January 14, 2008
Murdered USS Cole Sailor's Dad Writes Yemen's President
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It has been over seven years now since our son and his mates were brutally murdered in your country on October 12, 2000 when terrorists attacked the USS Cole and murdered 17 innocent young sailors and injured 39 more. Let me begin by thanking all the Yemenis who called us at our home and sent letters of condolence. The kindness, compassion, warmth and sympathy expressed in those calls and letters comforted us and gave us a strength that we carry with us today. Unfortunately we never received a letter of condolence from you or your government sir.
You never even denounced that horrible tragedy, nor did anyone in your government. On the contrary, your government hindered the investigation at every turn. But then, so did our own; US Ambassador Bodine continually obstructed the FBI’s investigation.
When the trials were held in Yemen, the resulting sentences were a mockery of justice considering the heinous crime and multiple loss of life. Then those sentences were reduced upon appeal. Now it is my understanding that one or more of the killers recently received a conditional pardon from you. This is despicable sir!
But we expected no less from you or your government from the beginning. We pleaded with our government to have the killers extradited for trial to another country where the government is not in league with terrorists. I want you to know that I am doing everything in my power to see to it that Yemen is placed on the United States list of countries that “Support and Sanction Terrorists Acts”.
The Clinton Administration’s agreement with you to refuel the USS Cole in the harbor at Port Aden was signed with our son’s blood. Most Americans know now what we knew then, that the negotiations should never have been conducted considering your past connections to terrorists and that some members in your administration support terrorists. These include high ranking members of the military, security and intelligence services.
We Americans also know that most Yemenis want a real democracy, not the pseudo-democracy that you are the Dictator of now. I don’t want to see the good people of Yemen punished. I want to see dictators like yourself and other corrupt people in your government disposed of by Yemenis who want true freedom.
The USS Cole tragedy is one of the most shameful and embarrassing events in United States history. US leaders covered up their own mistakes by blaming others including the ship’s captain, Commander Lippold, who is another victim of the Cole tragedy. To add insult to injury, the Bush administration continued to appease terrorist supporting governments like yours.
However, the truth is leaking out slowly but steadily, at least in this country. The tragedies 10/12 and 9/11 could have been averted if only people such as yourself and your cronies would have worried more about their citizens instead of their own egos, political futures and fortunes.
To their credit, some US politicians after 9/11 stated how they had all failed to protect the American people by ignoring the wake-up call of the USS Cole Tragedy. But mostly, the Political Speak after 9/11 was, “This is not the time for pointing out the mistakes made by officials before 9/11. There will be plenty of time after this emergency has passed to deal with those in our government who failed the American people.”
As so often happens with American leaders who make serious mistakes that cost so many people their lives and so much suffering, “later” never came. Instead both political parties closed ranks and deflected responsibility for the USS Cole attack and 9/11. Incredibly, US politicians returned to dealing with corrupt foreign governments such as your own. It was business as usual.
You Sir and your government do not deserve any support from the US in the form of grants, weapons or advisors until you and your government join the other civilized countries in denouncing acts of terrorism and you stop providing support and refuge for them.
You and your government could make a good start by offering a sincere apology and condolences in writing to the victims’ families of the Cole Tragedy. But I seriously doubt that any such action will ever materialize on your part. We all know that would anger the “influential persons” in your government who support killers like Bin Laden.
You could also cease the charade of justice with regard to our son’s killers. At least, keep them in prison for the allotted time they initially received from the court. Why were the killers not given extended sentences for multiple prisons breaks? Instead, their sentences were reduced after their escapes!
These men killed innocent young men and women going about their daily duties, at your invitation, in a country that is supposedly a US ally. How many other people have these terrorists killed before our son? How many more families will find their lives shattered when they murder indiscriminately again?
I read about journalists, activists and everyday people in Yemen who risk their lives, their careers and even their own families to speak out about your corrupt dictatorship. I admire and respect these people very much. My family and friends respect their heroism. These brave Yemenis give me hope that your days in power are numbered. I believe a Free and prosperous Yemen will emerge victoriously, no matter how ruthless you are in your attempts to squash that movement.
We, the families of the sailors murdered in Yemen, have just won a lawsuit against a government similar to your own, the government of The Sudan. It is my goal to obtain the right to present a case against your government in a court of law as well. Notice I say “your government”, not the good people of Yemen. It appears that you are only threatened by the loss of money and not the loss of human lives, which is why it is so important that your government, President Saleh, be placed on the list that support terrorism. There is ample evidence to support this designation.
