Compensating the Victims of the August 7, 1998 Embassy Bombings Would Set a Precedent? Goddammit, So What?

Fourteen years ago today, between 10:30 am and 10:40 am local time (3:30–3:40 am Washington time), suicide bombers in trucks laden with explosives parked outside our embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya and almost simultaneously detonated themselves. In Nairobi, approximately 218 people were killed, and an estimated 5,000 wounded; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 (including 7 FSNs) and wounded 72.  Twelve Americans were killed. (see our post R E M E M B E R – August 7, 1998; also Courting Remembrance).

August 1998: The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source:Diplomatic Security)

The Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reports that the victims of the August 1998 bomb blast at the American embassy in Nairobi are still demanding compensation saying the US government has turned a deaf ear to their suffering.

The victims also claimed that Kenya’s leadership has not shown commitment in ensuring that they lead a normal life fourteen years after the explosion that claimed over 200 lives.

Led by the 1998 bomb blast association chair Ali Mwadame, the victims said they will present a memorandum to parliament and the office of the Prime Minister.

Speaking to KBC on phone on Tuesday, Mwadame said a majority of victims who were maimed during the tragedy have died while others cannot even afford medication.

Back here at home, the families of 12 Americans killed in the attack are still fighting for federal compensation that has been granted to other terrorism victims — a struggle that has left many feeling betrayed and forgotten.

The Baltimore Sun reported back in June that the families have turned to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, for help.

The effort by the families, including two from Maryland, has raised difficult questions about who is entitled to federal support when relatives are killed by an act of terrorism directed at the United States, and how much money is fair. Congress has been unwilling to answer those questions.
[…]
“Because it happened to our embassy, many people don’t think about it as American soil, but that is American property,” said Edith Bartley, a Prince George’s County resident whose father and brother were killed in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. “Those families, that embassy, our nation were targeted in Kenya. It was the same as 9/11.”

Past legislation would have set aside nearly $1 million for each family. Mikulski’s approach is less direct: Rather than specifying an amount of money, the proposal would require the State Department to develop policies for how to compensate survivors when employees are killed at work. Supporters hope the back-door approach will lead to the same result.

The amendment was added to a bill to fund the State Department. That spending legislation was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 29-1 vote May 24.

Families of Foreign Service workers killed in the line of duty receive up to $10,000 in death gratuity and one year’s salary.
[…]
Those who lost kin in the Nairobi bombing say the comparison to the Oklahoma City attack is not analogous; the link to al-Qaida, they say, makes the East Africa bombings more similar to the Sept. 11 attacks. They say the State Department’s current policy unfairly treats Foreign Service workers killed in a car accident, for example, the same as those who died in a major terrorist attack.
[…]
That argument has won bipartisan support among some lawmakers. Language similar to Mikulski’s is being carried in the House of Representatives by Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and Florida Rep. Allen West, who is among the more conservative Republicans in Congress.
[..]
Mikulski said objections by the State Department have stymied past efforts.

This is certainly not the first time that somebody in Congress waded in on this issue.  Roy Blunt, the chief deputy Republican whip in the House in 2001 introduced legislation to make the families of the Americans killed or injured in two American Embassy bombings in Africa in 1998 eligible for the federal compensation fund set up for victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Since we’re still talking about this, nothing obviously happened to that effort eleven years ago.  At that time, Mr. Blunt in the NYT also said:

”The State Department had been reluctant to approve compensation in any way that involved establishing blame or proving negligence,” he explained. But the new federal fund, he added, is a no-fault fund that does not require any finding of blame.

This is where it does not/not get better. Again. Because who do you think is blocking this effort? More from the Baltimore Sun:

“What we get is not a compassionate response but a lawyer response that if we do this, we’re going to set a precedent,” Mikulski said of her efforts to negotiate with department officials. “But we’re establishing a precedent by not doing anything, even though these people died on American soil, died at their duty stations.”

A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Mikulski’s effort or negotiations. Asked about the issue during a House subcommittee hearing last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who was the first lady at the time of the East Africa attacks — was noncommittal.

“I can’t make any promises,” Clinton told Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat. “But I will certainly work with you on that.”

Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot! So what if it sets a precedent, goddammit! They were KIA in the service of their country! Excuse me for sounding mad, I am growwwling 😡

Now — since Secretary Clinton has been trying to win a world record as the most -traveled Secretary of State ever, when does she get time to work with him on that? And now that Representative Jackson Jr., is receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for depression and gastrointestinal issues, and she’s sailing out the doors of Foggy Bottom, they obviously will have lots of time to work on this before long.

There is certainly a precedent to this taking care of your people business in the State Department. In May this year, the NYT reported that the Supreme Court rejected the last legal appeal for former American hostages seeking compensation for their captivity in Iran three decades ago, leaving legislation newly introduced in Congress as the last chance to resolve their longstanding grievance.  A lower court, acting at the request of the State Department (not/not Iran), previously blocked the hostages’ effort to win compensation from Iran, holding that the agreement under which they were released barred such claims.

Yes, yes, go ahead and stop at the vomitorium, there are tons of buckets there.

Domani Spero

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6 responses

  1. My mom died in that blast 15 years ago and two years after that my dad married another wife and my life has never been the same again! I dropped out of school, I got pregnant and now a mom of two without a job or papers to get me a stable job! Well, my past cannot change, and I personally don’t blame the American Embassy, but i Know my life is worse than it ever was before my mom went away… and I just wish my children could have a life close to the one i had when growing up. If there’s anyone out there who can turn things around for us, please assist us. . .

  2. Are we talking about the same State Department that refused to pay its employees who were taken prisoner by the Germans at the beginning of World War II because they weren’t technically working for the Department and earning a paycheck?

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