San Diego Union-Tribune

May 4, 2001

Lack of punishment defended in Cole attack, sub collision

Senate panel grills top military brass


WASHINGTON -- The chief of naval operations denied yesterday that the Navy has abandoned its tradition of holding ship captains accountable for actions that endanger their vessels, despite the lack of punishment of the commanders of the destroyer Cole and the submarine Greeneville.

Adm. Vern Clark and Army Gen. Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said there were no failures by the officers above the Cole's commander that directly contributed to the ship's vulnerability to a terrorist bombing or that warranted punishment.

The two officers were responding to questions from the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee: Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Warner, a former Marine officer and Navy secretary, expressed concern that the Cole's commander was not punished, even though he had skipped many of the required security measures, and that the Greeneville's captain drew only a reprimand despite a series of mistakes that led to the collision with a Japanese fishing boat on Feb. 9.

Warner focused mainly on the Oct. 12 terrorist attack on the Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, that killed 17 Navy personnel and wounded 40. The attack was the subject of the committee's hearing.

Cmdr. Kirk Lippold was not punished, although he failed to implement nearly half of the recommended security steps during the refueling stop. Warner also noted that Kippold's superiors, who appeared to have missed warnings of a planned attack, were not punished either.

"Is the net effect of these actions . . . to hold no one accountable?" Warner asked.

Warner noted that Cmdr. Scott Waddle was allowed to retire with full
benefits despite actions that contributed to the sinking of the Japanese training ship that resulted in nine deaths.

Is that "consistent with the traditions of accountability of ship captains?"
Warner asked.

Levin focused on the failure to hold any of Lippold's superiors accountable, even though Clark and the Pentagon leadership concluded that the Cole's chain of command shared responsibility for the ship's vulnerability.

Clark insisted that the tradition of accountability has not changed, but drew a distinction between "the accountability of command" and "the punishment of command."

In the Cole bombing, he contended that "we have, in this case, held all of the parties accountable for their actions."

Some people feel that "because they were not punished, somehow they were not held accountable, and I do not agree with that," Clark said.

Clark said he wanted the Navy to know that he would judge a commander on whether his conduct was "within the standards that we expect of a commanding officer."

Clark said he concluded that Lippold's conduct fell within that standard and that the security steps he skipped "would not have changed the outcome."

Shelton made similar arguments, saying that in his view the Navy's responses to the Cole bombing "were appropriate."

In hindsight, he conceded that "everyone in the chain of command could have done better . . . However, I think that as you look at that chain, there was no dereliction (of duty) and there certainly was no criminal intent or any criminal actions or anything else that warranted punishment."