WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An appeals court on Tuesday upheld the dismissal of a $50 million lawsuit against the United States over then-President Bill Clinton’s 1998 decision to order a missile attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant.
Clinton ordered the attack on the factory and a training camp in Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that had been carried out days earlier by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.
Clinton said the El-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries plant in North Khartoum was believed to be associated with bin Laden’s network and to be involved in the production of materials for chemicals weapons.
The plant’s owners denied it was a chemical weapons facility or in any way connected to bin Laden or his network. They said the destroyed plant had been Sudan’s largest manufacturer of medicinal products.
The owners sued the U.S. government in federal court in Washington for unjustifiably destroying the plant, for failing to compensate them for the facility’s destruction and for defaming them by saying the plant had ties to bin Laden.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit and the appeals court in a unanimous decision agreed.
The appeals court ruled the case involved a political question covered by a legal doctrine that means the suit cannot be reviewed by the judicial branch.
“If the political question doctrine means anything in the arena of national security and foreign relations, it means the courts cannot assess the merits of the president’s decision to launch an attack on a foreign target,” Judge Thomas Griffith wrote in the opinion.
“Under the political question doctrine, the foreign target of a military strike cannot challenge in court the wisdom of retaliatory military action taken by the United States,” he concluded.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote a separate opinion agreeing with the majority in dismissing the lawsuit but on different legal grounds.
He said the suit could have been dismissed because it was completely without merit and that the court did not need to address the political question doctrine.