A Student’s Perspective on the USS Cole Trial – Kristi McMains- May 25, 2014

I am delighted to be chosen to travel to Ft. Meade, Maryland in order to observe the hearing of Al Nashiri and his involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience and as a third-year law student who has an equal fascination with law, policy, national security and human rights, there is no greater opportunity than this.

I remember sitting in my sixth grade math classroom after a break in ISTEP testing on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Our school guidance counselor came in, gestured for our teacher and proceeded to have a heated whispered conversation. Our teacher then told us that the school was canceling ISTEP for the day, and started showing us a funny video online. We were all confused. A few minutes later, I was in the hallway when one of the social studies teachers ran by with tears in her eyes. It was not until the lunch period when a fellow student announced to our table that, “The United States had just been bombed.” I can still remember the feeling that washed over me at that moment. I felt as though everything slowed down, and a panic came upon me like none I had experienced before. I eventually learned the truth about what happened that day. In fact, sealed up in a shoebox in my parents attic, I took every copy of any newspaper I could find from September 12, 2001, and taped it in the box with a sign on it that says, “Not to be opened until 2021.”

That day changed my life. It changed the nature of our country as a whole. America had arguably not been attacked on home soil since near the birth of our nation. Pearl Harbor was the only other attack that was similar to this one, but it happened far off our coast, not in one of the biggest cities in our nation. One of the main reasons that I chose to attend law school is the fascination that I have always held for the law and our nation’s security. After 9/11, I started becoming more attuned to the emotions that other countries and citizens of those countries had towards America. I became fascinated with everything relating to national security and the law, whether it be news stories, novels, or speaking with everyone and anyone I could who had different experiences dealing in this unique brand of international affairs.

I had the wonderful opportunity to work out in Washington, D.C. for a summer as a Congressional aide to our now Indiana Governor Mike Pence. I learned to give tours of the Capitol where I talked about the plaque that sits on the far end of the rotunda honoring Flight 93 and the crewmembers and passengers who stepped up and saved the Capitol from being struck by the last plane. I toured the Pentagon and saw exactly where the plane struck the ground, bounced up, then slid into the side of the building where some of our nation’s most protected meetings occur. One thing that particularly struck me about the Pentagon was that the section where the plane hit was under construction; the number of people in that section was a fraction of the normal workforce and from that, lives were spared. Through my studies of aviation law I was able to learn about that day from the men and women working in the air traffic control tower here in Indianapolis. Our city became one of the main hubs for grounding planes, and these individuals had the task of grounding the second largest number of planes of any airport in the nation. They spoke of how they were frantically searching the radars for the hijacked planes and how eerie it was when their radar only showed around twelve planes that were strictly being monitored or flown by members of our armed forces.

That day helped solidify my future in law. The American justice system fascinates me in the sense that even these men, who have been recommended for prosecution for war crimes, get fair and honest trials. The USS Cole attack predated 9/11 by only eleven months; it was the first real glimpse into the mass casualty mindset that these individuals have against Americans and our way of life. Having the unique opportunity to observe the trial of the alleged mastermind of the attack will be enlightening and exciting.

I am also eager to observe the military commission process and how it differs from litigation in the US courts. I currently work at the trial law firm of Cline Farrell Christie & Lee and have already learned an incredible amount about our trial system here at home. I hope to highlight some of the commonalities and differences amongst the two in my postings and also explore why and if the military commission is appropriate for the issue at hand.

I leave in two days for my trip to Maryland. I have packed my bags, loaded my iPad with the incredible briefing binder that was put together by the leaders of this program, and am looking forward to my time at the base!

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