- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - A federal judge on Wednesday found Sudan liable for the bombing of the USS Cole but said he will need time to determine damages for the families of the 17 sailors killed when terrorists attacked the Navy destroyer in 2000.

“There is substantial evidence in this case presented by the expert testimony that the government of Sudan induced the particular bombing of the Cole by virtue of prior actions of the government of Sudan,” U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar said at the end of a trial that started Tuesday.

Doumar said he would issue a written opinion later to fully explain his reasoning and that he did not know how long it would take him to calculate damages.

The families of the Cole sailors had sued Sudan, contending that the attack could not have happened without financial and training support from the African nation, which the United States has listed as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993.

The Cole was in Yemen’s port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000, when the explosion ripped a hole in its side, nearly sinking the ship. The judge heard the trial, with no jury, in the city where the now-repaired Cole is based.

“I’m pleased so far, but we’ll have to wait to see what happens,” Louge Gunn of Virginia Beach, the father of Cole sailor Cherone Gunn, said after the hearing. “The most important thing is the families came together to see some type of justice be done. We are very proud of this.”

Carl D. Gray, a lawyer representing Sudan, declined to comment.

Earlier Wednesday, four relatives of sailors killed in the attack testified about their loss.

Shalala Swenchonis-Wood said her brother, Gary Swenchonis Jr. of Rockport, Texas, had helped the family when their father was ill, establishing a joint account from which their mother could draw money.

But the family’s suffering isn’t about material things, she testified.

“It’s always the things, the little things you don’t see,” said Swenchonis-Wood, who said her brother was her confidante and that his death broke a family bond that still hasn’t been mended.

Sean Walsh of Hagerstown, Md., told of watching his little brother, Patrick Roy, struggle to find himself in high school, then join the Navy and become more sure of himself.

“To me, just the worst part of this whole thing is he had just turned into the man we all knew he could be,” said Walsh, who went into a deep depression after Roy’s death and was fired from his job when he was unable to get off his couch for three weeks.

Jaime Owens of Jackson, Tenn., described missing her husband, Ronald “Scott” Owens, the high school sweetheart she married when she was 18.

“It felt like my right arm had been cut off because he did everything for me,” said Owens, in tears. “He was a wonderful father for his daughter, and that was all taken away in a matter of minutes.”

Sandra Francis of Woodleaf, N.C., recalled how happy her daughter, Lakeina M. Francis, had been to join the Navy in early 2000. Lakeina had been aboard the Cole only 10 days when terrorists pulled alongside the ship in a small boat laden with explosives.

“My life crumbled,” testified Francis, who said she thought about suicide. “When she died, I frankly almost died along with her.”

On Tuesday, experts testifying in person or by deposition had described Sudan as a safe haven for radical Islamic terrorism where the planner of the Cole attack had been trained.

“It would not have been as easy - it might have been possible - but it would not have been as easy” to bomb the Cole without Sudan providing economic support, places to train and false documents, R. James Woolsey, CIA director from early 1993 to early 1995, said in a videotaped deposition.

They cited testimony from other trials, a declassified Canadian intelligence report, U.S. State Department reports and their own studies as they testified that Sudan let terrorist training camps operate within its borders and gave al-Qaida members diplomatic passports so they could travel without scrutiny and diplomatic pouches to ship explosives and weapons without being searched.

The families are seeking $105 million in damages but the amount could be reduced to about $25 to $35 million, lawyers said. Doumar has said he is inclined to apply the Death on the High Seas Act, which permits compensation for economic losses but not for pain and suffering.

Doumar said Wednesday that he thought a report an economist had prepared for the families’ lawyers was “far out in left field.” He requested additional paperwork, including tax returns of the sailors killed, to examine.

Andrew C. Hall, an attorney for the families, said it will be up to the lawyers to collect damages from Sudan’s assets that have been frozen in the United States.

Sudan sought unsuccessfully to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that too much time had passed between the bombing and the filing of the lawsuit in 2004. Lawyers representing the Sudanese government did not offer opening statements or closing arguments or question any witnesses.

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