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Five years later, embassy bombing families feel sidelined

From Phil Hirschkorn

The aftermath of the August 7, 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya that left 213 people dead.
The aftermath of the August 7, 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya that left 213 people dead.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Exactly five years since the deadly al Qaeda bombings at two U.S. embassies in East Africa, families of the U.S. victims are still calling for financial compensation.

On August 7, 1998, 213 people -- including more than 40 embassy staffers -- were killed in a suicide truck bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and more than 4,000 people were injured. Minutes later -- about 400 miles away -- a truck bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed 11 people and wounded dozens more.

"We feel in some respects we have been forgotten and left behind," said Sue Bartley. Her husband Julian, consul general at the Kenya embassy, and her son, Jay, a college intern, were among 12 Americans killed in the Nairobi blast.

Bartley and her daughter, Edith, a law school graduate, now live together in the Washington suburbs. They say the State Department has disappointed them.

"To see this administration as well as the Clinton administration not address our issues in expedient fashion adds insult to injury," said Edith Bartley, who accuses the State Department of negligence for alleged lapses in security.

The other 11 U.S. families who lost loved ones in the Kenya attack also are seeking financial compensation from the federal government.

"To treat us as though we're a problem and to go away is disheartening." Edith Bartley said. "It's hurtful, and it has made our healing that much more drawn out."

The victims' families have received congressional support for a proposal that they be eligible to apply to the multibillion-dollar Special Victims Compensation Fund established to assist families impacted by the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The fund's average award has exceeded $1 million.

Julian and Jay Bartley were among 12 Americans killed in the Kenya bombing on August 7, 1998.
Julian and Jay Bartley were among 12 Americans killed in the Kenya bombing on August 7, 1998.

A bill to grant the embassy bombing families access to the 9/11 fund passed the House of Representatives last year, but did not pass the Senate and never became law.

This year, the Bush administration offered its alternative -- a $262,000 benefit for a U.S. citizen death in any terrorist attack in the past 25 years or any future attack, not only those conducted by al Qaeda.

"Our assignment was to find something for everybody," said a senior administration official. "We haven't tried to say this group should go in the 9/11 fund and that group shouldn't."

The proposed amount is the same sum paid out to heirs of federal law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Those who are injured or held hostage would also benefit.

Congress has held a hearing, but has taken no other action on the proposal.

"As a matter of equity, we should be treated the same way as the victims of 9/11," says Howard Kavaler, whose wife, Prabhi, was killed in the Kenya blast. "We're no different. We happen to be the first victims of [al Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden's rage against the United States."

His wife's death left Kavaler, a former State Department attorney who survived the bombing, alone to raise the couple's two daughters, Tara, 15, and Maya, 10.

Compensation, Kavaler says, "will mark a recognition on the part of the United States government that we were terribly wronged in 1998, and to that extent I will be able to move on with my life."

Stuart Eizenstat, who served as under secretary of state in the Clinton administration and brokered international compensation agreements for Holocaust survivors, says the State Department's proposal is "woefully inadequate."

Sue Bartley: 'We have been forgotten and left behind.'
Sue Bartley: 'We have been forgotten and left behind.'

"Having an expansion of the 9/11 fund or something very similar is precisely what ought to be done," Eizenstat said. "Create an administrative remedy, allow a quick payment."

In 2001, a five-month trial in Manhattan federal court resulted in the convictions of four al Qaeda terrorists involved in the bombings.

Those men -- Mohamed al-'Owhali, Mohamed Odeh, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, and Wadih el Hage -- are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in Colorado, at the nation's toughest maximum security prison.

Several other defendants indicted in the terror conspiracy have pleaded guilty or are in custody. But others, including bin Laden, remain on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List.

Five years after the East Africa attacks, a more secure Kenya embassy has been rebuilt for $68 million.

The improvements were part of an $1.5 billion U.S. government effort to upgrade embassy security worldwide in the wake of the embassy bombings.

The Bartleys are left to wonder -- had the Kenya embassy been better fortified in 1998, or had the government acted earlier against al Qaeda, how different their lives might be.

"My brother was 20. He had his entire life ahead of him, Edith Bartley said. "He will never have the opportunity to walk across graduation for college. My dad will not have the honor of escorting down my wedding aisle."

"We are not going away," she said. "It's five years later. We're still fighting, and we will continue to be here."

CNN National Correspondent Bob Franken contributed to this report.

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