American Forces Press Service

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 
 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