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U.S. Supreme Court blocks $315M USS Cole verdict against Sudan


March 26, 2019 (WASHINGTON) - The Supreme Court of the United States Tuesday overturned a federal court rule providing that Sudan was partly responsible for the attack on the USS Cole and prevented the families of the victims from collecting $314.7 million in damages from the Sudanese government.

The port side damage to the guided missile destroyer USS Cole is pictured after a bomb attack during a refueling operation in the port of Aden in this October 12, 2000 (Reuters file photo)In March 2007, a federal judge said that Sudan is responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole and the killing of 17 sailors when terrorists bombed the ship harboured in the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000.

Al-Qaida could not have existed or planned its acts of terrorism, including the Cole bombing, without Sudan’s support, the lawsuit said in 2004. Further, it noted that in 1993, then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism because it had harboured bin Laden.

The plaintiffs, victims and their families, at the time, mailed the lawsuit to Sudan’s foreign minister at the Sudanese embassy in Washington. But the move created a controversy as the law requires that the complaint “be addressed and dispatched by the clerk of the court to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned.”

The verdict of the justices was a response to the following question: where the notice of the complaint against Sudan should have been mailed to the embassy in Washington or to the foreign ministry in Khartoum.

In an 8-1 majority decision, the Supreme Court ruled against USS Cole victims and blocked the American sailors injured in the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole from claiming $314.7 million in damages from the Sudanese government.

In its 29-page ruling, the high court said federal law required a copy of the court case to be mailed to the Sudanese foreign minister in Khartoum, and not to the Sudanese Embassy in Washington.

"The most natural reading of this language is that service must be mailed directly to the foreign minister’s office in the foreign state," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.

Alito said the victims can attempt to serve the suit again, and if that doesn’t work, federal law says the complaint can be sent to the U.S. secretary of state, who would transmit it to the foreign country through diplomatic channels.

He stressed that despite the "exasperation" of those who sued, strict requirements for serving lawsuits must be followed.

However, Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, pointing out it was sufficient to send the suit to Sudanese embassy in Washington.

Sudan didn’t defend against the lawsuit and was hit with a default judgment. Khartoum started fighting in court only after the victims tried to collect the award by seizing money held in U.S. bank accounts.


While the justices decided to back Sudan against the victims of USS Cole due to a defect of procedure, the Sudanese foreign ministry in a statement released in Khartoum welcomed the ruling of the high court saying it represents an important step towards refuting allegations about Sudan’s links to terrorist operations.

"Foreign Minister El Dirdeiry Mohamed Ahmed attended the U.S. Supreme Court hearing on 7 November 2018 to prove that the communication was not delivered to the Foreign Minister as required by the international law," further said

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs "affirms that it will continue its efforts in cooperation with all concerned national and foreign authorities to remove all distortions, allegations and false accusations made on behalf of Sudan".


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