Supreme Court rules against USS Cole victims, backs Sudan in bombing lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked American soldiers injured in the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole from claiming millions in damages from the Sudanese government in an 8-1 decision.

In 2010, 15 sailors injured in the al Qaeda bombing and three of their spouses sued the Sudanese government alleging the country had provided material support to the group. 

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In 2012, a federal judge in Washington ruled the plaintiffs could collect $314.7 million from banks holding Sudanese assets, levying the damages by default because the government did not defend against accusations that it provided support to al Qaeda, which perpetrated the bombing, according to Reuters.

The sailors and spouses mailed the lawsuit to Sudan’s embassy, creating a controversy over whether this violated the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which addresses when foreign governments can be sued in American courts.

A New York judge later ordered the banks in question to turn over their assets, with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upholding the order in 2015.

“A service packet must be addressed and dispatched to the foreign minister at the minister’s office in the foreign state,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, the sole dissenting vote, wrote in a dissenting opinion that the delivery method complied with the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

The Trump administration backed Sudan in the case, according to Reuters, arguing before the high court that ruling against the nation could affect how the U.S., which rejects judicial notices delivered to its embassies, is treated in foreign courts.

“Particularly given this administration’s solicitude for veterans, its decision to side with a state sponsor of terrorism, against men and women who are seeking to recover for grievous injuries suffered in the service of our country, is inexplicable and distressing,” the plaintiffs said in a legal brief, according to the news service.