USS COLE
US Navy  /  AP file
This file picture shows damage sustained on the port side of the guided missile destroyer USS Cole after a terrorist bomb exploded during a refueling operation in the port of Aden, Yemen, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2000.
updated 3/14/2007 7:39:44 PM ET 2007-03-14T23:39:44

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Sudanese government caused the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole and will be liable for paying damages to the families of the 17 sailors killed in the attack.

U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar said he would issue a written opinion later to explain his reasoning. He requested additional paperwork, including tax returns of the sailors killed, to help calculate damages.

The families of the Cole sailors sued Sudan, contending the attack in 2000 could not have happened without the nation’s support of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network.

Sudan tried to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that too much time had passed between the bombing and the filing of the lawsuit in 2004. Carl D. Gray, a lawyer representing the Sudanese government, declined to comment.

The Cole was in Yemen’s port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000, when the explosion ripped a 40-foot hole in its side. The judge heard the trial, with no jury, in the city where the Cole is based.

Relatives testify
“Words can’t express the loss my family has gone through,” Shalala Swenchonis-Wood testified Wednesday about her brother’s death. “It’s not financial, it’s not material, it’s always the things, the little things you don’t see.”

Sean Walsh of Hagerstown, Md., spoke of watching his younger brother, Patrick Roy, struggle to find himself in high school, and then gain confidence after joining the Navy.

“To me, just the worst part of this whole thing is he had just turned into the man we all knew he could be,” Walsh said.

Four experts on terrorism, including former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, testified in person or by deposition Tuesday to support the families’ contention that al-Qaida needed the African nation’s help to carry out the attack.

“It would not have been as easy — it might have been possible — but it would not have been as easy,” Woolsey said, referring to Sudan’s assistance providing economic support, places to train and false documents.

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

$105 million sought
The United States has listed Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993.

The families are seeking $105 million in damages, but that amount could be reduced to $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.

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.

“I’m pleased so far, but we’ll have to wait to see what happens,” said Louge Gunn, the father of sailor Cherone Gunn, who died in the explosion. “The most important thing is the families came together to see some type of justice be done.”

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