October 19, 2000
The former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, explained to the Senate his decision to allow warships, like the U.S.S. Cole, to refuel in Aden, Yemen. He said the port was relatively safe compared to other ports in the region.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the investigation of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, we're joined by Senators John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Carl Levin, ranking minority member of that committee, and by Robin Wright, correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.
Senator Warner, why did you convene this hearing?
JOHN WARNER: Precisely to receive the statement that your segment just
concluded with: To reassure the families who lost their loved ones, the
families that suffered the ones that were wounded, and now, of course,
all bodies are recovered.
But, we brought these hearings out so that they first, as well as young men and women in uniform serving all over the world, who were facing risk tonight, can understand that there is a responsible chain of command, and in it is a thoroughly skilled, professional officer of some 30-plus years like General Zinni, a four-star Marine general who is willing to step up and say, straight to America and all listening, I made the decision, and I take the responsibility.
Now, in my judgment, General Zinni provided exactly how he went about making the decisions. He took into consideration all of the intelligence, he worked with our State Department and in particular, the ambassador there in Yemen, and he made the decision that given that he needed some refueling capability in that transit around to the Persian Gulf, and mind you this ship was on the way to the Persian Gulf to help enforce the United Nations and Security Council resolutions, he made the decision of the ports available, and, in his professional judgment after careful analysis, this port provided the best opportunity.
And I think that's a credit to the military; that this type of officer and many under him and those above it, primarily, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the president and the secretary of defense, all have looked at the situation and thus far, it is clear that the procedures to ensure the safety of the men and women were followed as best we could.
Now, when there are individuals who are willing to take their own lives and assume all the risks to strike, it is exceedingly difficult to provide protection. And so, this hearing, first, identifies how the decision was made; secondly, that our men and women of the armed forces tonight are taking comparable risks elsewhere. But, we are doing our very best, and all segments of our government are brought to bear on these decisions before they make their ship calls into this type of port.
RAY SUAREZ: Senator Levin, do you share Senator Warner's satisfaction with the answers that you got in today's hearing?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: I thought that General Zinni was very direct, very forthright. He accepted the responsibility for the decision; he didn't try to pass the buck to anybody. He told us why he made that decision. It was very reassuring to us that he did accept that responsibility as commander and that he told us that the decision to refuel there was not made for any diplomatic or political reason. It was not made in order to improve the relationship with Yemen, it was made in order to refuel a ship. And, he told us why it was refueled there, and that the risks that existed in Yemen as a matter of fact were less in terms of specific threats than they were in other possible ports. And I think that is the kind of information, which is very valuable for the American people to have.
It was also important that we learn that Yemen is fully cooperating with this investigation. And we heard that not just from what General Zinni knows but we heard that also from our ambassador to Yemen, through a telephone conversation, Ambassador Bodine, and we also we heard that from General Franks who told us the same thing, and the FBI director told us today on television that the cooperation of Yemen is full and complete. And I think that's very important that we have that kind of cooperation.
|Help from the Yemenis|
| RAY SUAREZ: Robin Wright, let's talk a little more about
the nature of that cooperation. When the government of a country like
Yemen says it is giving you its full cooperation, is this a government
that is an effective administration of this country?
ROBIN WRIGHT: This is a fifth world country. It doesn't even rank as a third world country. It has a thousand mile coastline; it's totally exposed -- a 1,000 mile frontier with Saudi Arabia that's totally porous. When they talk about cooperation, they're really handing over the investigation to American, the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community. They really don't have the capability. This is a country that still doesn't have a lot of phone lines.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Could I comment on that point?
RAY SUAREZ: Sure. Senator Levin.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: They really are not handing over the investigation to us. [FBI Director] Lou Freeh told us that we, in fact, are the junior partner and that Yemen is the senior partner, number one. Number two, that they have already handed over significant amount of information to our ambassador. And that was very reassuring and in the words of the ambassador, the information which they handed to the ambassador a couple of days ago contained information relative to specific perpetrators who carried out the attack, and in her words, the information was vital, critical and fundamental.
So, I think that we While obviously we want to make sure that the investigation is full and complete and we want to provide all of the support for it and indeed, much of the technical services for it, I don't think we ought to just simply discount the determination of the Yemeni government to find the terrorists here because if they don't want to find the terrorists, it's going to make it much more difficult for us and to get the reassurance that we have gotten from our FBI, from our ambassador and from General Franks that they are fully cooperating on the job and have already unearthed a significant amount of specific information, it seems to me, should be somewhat reassuring.
