WASHINGTON - For Edith Bartley, the terror attacks that struck U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 22 years ago will never fade away. She lost her father and her brother in the bombing of the embassy in Nairobi, and she continues to speak out on behalf of the families of victims.
"It's about advocacy, about ensuring that the work of our diplomats and other embassy personnel at our American embassies around the world are not forgotten," she said. "And that as a nation, we don't forget what happened half a world away because it really was the precursor to later events.
"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about my father and brother. Their lives and all of their friends and colleagues were taken abruptly and far too soon," she said.
Her father, Julian L. Bartley, was the first African-American consul general to serve the U.S. in Kenya.
Her brother, Julian L. Bartley, Jr., was at the embassy for an internship and was considering attending universities in Kenya. "My brother was only 20. He had his entire life ahead of him."
Today, her advocacy centers on compensation for families of victims, specifically, a $335 million compensation fund Sudan has agreed to pay. Leading up to the attacks, the Sudanese government harbored the al-Qaeda militants, providing them with Sudanese passports and allowed them to transport weapons and money across the border into Kenya. Sudan had also given safe haven to Osama Bin Laden leading the U.S. State Department to place the country on a list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1993.
In 2019, after longtime president Omar al-Bashir was ousted, Sudan's new transitional government began negotiations with the U.S. State Department to normalize diplomatic relations and have the country removed from the list. Compensating the victims of the attack is part of that removal process.
Bartley said she and other family members of victims have been in regular contact with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and previous secretaries. They have insisted that Sudan must account for its actions before normalization can be considered.
"That is a position we have taken and adhere to and continue because other countries around the world, other people around the world are watching," she said, speaking via Skype. "We've got to adhere to requiring countries to do what they need to do, take responsibility. And Sudan is doing that very, very much and voluntarily so. And that should not be taken lightly."
Awaiting Congressional approval
The blasts killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured more than 5,000 people. Now, families want Congress to ratify the agreement.
However, that process has hit a snag. Some in Congress think the settlement is unfair since it awards families of U.S. victims millions of dollars and non-citizens far less.
"There is a third victim group which has emerged and that is really the point of debate at this point, which is African victims at the time of the attacks, but which since the attacks have become naturalized American citizens," Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, told VOA. He added that the group who "immigrated to the United States, become U.S. citizens, and want to be compensated at the rate of American citizens at the $3 million rate, not at the rate of Africans. And so that's where the debate lies right now."
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has questioned the fairness of the deal.
In recent reports, Menendez said the deal "favors some American citizens over others. We need a deal that, at minimum, is fair to all Americans with claims," he said, according to The Washington Post.
But Bartley points out that the U.S. has a compensation fund for victims of terror. This fund, created in 2015, is the mechanism for both citizens and non-citizens to collect money from countries such as Sudan that have sponsored terror organizations.
The fund is administered by the Justice Department and, when the U.S. wins legal actions against sanctions violators, a portion of the damages collected goes into that fund. It is then distributed to victims.
Hudson said the State Department is hoping to balance the interest of Americans and non-citizens. "What the lawyers at the State Department have done is they're relying very heavily on the deal that was put together to remove Libya [from the state sponsors of terrorism list]. Part of that deal was essentially an exchange of compensation, which the Libyans paid to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing in exchange for Libya receiving legal immunity."
Hudson said Sudan wants that same type of immunity from individual lawsuits, but that requires Congress to act.
"The wrinkle is that while the State Department has promised it, it cannot deliver. It's only an act of Congress that can restore Sudan's sovereign immunity," Hudson said in a VOA interview via Skype. "And so the State Department needs the Congress. It otherwise would not need Congress to remove Sudan from the terrorism list."
Bartley and other family members pledge to keep fighting.
"What I will continue to do is focus on fighting the good fight and doing what we can to make a difference and help our families feel that some portion of justice is achieved," she said. "That is the ultimate wish that we all have."