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Victims of embassy bombings set to battle Sudan at Supreme Court

Victims of embassy bombings set to battle Sudan at Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Monday in a case that could lead to Sudan paying U.S. victims of terrorist attacks $4.3 billion for its role in supporting the bombings of American embassies in 1998.

Resolution of the case is a key requirement for Sudan's removal from the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and part of its efforts to rejoin the international community following a grass-roots revolution in the country.

But lawyers for Sudan have given no signs of backing down in the Supreme Court fight, testing the boundaries of U.S. laws created to help victims and hold state actors accountable for financing terrorist attacks.

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The case, Opati vs. Sudan, is unique because the plaintiff is seeking compensation for the local employees of the U.S. embassies attacked in Kenya and Tanzania in addition to the Americans killed and injured in the attack. Approximately 600 people are party to the civil suit.

“This is important because it sends a strong signal to the people that the U.S. government hires all over the world – the staff of embassies – that your families are going to be protected if you’re killed or injured in service to the United States,” said Steven Perles, co-counsel for the plaintiff and one of the foremost litigators in holding foreign governments accountable for sponsoring terrorism.

Perles has helped Holocaust victims who were U.S. nationals while in Nazi concentration camps receive compensation from Germany; won hundred million dollar judgements against Iran on behalf of victims of terrorism, settled cases for the victims of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya; and brought cases against the Syrian government for Americans brutally murdered by the Islamic State.

The case against Sudan centers on whether the punitive damages provision of a law passed by Congress in 2008 can apply retroactively to compensate non-American employees of U.S. embassies. A lower court ruled in favor of the Sudanese government and vacated the $4.3 billion in punitive damages.

Perles said a ruling in favor of the plaintiff will bring justice and compensation but also serve as a strong deterrent.

“Bad actors really pay attention to this litigation,” he said. “I can tell you from discussions I’ve had with other terrorist states, they read every filing. This litigation has a real deterrent effect.”

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U.S. courts have established that the Sudanese government is guilty of materially financing al Qaeda terrorists responsible for bombing the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998.

The bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded more than 4,500 people.

One of those injured included Doreen Oport, a U.S. embassy employee from Kenya who was working in the office of immigration at the time of the attack and was rescued from beneath collapsed rubble.

Now living in Texas, Oport said she carries the physical and emotional pain of the terrorist bombing everyday of her life. She has permanent scarring on her scalp from the burns of the explosion and pieces of glass remain embedded all over her body, falling out over time as her own body expels it.

“The 1998 embassy bombing has forever changed our lives and it killed so many of my friends and my colleagues who worked at the embassy,” she said in a phone interview. “We just expect that Sudan can satisfy the current judgement that is in front of the Supreme Court and we can be able to get something out of it and have closure.”

White & Case LLP, the law firm representing Sudan, declined to comment after being contacted by The Hill.

Sudan is in the midst of a revolutionary transition, having overthrown the three-decade dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir in April that was largely responsible for the country’s ties to terrorist organizations.

An interim civilian-military government is leading the country until democratic elections can be held. Those are expected to be held sometime next year.

The U.S. has welcomed Sudan’s new government by establishing diplomatic ties, promoting the exchange of ambassadors and bringing the country into the fold of geopolitical alliances. Sudan participated in a bilateral meeting with Israel and it closed the offices of terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah in Khartoum.

The steps were part of Sudan’s efforts to have the State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) designation removed, a pariah status that severely limits its ability to engage the global economy and receive badly needed loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Sudan’s Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Badawi has said the nation’s debt stands at $60 billion.

The interim government has said that Sudan intends to settle claims with the victims of the embassy bombings as part of its requirements to have the SST designation removed.

Sudan’s Justice Ministry announced on Feb. 13 that it settled with victims of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing, an attack by al Qaeda on a U.S. naval destroyer in Yemen’s Port of Aden that killed 17 Americans and wounded 39.

That settlement came despite an earlier court ruling in Sudan’s favor vacating punitive damages of more than $300 million.

The Associated Press reported Sudan agreed to pay $70 million to the victims.

Perles, however, said Sudan has failed to reach out to discuss any talks of settlements in his case.

“I have not been involved in a single settlement negotiation with the Sudanese, they haven’t invited us,” he said.