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Obama meets with relatives of victims of USS Cole, 9/11

By Darlene Superville
Associated Press / February 7, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama held an emotional meeting yesterday with relatives of victims of the bombing of the USS Cole and the Sept. 11 attacks who are still waiting for justice to be served years after the deadly acts of terrorism.

Obama promised the roughly 40 individuals who attended that the meeting would be the first of many.

Some of the victims' family members said they welcomed Obama's gesture even though they aren't entirely convinced that his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where terrorism suspects are being detained, is the right thing to do.

Obama has expressed concerns that detainees have been held for years without trial. He has signed an executive order to close the facility within a year while the administration reviews other options for seeing that the detainees get their day in court.

Retired Navy Commander Kirk S. Lippold, commanding officer of the Cole when A Qaeda suicide bombers struck it on Oct. 12, 2000, and killed 17 sailors, said he was disappointed when he first learned of the decision and remains skeptical. He also faulted Obama for not consulting the families ahead of time.

"In principle, his reason for closing it may be good," Lippold, a defense adviser to Military Families United, told reporters after the hourlong meeting.

Lippold said Obama's stance is "well intentioned, but the problem I have remains that we still don't have any procedures" for what will become of the terrorist suspects after the detention center is closed.

The White House said Obama made clear at the meeting, which was held next door at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, that his most important responsibility is keeping the American people safe.

He also explained why he thinks closing the facility will make the country safer and "help ensure that those who are guilty receive swift and certain justice within a legal framework that is durable, and that helps America fight terrorism more effectively around the world."

The meeting came a day after a senior Pentagon judge dropped charges against suspected Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the last active Guantanamo war crimes case. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said new charges could be brought later, and Nashiri will remain in prison for the time being.

Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, urged that the charges be reinstated because Nashiri had "orchestrated the mass murder of American soldiers" and must be punished.

The ruling gives the White House time to review the cases of the 245 terrorist suspects held there and decide whether they should be prosecuted in the United States or released to other nations.

Conservatives in Congress have suggested that dangerous terrorists would be released under Obama's plan, a scenario that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he could not imagine, and that Guantanamo Bay is a cushy deal for prisoners.

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