Some call it the forgotten attack, and others remember it merely in the litany of attacks on Americans by radical Islamists.  However, the attack on the USS Cole was at the time the most audacious terrorist attack on the US.  Suicide bombers succeeding in their attack against the mightiest military force in history, killing 17 American sailors while the USS Cole docked at Aden after the Yemeni government begged for a visit and the commerce it would bring.

Almost eight years later, the American government appears less interested than ever in bringing the perpetrators to true justice:

Almost eight years after al-Qaeda nearly sank the USS Cole with an explosives-stuffed motorboat, killing 17 sailors, all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.

Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni who helped organize the plot to bomb the Cole as it refueled in this Yemeni port on Oct. 12, 2000, has broken out of prison twice. He was recaptured both times, but then secretly released by the government last fall. Yemeni authorities jailed him again after receiving complaints from Washington. But U.S. officials have so little faith that he’s still in his cell that they have demanded the right to perform random inspections.

Two suspects, described as the key organizers, were captured outside Yemen and are being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. Many details of their alleged involvement remain classified. It is unclear when — or if — they will be tried by the military. …

To this day, al-Qaeda trumpets the attack on the Cole as one of its greatest military victories. It remains an improbable story: how two suicide bombers smiled and waved to unsuspecting U.S. sailors in Aden’s harbor as they pulled their tiny fishing boat alongside the $1 billion destroyer and blew a gaping hole in its side.

Despite the initial promises of accountability, only limited public inquiries took place in Washington, unlike the extensive investigations that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Basic questions remain about which individuals and countries played a role in the assault on the Cole.

Craig Whitlock tells a story of futility bounded by diplomatic niceties with a Yemeni government that clearly has other priorities than justice for the 17 victims of the Cole.  At times, it appears that Sanaa has cut deals with the AQ terrorists in order to maintain its own internal intelligence on dissidents, and other times, the Yemenis seem more interested in looking moderate to radical Islamists, appeasing them at our expense.  The US pushed the Yemenis hard at the beginning of the investigation, but now hardly push at all.

The Bush administration understands better than most that the war terrorists declared won’t get won with indictments, but even they appear enthralled by the law-enforcement model in some instances, and this appears to be one of them.  The US should have targeted men like Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri for a capture operation like Israel conducted with Adolf Eichmann, or outright assassination.  Nashiri isn’t a civilian, he’s an al-Qaeda terrorist, and we need to clearly demonstrate to terrorists and the governments that refuse to hand them over that we will take appropriate action ourselves to eliminate the problem.

Terrorists like Nashiri declared war on us, especially in the Cole attack.  If we want to discourage that in the future, we had better demonstrate the will to respond appropriately.