(CN) – Sudan is responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and owes $286 million to a group of injured sailors and their spouses, a federal judge ruled.
On Oct. 12, 2000, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole entered the Aden harbor in Yemen for refueling. Not long afterward, a small boat pulled up alongside the warship and exploded, ripping a hole in the side of the vessel. The explosion killed 17 sailors and injured 42.
In this action, 15 former sailors and three of their spouses sued the Republic of Sudan, alleging that the country was liable for their injuries because it supported those behind the attack, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth held that “plaintiffs have provided sufficient evidence to establish a cause of action against Sudan under FSIA’s [Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act] state-sponsored terrorism exception, that Sudan is liable to the plaintiffs for the alleged harms, and that plaintiffs are entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages.”
“While receiving support from Sudan, Al Qaeda prepared the strike against the Cole,” Lamberth found. “The attack was part of a decade-long plan conceived and executed by Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to confront U.S. interests in the Middle East. Bin Laden supervised the Cole plot directly.”
The sailors relied on Lorenzo Vidino, a Tufts University research program manager at the Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies, to testify about Sudan’s role in the plot.
“Mr. Vidino stated that the bombing would have been ‘close to impossible’ without Sudan’s assistance because ‘simply all they needed, starting from the training to the explosives, to all what a terrorist cell needs, even the ideological aspect of it, came from Sudan,” Lamberth wrote. “It was clearly necessary to have all these things in place to carry out an operation such as the attack on the Cole.”
Douglas Farah, author of “Blood From Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror” gave similar testimony.
“From 1992 through the Cole bombing, Sudan provided an incredibly necessary and vital infrastructure for Al-Qaeda to be able to prepare and move the explosives and carry out the attacks on the Cole,” according to the court. “And it was not clandestine or hidden presence, but rather fairly overt and knowing presence by senior members of the NIF government in Sudan.'”
“In sum, the evidence suggests that Sudan provided Al Qaeda with the support, guidance, and resources that allowed it to transform into a sophisticated, terrorist network, and that such support was critical to Al Qaeda developing the expertise, networks, military training, munitions, and financial resources necessary to plan and carry out the Cole attack,” Lamberth concluded.
The judge awarded $62.5 million to 14 sailors for pain and suffering. Perhaps in error, the decision does not say how much a 15th sailor, Kesha Stidham, won. Her brethren will each take home between $1.5 million and $7.5 million as they suffered a varying degree of injury. Because of these sailors’ awards, Lamberth gave smaller awards to the three spouses, arriving at a total of $9 million for emotional distress. Lamberth awarded $214 million in punitive damages by tripling these awards, though the figure could be higher depending on Stidham’s award.
Dozens of families who sued over the bombing in Virginia were denied an opportunity to seek punitive damages in October 2011.
They had won more than $7.9 million for “economic losses” after a March 2007 trial, but U.S. law did not offer a remedy at the time for psychological and emotional loss.
Soon after the families appealed, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act in 2008, allowing plaintiffs suing state sponsors of terrorism to seek punitive damages and recovery for pain and suffering.