Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The 8/7 Families

Howard C. Kavaler, a retired Foreign Service officer and a representative of the families of the U.S. diplomats murdered by al Qaeda terrorists at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 7, 1998, has an interesting Op-Ed piece in today's Washington Times. He and his family are proof of the dangers that Foreign Service Officers face in the service of our country, and no one in the service has forgotten their sacrifices.

The 8/7 families

"By Howard C. Kavaler - We all agree that September 11 has now become a word in our daily lexicon that has assumed iconic magnitude. But what images does 8/7 evoke for senior State Department officials?

For all too many, the 7th day of August simply represents another dog day of summer. However, on that date in 1998, Osama bin Laden took the first step in implementing his February 1998 fatwa declaring war on U.S. citizens.

That morning, truck bombs destroyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in the most devastating attack ever launched against any of our diplomatic facilities. More than 5,000 individuals were seriously wounded and 224 persons lost their lives. One of the casualties was my wife, Prabhi Kavaler, a Foreign Service officer who had served her country for more than 20 years.

Following these bin Laden-directed attacks, the Accountability Review Board chaired by the late Adm. William Crowe concluded that the destruction in East Africa was "the collective failure of several administrations and Congresses over the past decade to invest adequate efforts and resources to reduce the vulnerability of United States diplomatic missions around the world to terrorist attacks."

Digger comments: It is interesting to note that Congress is currently debating whether our current "cookie cutter" embassies sent the wrong message overseas, arguing we made a better impression with our older, nicer and far less safe embassies.

Kavaler continues:
"For nearly a decade, the families of the Americans killed in Nairobi have sought compensation for our losses. While no amount of money could ever make me and my daughters whole again, such compensation would be an acknowledgment that the State Department utterly failed in its obligation to provide those who lost their lives with as safe a workplace as possible. But for more than nine years, the State Department has tenaciously fought legislative efforts to provide us such compensation, even as its leaders have failed to devise its own compensation scheme despite assurance during this time that they have been actively studying the compensation issue.

...As a result of extensive lobbying efforts by the Nairobi families, the House of Representatives on Oct. 2, 2007, passed with 409 aye votes H.R. 2828 ( the Foreign Service Victims of Terrorism Act of 2007), which institutionalizes a comprehensive compensation scheme. After its second reading on the Senate floor, multiple sources advised the families that an anonymous senator placed a hold on the bill at the behest of the Department of State.

Quite frankly, we find the department's action to be duplicitous. It's worth recalling that Foreign Service Director-General Harry Thomas recently took umbrage during a town hall meeting with the assertion that many members of the Foreign Service do not perceive senior State Department officials to be firm advocates of their interests. At a time when directed assignments to Iraq are being considered, State's opposition to H.R. 2828 only reinforces that perception.

Absent a comprehensive program to compensate Foreign Service victims of international terrorism, is it no small wonder that members of the Foreign Service with familial responsibilities are not beating down the doors to serve in war-torn areas? What moral imperative allows the State Department in good conscience to send defenseless Foreign Service officers to Baghdad, Kabul, Karachi, etc. while working for the bill's defeat?

The department's support for leaving this bill on the Senate's back burner would lead any reasonable person to dismiss the comment by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times (A14, November 16, 2007) that "nobody has been more concerned about the security of our people than I have."

Even if H.R. 2828 fails due to the department’s insensitive posture, the 8/7 families will continue their efforts to see the triumph of justice and accountability. Hopefully, in a year's time, the new leaders of the department will be entrusted with a different moral compass, one that that will guide them to treat with compassion those whose loved ones have died in the diplomatic service of their country."

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