Former Yemen president’s intended US trip outrages USS Cole family
As pressure builds on the Obama administration to deny a diplomatic visa to ousted Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the family of a sailor killed in the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole urged that Saleh be denied entry to the United States.
In a public plea, Gary and Deborah Swenchonis are calling on US officials to “do the right thing” in light of Saleh’s “ruthless behavior” toward both his own people and the sailors aboard the USS Cole when it was attacked.
“If Saleh was allowed to come here to America, it would be just another insult in a long line of insults to the murdered sailors, those wounded, and those sailors who fought so hard and so long to keep the Cole afloat, and to bring her back home. And not to mention all the other Americans who could never understand why our own government continued to befriend Saleh in light of how he helped the plotters of the Cole Attack in which 17 American sailors were murdered, and 39 more wounded.”
Their son Gary Swenchonis Jr. was a fireman aboard the USS Cole and among those US service members killed in October 2000 when al Qaeda operatives detonated a bomb alongside the warship as it was refueling in the Port of Aden.
The Swenchonis family notes that through several administrations, the US government has never held Saleh to account for his part in obstructing the USS Cole investigation, allowing the terrorists to repeatedly escape justice or in facilitating the attack itself.
Like other aggrieved parties including torture victims, the Swenchonis family vowed to use “every legal option at our disposal to make him stand trial in a civil court” should Saleh find refuge in the United States.
Saleh said last week that he intended to go into ”temporary exile” in the United States.
“I will go to the United States. Not for treatment, because I’m fine, but to get away from attention, cameras, and allow the unity government to prepare properly for elections,” he was reported as saying. The statement came hours after nine protesters were killed by Yemeni security forces. Other reports said the former president will seek treatment in the US for injuries sustained in a June bombing at the presidential palace.
The New York based Center for Constitutional Rights said yesterday that it is also considering filing a civil suit against Saleh for human rights abuses he committed since demonstrations demanding regime change began in February. Thousands were killed or wounded when Yemeni security forces, headed by Saleh’s relatives, opened fire on protesters.
The most recent fatalities came after thousands participated in “The Life March.” Protesters journeyed on foot 170 miles from the southern province of Taiz to the capital Sana’a to underscore public rejection of a US sponsored deal that grants Saleh immunity from prosecution in return for his resignation, tendered in November.
A third group considering legal action includes Yemeni Americans tortured while in Yemeni jail for political activity against the regime prior to the outbreak of protests.
The Swenchonis family noted that democracy minded Yemenis “cannot understand our government’s continued infatuation with Saleh of Yemen. The more our government continues to protect this murderer, his family, and his government, the more difficult it will be to gain these peoples’ trust. The Yemeni people have a right to make Saleh stand trial for all of his crimes. And we hope that Saleh will actually have to face the consequences of his actions towards them and his country.”
“We as citizens of this country do not believe that we as a nation should provide a safe haven for a man who has ordered the murder and torture of his own citizens, who had journalists arrested, tortured and imprisoned because they reported on the crimes and corruptions of his regime.”
President Obama assigned his counter-terror advisor, John Brennan, the leading role in US policy in Yemen, which is centered on the continuity of counter-terror efforts, leading to a wide disconnect with the Yemeni public.
Hours before the latest fatalities in Yemen, US Ambassador Gerald Feierstein said that the Life March although unarmed was not peaceful because it was intended to create chaos and provoke the security forces. The remarks, which appear to blame the protesters for their own deaths, infuriated many and organized efforts are underway demanding the ambassador’s expulsion.