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Court Rejects Defamation Suit Over Missile Attack

(CN) - The D.C. Circuit dismissed a $50 million defamation claim against the U.S. government over a 1998 missile attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, saying the case raised political questions that would require courts to second-guess national security decisions.

In 1998, the terrorist group al-Qaida bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Days later, then-President Clinton responded with a missile strike against a pharmaceutical plant in North Khartoum, Sudan, owned by El-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries Company and Salah El Din Ahmed Mohammed Idris.

The owners said members of the Clinton administration justified the attack by falsely asserting that the plant was a "terrorists' base of operation," was "associated with the bin Laden network" and was, in fact, a chemical weapons plant.

The plaintiffs claimed to have no ties to al-Qaida and insisted the plant produced only drugs, including more than half the pharmaceuticals used in the Sudan.

Seeking to recoup their losses from the attack, the owners filed a $50 million claim against the United States. The complaint alleged defamation and violations of international law.

The lower court dismissed the case under the political question doctrine, and a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit affirmed.

"We have consistently held that courts are not a forum for second-guessing the merits of foreign policy and national security decisions textually committed to the political branches," Judge Griffith wrote.

"The district court ... could not avoid the question whether Idris was in fact associated with bin Laden, meaning a judicial decision for the plaintiffs would directly contradict the Clinton administration's ultimate stated justification for launching the missile strike."

Judge Ginsburg dissented in part, saying the defamation claim "does not necessarily raise a political question and may be subject to objections that do not require us to reach the constitutional issue."

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