Families of USS Cole Victims Sue Sudan for $105 Million

The father of one of 17 sailors killed in the October 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen considered committing suicide after learning of his son's death, the man testified Tuesday as the sailors' families pressed their case in court to prove that the Sudanese government facilitated the attack.

Louge Gunn, father of Seaman Cherone Louis Gunn, and relatives of the other sailors killed in the Cole attack, are suing the Sudanese government for $105 million in damages, arguing that without Sudan's alleged support and funding of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network, the bombing would not have been possible. The trial began Tuesday in the homeport of the Navy destroyer.

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"I dropped the phone. I went into a panic," Gunn, a grief counselor, testified. "I fell to the floor on my knees. It was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to me. I felt like somebody had put their hand in the inside of my body and pulled my skin out."

He said he was in a session at the time with a couple who had lost their son when he found out about the Cole bombing. Later that day, one of his four sons called and screamed into the phone that Cherone had been killed.

Gunn, pausing to compose himself during his 30-minute testimony, described going into his Washington, D.C., office and throwing a chair out the window and punching holes in the wall until his fingers bled. He considered various methods of suicide, he said.

Sudan, which the United States has listed as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993, had sought unsuccessfully to dismiss the civil lawsuit on the grounds that too much time had passed between the bombing and the filing of the lawsuit in 2004. Lawyers for Sudan did not offer opening statements or question Gunn.

"Sudan's material support ... including continuous flow of funding, money, weapons, logistical support, diplomatic passports and religious blessing, was crucial in enabling the attack on the USS Cole," lawyers for the families said in court papers outlining their case.

The families' lawyers intend to prove that Sudan granted safe haven to Al Qaeda since 1991 — long before Yemeni operatives blasted a 40-foot hole in the side of the Cole in Yemen's Aden harbor on Oct. 12, 2000.

They also hope to show that the operatives were trained at camps Sudan permitted Al Qaeda to operate within its borders; Sudan's military provided Al Qaeda with at least four crates of weapons and explosives for use in terrorist activities in Yemen; bin Laden and Sudan's government owned businesses that provided cover for the procurement of explosives, weapons and chemicals; and that Sudan gave Al Qaeda diplomatic pouches to ship explosives and weapons internationally without being searched.

The plaintiffs contend Sudan's embassy in New York gave logistical assistance to the bombers of the World Trade Center in 1993, but court documents included no details of the allegation.

Terrorism expert Lorenzo Vidino testified that Sudan was a safe haven for terrorists and that hundreds from Yemen went to the African nation for training.

"Sudan — the whole country — was a perfect sanctuary," he said.

Andrew C. Hall, an attorney for the families, opened the trial with a video recreation of the attack and actual photographs of the damage.

Hall said he expects the trial to last two to three days, with testimony by six family members and one or two experts. Lawyers also will give the judge depositions by about 50 people, including other family members and R. James Woolsey, former CIA director under President Clinton.

Potential damages could be reduced to not more than $35 million. U.S. District Judge Robert G. 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. The money is to be shared by 59 spouses, parents and children of the bombing victims.

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