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Monday, May 23, 2011     GET REAL

U.S. court rejects Syria's appeal on beheadings
of American contractors

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court has dismissed a Syrian attempt to block a $400 million award to the families of two American contractors beheaded by Al Qaida in Iraq.


The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington dismissed a Syrian motion to block a judgement in the case of the families of Olin Armstrong and Jack Hensley. The regime of President Bashar Assad, which refused to contest the lower court verdict, filed a motion based on procedural grounds to vacate the judgement that blamed Syria for facilitating the flow of Al Qaida fighters into Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

"We find none to have merit," the appeals court said on May 20.

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Syria was represented by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark in an appeal that was heard in November 2010. The families of Armstrong and Hensley sued Assad, military intelligence and its director Assaf Chawkat, accusing them of providing material support to Al Qaida and particularly its late commander Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi.

"Syria did not respond or otherwise enter an appearance in court," the appeals court said in its unanimous ruling. "As a result, the clerk of the court entered a procedural default against Syria and the district court subsequently held a three-day evidentiary hearing to determine whether the families could establish their claims 'by evidence satisfactory to the court.' "

In 2004, Armstrong and Hensley, contractors for the U.S. military, were abducted and beheaded days later in an execution conducted by Al Zarqawi. The Al Qaida-aligned Tawhid W'al Jihad issued a videotape of the beheading.

Four years later, the families of the contractors were awarded damages by a federal district court of more than $400 million from the Syrian government. Syria appealed the default judgment, arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction and that it never received a summons.

"Syria also argues the case is a non-justiciable political question," the appeals court said. "These arguments are specious and clearly resolved by this court's prior cases, including some that involved Syria and its counsel."

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