RAY SUAREZ: Robin Wright?
ROBIN WRIGHT: Oh, I think the Yemenis clearly will taking the lead in terms of the official investigation; when it comes to actually the forensics and evidence this will be largely an American operation. That's the reality of it.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: I agree with that right. I think that's right.
RAY SUAREZ: And over the past week, this is a country that's been talked about as having been a haven for terrorists. What are the circumstances that make that possible, and who are these groups?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: It is because of the structure, the really three-layer structure, which we learned about, Senator Levin and I, in our investigation. This country suffered a prolonged civil war. And then when it was united, it was destitute in many ways, financially, economically. So they decided to have as open a country as it could possibly have to attract all types of economic opportunity.
The city of Yemen you referred to as sort of a free port. You can come and go pretty much as you would, set up your business easily. Come, do business here. Then the third entity is the harbor itself. That's under some sort of semi-governmental authority. And then it is contracted out to a contractor to run the port facility like the refueling and provide the line handlers that tied up the ship for the refueling.
So, clearly, this country was an open country, and transited, everybody acknowledged it, by a number of terrorist organizations. Indeed, there are a number still operating there today, and they are pretty well identified who they are. We have yet to establish, as Senator Levin said, a causal chain of evidence from the tragic terrorist attack back to identified perpetrators.
RAY SUAREZ: Robin Wright, what should Americans trying to understand this story know about Yemen's recent past. Wasn't this two countries not so long ago?
ROBIN WRIGHT: It reunited in 1990, at the same time East and West Germany did, North and South. The South was a communist country; the North was a pro-western country. It has been an awkward reunification, and they went through a civil war, a brief civil war in 1994.
It is run by a man who has been in power now in the North since 1978. This is a country where there is profound poverty, where there has been resentment against the kind of heavy handedness of the West, and particularly, the United States, among some of the people who were opposed, remember it was one of the few Arab countries opposed to the U.S. intervention to liberate Kuwait after Iraq invaded in 1990. And so, there has been festering within society that has been tapped by a handful of different groups, including Osama bin Laden and some locally grown groups that have been noted for taking western hostages, for example. One very famous incident a couple of years ago by one of the groups that claimed credit for this incident.
|Varying degrees of risk|
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Ray, may I just interject here?
RAY SUAREZ: Sure. Senator Warner.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I think our viewers, indeed others looking at this tragic situation sort of say to themselves, well, why should we be in this area at all.
And I asked that question to General Zinni, and he very clearly said the following: In his area of operation there 25 countries -- 24 of those countries are in some way afflicted with varying degrees of risk and terrorism and the like. The United States cannot turn its back on that part of the world. It is in our vital security interests in his own words that we have our military forward presence there as we do primarily in the Gulf, and in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, where we have our naval facilities and to some extent in Kuwait where we keep forces ready to repel Saddam Hussein should he attack again.
I also asked him, is it in a vital economic interests of the United States to have America to have a forward presence. And the answer was clearly yes, given that perhaps as much as 70 percent of the known petroleum reserves are located in his area of operation.
So, the United States cannot turn its back. Young men and women are standing watch tonight, just as they have been for many, many years, in that region, particularly since 1991, when President George Bush sent over about a half million and brought together a successful coalition of nations to repel Saddam Hussein and to bring a relative peace and tranquility to that region. Saddam Hussein is still a threat.
RAY SUAREZ: Senator Levin, go ahead.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: One current historic note to what Robin was saying, in the last few years, Yemen has made a real effort to become much closer to the United States. We have a military to military relationship. We actually engage in training now a number of their officers including counter terrorism units. They asked for help to create a coast guard in order to address the problem that Senator Warner has talked about, the porous borders and the ease with which you can get to Yemen from the sea.
And we have been working with them and we have received not only good cooperation, but many requests for support. So there has been a change in terms of their outlook, who are they looking to in the last few years, and that is very helpful for us in terms of our battle against terrorism, because terrorism is the major threat we face in the world. And if we're serious about addressing it and we have to put more resources into counter-terrorism, we have got to try to turn countries like Yemen toward the effort against terrorism. And that is exactly what Yemen has been doing in the last couple of years.
RAY SUAREZ: Senator?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: It is too early to reach conclusions.
RAY SUAREZ: Suarez: Senator, I have to leave it there. Thank you very much.