President Barack Obama, under fire for ordering the closure of the Guantanamo detention center and a freeze on the military trials of alleged terrorists there, will meet Friday afternoon with a group whose lives have been changed by al Qaida attacks.
Among those invited to the White House is retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, who was commander of the USS Cole when it was rammed by suicide bombers in October 2000. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed in the attack.
Last week, Lippold condemned Obama's order to close Guantanamo and to delay military proceedings there, including the trial of one of the organizers of the Cole attack, Abd el Rahim al Nashiri, who is scheduled for arraignment in Guantanamo on Monday.
''We shouldn't make policy decisions based on human rights and legal advocacy groups,'' Lippold said then.
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Thursday, Lippold was more conciliatory, but still critical of the uncertainty surrounding Guantanamo.
"I'm going to listen,'' he said, adding, "The families have already been through enough. Don't put the families through even more of this agony.''
Lippold is a senior military fellow at Military Families United, which claims a 60,000 membership and has been circulating a pledge for members of Congress to sign that rejects relocating Guantanamo prisoners to their districts.
Also among those invited to the White House is retired New York Fire Chief Jim Riches, whose son was killed at the World Trade Center.
Riches last month traveled to Guantanamo to watch a war court hearing of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators and declared himself satisfied with the military commissions that President Bush set up. A military judge granted the president's request for a 120-day delay in the proceedings, however.
"My concern is these guys killed my son and I'd like to see justice served on them,'' Riches said Thursday. "I'd like to see Guantanamo stay open but my main concern is that we get the justice we deserve.''
He also described the 15 family members meeting with Obama as spanning the political spectrum, including "the very liberal that are against torture and everything else.''
The chief said the issue was inclusion, and that victim families wanted a say in what kind of prosecutions the government would pursue.
"It shows that he's reaching out to the people,'' he said. "At least we'll get to voice our opinion.''
As one of his first acts after being sworn in as president Jan. 20, Obama instructed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to order prosecutors at Guantanamo to seek delays in all pending trials at the detention center so that the new administration could review each of the cases against the 245 prisoners held there and determine how they should be handled.
Obama has said he favors civilian trials for those that can be tried, if possible, and appointed Attorney General Eric Holder to lead a Cabinet committee reviewing each case.
The review is likely to be complicated by allegations of prisoner abuse. Nashiri, the accused Cole conspirator, for example, was subjected to waterboarding during his years in secret CIA detention. Holder said waterboarding is torture during his confirmation hearing.