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Judge Throws Out Hostage Suit


The 52 Americans held hostage in Iran more than 20 years ago cannot sue their captors, a federal judge ruled Thursday, dismissing their suit and barring the once iconic figures from collecting damages against a nation still designated by the State Department as the world’s chief financier of international terrorism.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Algiers Accords, the executive agreement that ended the 444-day crisis, still requires the U.S. government to “bar and preclude” any suits by the hostages or their families. Laws passed by Congress in recent years that allow U.S. victims of state-sponsored terrorism to sue their tormentors, and specific congressional support for the Tehran hostages, were not enough to overcome that legal hurdle, Sullivan ruled.

“There are two branches of government that are empowered to abrogate and rescind the Algiers Accords, and the judiciary is not one of them,” Sullivan wrote. “The political considerations that must be balanced prior to such a decision are beyond both the expertise and mandate of this court. ... This court has no choice but to grant the government’s motions and dismiss this case.”

The emotional suit was seen as a test case for the validity of U.S. agreements and treaties with other nations in the light of antiterrorism laws that seek to financially punish sponsors of terrorism.

The Justice Department, representing both the White House and the State Department, argued in court that national security interests demanded that the United States live up to those agreements -- even if they were with countries the State Department designated as terrorism sponsors. Those interests must outweigh the rights of individual victims, they argued.

EPA To Release Cancer Warning


Americans have a cancer risk from toxic chemicals in the air that is at least 10 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable level, and 12 million people experience risks 100 times higher, according to an unreleased Environmental Protection Agency study.

“Millions of people live in areas where air toxins may pose potentially significant health concerns,” says the report, portions of which were obtained by Knight Ridder. “Although air quality continues to improve, we feel that more needs to be done to reduce the potential for harm from exposures to these chemicals.”

The study, whose release is nearly a year overdue, modeled the effects of powerful poisons including benzene, formaldehyde, arsenic and chromium. These chemicals are produced mainly by vehicles and industry and cause an estimated 150 cancer cases yearly. An additional 350 cases a year are believed to be caused by chemicals in diesel exhaust.

Overall, the added cancer risk from toxics in air -- most of them lung cancer cases, experts think -- is small, on the order of one case per 10,000. By comparison, smokers have a one-in-nine lifetime lung cancer rate, according to the American Cancer Society.