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Syria Can’t Duck $413M Fine for Iraq Beheadings

(CN) - Syria cannot throw out a $413 million judgment awarded to the families of two American contractors whose beheadings in Iraq were posted on the Internet, the DC Circuit ruled.

A Washington federal judge had entered the verdict for the families of Olin Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, of Hillsdale, Mich., and Jack Hensley, of Marietta, Ga., after the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad refused to respond to the lawsuit or appear in court.

After the verdict was entered, however, it filed a motion based to vacate the judgment on procedural and jurisdictional grounds.

In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit affirmed that Syria had provided "material support" for Al-Qaeda in Iraq, setting the stage for the military contractors' abduction in 2004.

The group al-Tawhid-wal-Jihad, now known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the abductions, and they later decapitated the men while videotaping the vicious slaughter. The group's leader, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, is believed to have personally decapitated Armstrong. Al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in June 2006.

In the aftermath of the murders, the families of the contractors filed state-law claims against Syria. When Syria did not respond or otherwise enter an appearance in the court, a procedural default was entered against the Middle Eastern nation.

The District Court subsequently held a three-day evidentiary hearing to determine whether the families had evidence to defend their claims, and then rendered the $413 million judgment. Syria appealed, arguing, among other things, that it had not been properly served and that the District Court lacked jurisdiction.

After the District Court refused to budge, Syria appealed to the D.C. Circuit, making a multitude of arguments, among them that the case violates the U.N. Charter, international laws and international norms, and that regardless, its central contention is a nonjusticiable political question.

The 11-page ruling calls these arguments "specious" and deftly rejects each.

Writing for the panel, Judge Janice Rogers Brown said she found no reason to reverse and remand the lower court's ruling.

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