There are politicians in this country (and yours) that still know right from wrong, politicians that will be responsible and correct one of the most shameful events in both countries’ histories. I believe that these leaders will fix this miscarriage of justice not for their own political convenience but because it’s the right thing to do. They will send a message to all potential terrorists and governments that America stands behind her citizens and their right to life, not with a bunch of eloquent words and worthless threats, but with concrete action.
The survivors and families victimized by terrorist acts are entitled to some form of Justice. I believe a Bill will be enacted to prohibit our government from dealing with individuals such as yourself, a supporter of fanatics like Bin Laden who has brought so much death, misery, and suffering to thousands of people.
I do not hate you President Saleh, nor the politicians and both US presidents that looked the other way when our son was murdered. I do pity you for the wasted opportunity that your reign represents. It is so sad to think of all the good things you could have done for your country and its peoples, and the positive changes that you alone could have instrumented.
You could have stood against tyranny, terrorism, and corruption. Yemen could have been known as a beautiful and civilized country that respected the rule of law and human life, as your people certainly deserve. Instead the world now looks at your government as just another little backwater dictatorship that oppresses its peoples, where the politicians grow richer everyday off the suffering of their citizens, where repression is the norm, and where the law is what you and a few terrorists say it is.
Your day of justice is coming, President Saleh. You must live in fear everyday, and rightly so, knowing your terrorist friends could turn on you any day. I believe a movement within your country will rise up and cast people like you where they belong, in prison.
If Yemeni people can risk their lives everyday battling your corrupt regime, then the least I can do for our deceased son and the future victims of acts of terrorism is to establish a method for dealing with governments such as yours. I hope no one will ever have to face the pain we went through when we were told over and over by US politicians, “We would like to help you, but you have no recourse. You can’t attend the trial. You have no say, no representation, and no way to gain redress for your son’s murder.”
We have stand by helplessly as the killers who murdered our son are rewarded by you and your government and while our own government does nothing to interfere with your actions. That is a horrible experience for any mother, father, wife, husband, and other family member. We have no closure. We have nothing, except flowers and empty words spouted by insincere politicians. I want to change all that.
President Saleh, I have a question. Is there even a little marker or a plaque where our son and his mates were murdered? I would think that our ally, who invited these sailors to Aden, would erect a nice monument to the dead and wounded, assuming they were sincere. Have you taken such action?
Our government told the American people that my boy and the other sailors died protecting your citizens and our people against terrorism. If only that were true, instead our son was killed due to political incompetence in this country and your administration’s support for Bin Laden. Our son was sold out by his own government and yours as well sir, just like all the other victims of terrorism. But I am his father, and I will not let that stand.
In this country we are preparing for another presidential election. Real democracies do that Sir. My hope is that a new president will be elected who will not deal with people like yourself. I hope this new president will help to correct the injustices that have been committed by the last two presidents and administrations in this country in ignoring small groups of victims of terrorist attacks, and in providing money and assistance to corrupt leaders like you who took our money and then looked the other way when our son was murdered.
Bin Laden and his fanatical followers did not carry out their horrific crimes in a vacuum. Bin Laden and other terrorists need political leaders and countries that are sympathetic to their evil ideologies. These leaders including you foster extremism and provide terrorists with a safe haven where they conducted the business of planning the murder of 17 US sailors, and later the mass murder of thousands of Americans and peoples of all nationalities. These are acts of pure unadulterated evil.
Mr. Saleh, to quote an old saying "You can kill people. But you will never kill the dream of freedom." Make no mistake, your people and nation will be free one day from you and your supporters. They will be free from the terrorists like Bin Laden, and his oppressive followers. The dream of freedom will become a reality in Yemen. I would like to visit Yemen when your people have obtained their freedom and to know that our son had a small, yet significant part in making that dream a reality.
Gary G. Swenchonis, Sr.
Note: Petty Officer Gary G. Swenchonis, Jr. and 16 other Americans on the USS Cole were murdered by two Yemeni al Qaeda operatives while the ship was anchored in Yemeni waters. Several suspected in the plot were never charged. Those convicted received light sentences, have escaped from Yemeni jails, or have had their sentences commuted. It is unclear if a single suspect remains in jail today. For more about the USS Cole Bombing see The USS Cole Bombing in Yemen: What We Know Today.
Since Gary doesn't have a blog, he asked me to post this for him in order to get this out to as wide an audience as possible. Jane