touch with the families of the 16 other victims, he said. Every year, he travels to Norfolk, Va., where a memorial honoring the victims stands, for a private reunion. Whenever the USS Cole returns to port (it was repaired and recommissioned in 2002), Nieto visits the engine room, where his son lost his life, to sit quietly.

Nieto has spoken with survivors aboard the ship to gain insight into the attack. He was told how the ship felt like it was lifted out of the water by the explosion and filled with fire and smoke. He was told what the crew endured to keep the ship afloat, what measures they had to take to tend to the wounded, how the rest of the crew had to survive aboard the ship and much more. On top of that, he heard many accounts of the Yemeni people having loud parties on the beach while the ship was stranded and suffering.

“I’ve been in combat,” Nieto said. “But I don’t know if I could do that. The effort put into it, what those men and women put up with to stay alive — there is no way to understand what they went through. They went through hell.”

Nieto’s name recently made headlines when he won a free speech case against U.S. Marine officials. After the attack and loss of his son, Nieto displayed decals around his vehicle to express his anti-terrorism sentiments. The decals showed the Star and Crescent circled and crossed out and displayed words like: “We Died, They Rejoiced,” “Remember the Cole” and “No Quarter.” Officials at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, N.C. — where Nieto worked as a civilian employee — found the decals offensive, and he was ordered to remove them.

Instead, Nieto took them to court, and the judge ruled the officials’ order violated Nieto’s freedom of speech. Nieto won the case, he said, but was considered a “liability” by his employers and coworkers at the base, he said, so he requested to be retired. After retirement, personal matters brought Nieto to Coweta County.

In the 13 years he’s had the decals displayed on his vehicle, he said he can think of receiving maybe five negative comments or reactions — usually in the form of a middle finger. Most of the time, he receives salutes and thumbs-up, and Cowetans have been wonderful to him, he said.

“I’m not going to shut up,” he said. “I miss my son, and I know his shipmates do, too. I won’t rest until we get rid of these people who think they’re superior to all of us.”

Last year, Nieto traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to observe the trial of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the Yemeni al-Qaeda terrorist charged with war crimes for the attack.

According to the Guantanamo Docket gathered by The New York Times, al-Nashiri has been detained in Guantanamo Bay Prison for more than seven years and is currently in a trial that began in 2008. The trial has gone back and forth, with charges dropped and reinstated, and currently, al-Nashiri is considered one of the 16 “high-valued detainees” at the prison. He is the first detainee of the prison to face the death penalty.

However, no matter the outcome, Nieto said there will never be closure.

“The hurt will always be there,” he said.



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