An American court has awarded Sh680 billion ($8 billion) to victims of the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The beneficiaries are all people who were employed by the US government at the time — Kenyans, Tanzanians and Americans.
The victims were represented by, among others, Mr Gavriel Mairone of MM-LAW LLC and Mr William Wheeler of Wheeler & Franks Law Firm LLC.
Mr Mairone, in an email interview, said the judgments in the four consolidated cases were made last Friday.
FIVE HUNDRED CLIENTS
More than 500 clients were represented in the suit and included citizens of either Kenya or Tanzania, but most of them were Kenyans, he said.
“I have not given up on finding justice for the victims who are neither US citizens nor employees of the US government and their families. Unfortunately, under current US law, we were able to bring this lawsuit only on behalf of the families of employees and American citizens,” he said.
The judgment, on behalf of 570 victims, employees at the US embassies and their surviving family members, represents the largest set of awards since Congress approved legislation in 2008 to allow terror victims who are employees of the US government and their families to sue foreign governments over responsibility for attacks.
The judgment was entered against the governments of Sudan and Iran, which were accused of supporting international terrorism.
“There’s no amount of money that can compensate people for the loss,” said Mr Mairone, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “But the point is that this is not about compensation, it’s about trying to bring the rule of law across the world.”
On August 7, 1998, between 10.30am and 10.40am suicide bombers in explosives-laden trucks rammed the US embassies in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi, and almost simultaneously detonated bombs.
Although the attacks were directed at American facilities, the vast majority of casualties were local citizens; 12 Americans were killed, including two CIA employees at the Nairobi embassy.
In the Nairobi blast, 213 people were killed, while 11 died in Dar-es-Salaam. An estimated 4,000 people in Nairobi were wounded, another 85 in Dar-es-Salaam.
Most of the plaintiffs at the heart of Friday’s orders were Kenyans and Tanzanians who worked at the US embassies injured in the attacks, along with the families of those who were killed.
The victims sued to hold the governments of Iran and Sudan responsible for supporting the bombings.
OPENED THE DOOR
According to the National Law Journal, the 2008 amendment to the Federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act opened the door to lawsuits brought by foreign citizens working for the US government.
Mr Steven Perles of Perles Law Firm in Washington, also a lawyer for the plaintiffs, credited Vice-President Joe Biden with moving through the 2008 legislative changes affecting foreign citizens working for the United States when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr Biden “single-handedly moved for relief for foreign State Department employees and those local personnel who serve in our embassies,” said Mr Perles.
Justice John D. Bates and other judges in the federal court in Washington have awarded a series of high-dollar judgments to victims of terrorism and their families since 2008. In May 2013, Justice Bates awarded $8.4 billion (Sh714 billion) to victims of the 1983 and 1984 bombings at the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon and their families.
“Damages awards cannot fully compensate people whose lives have been torn apart; instead, they offer only a helping hand. But that is the very least that these plaintiffs are owed. Hence, it is what this court will facilitate,” Judge Bates wrote in the rulings.
The plaintiffs face an uphill task in collecting the money. Iran and Sudan have not participated in the litigation, and Iran has yet to pay nearly $18 billion it already owes from other judgments in terrorism cases in the DC court.
Mr Mairone said the plaintiffs’ legal team was in the process of identifying assets they might be able to attach and was optimistic about being able to collect for their clients.
“A couple of years ago, if we looked at this kind of judgment we’d think, well, it’s a great moral victory but the odds of it being a practical victory are rather stretched,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s the reality today.” He refused to discuss the details of efforts to locate Iranian and Sudanese assets.
Earlier this month, a three-judge panel in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favour of victims who brought other terrorism cases against Iran and were trying to claim nearly $2 billion in frozen assets in New York bank accounts.