Victims of embassy bombings worried they'll be left out of Trump-Sudan deal

Victims of embassy bombings worried they'll be left out of Trump-Sudan deal
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American victims of terrorism and Congress are worried they are being left out of negotiations with Sudan to settle claims against those killed in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has signaled that his country is “weeks” away from fulfilling key obligations necessary to be removed from the U.S.’s list of State Sponsor of Terrorism, a rare designation that carries crippling sanctions and isolation from the international economy.

Among those obligations is the need to fulfill a multibillion-dollar court-ordered settlement to compensate the victims of the deadly embassy bombings.

Hamdok has said that U.S. officials have agreed to reduce settlements to “hundreds of millions” in compensation for victims, raising alarm among the plaintiffs and members of Congress that the administration is undercutting a powerful tool of deterrence and robbing justice from terrorism victims.

Congressional aides say they have been contacted by groups representing the victims concerned over the prime minister’s comments and worried that State is excluding them from conversations.

“What I’ve been telling groups that have reached out to us is that they need to engage State to make sure that State knows who to call,” said one congressional aide.

Following inquiries from lawyers representing the victims and separate inquiries from The Hill, the State Department dispatched Special Envoy for Sudan Ambassador Donald Booth to meet with victims representatives.

Michael Miller, the co-lead attorney representing nearly 600 people party to a lawsuit against Sudan, said Booth reaffirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to securing justice for victims of terrorism and delivery of the “full damages,” an amount that could total more than $10 billion.

Miller, along with other lawyers for the plaintiffs, will argue before the Supreme Court in February to reinstate a judgement of $4.3 billion in punitive damages that was vacated by an appeals court.

“The Trump Administration supports our recovery of full damages,” Miller told The Hill, and described his meeting with Booth as “very good.”

The statements by Sudan’s prime minister, first reported in The Wall Street Journal and the Sudan Tribune, could be downplayed as the new leader inflating success to his domestic political audience following high-level visits in Washington in early December.

But his remarks illustrate the delicate situation of post-revolutionary Sudan.

Sen. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischGOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements MORE (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he stressed in a meeting with Hamdok in Washington that it is in the U.S. interest to remove the state sponsor of terrorism designation. But, he added, Sudan is responsible for settling claims with victims and ensuring more transparency to ensure a complete renunciation of terrorism support and financing. 

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”I recently met with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and we discussed that there is much work left to do, and that U.S. backing of Sudan's historic transition toward a more stable, peaceful, and democratic country is critical,” he wrote in an email to The Hill. 

“Normalizing the U.S.-Sudan relationship is central to this effort and includes re-examining the country’s State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) designation. But much work remains to include the settlement of terrorism claims and transparency in financial flows of state and non-state entities.”

Sudan has worked toward warming relations with the U.S. under the Obama administration, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpAdvisor: Sanders could beat Trump in Texas Bloomberg rips Sanders over Castro comments What coronavirus teaches us for preventing the next big bio threat MORE lifted partial sanctions in 2017 in a continuation of that process.

But the State Department in March had to close its playbook on dealing with the government of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese strong man and dictator that was later deposed in a popular revolution after three decades of rule.

Hamdok, who was appointed prime minister in August, is charged with overseeing a transitional civilian and military government working towards relieving a desperate economic situation held back from the brink by cash infusions from foreign governments.

Sudan's Finance Minister Ibrahim Elbadawi told Reuters in an interview last month the country needs nearly $5 billion to stay afloat.

Members of Congress have cautioned Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPresident Trump's assault on checks and balances: Five acts in four weeks The problem with Trump's Middle East peace plan India rolls out the red carpet for Trump MORE to “keep the pressure on Sudan” to resolve all outstanding claims by victims of terrorism before the U.S. lifts sanctions or drops Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, a pariah status it shares with only three other countries: North Korea, Iran and Syria.

“To be clear: Sudan should not be permitted to shed its terrorism sanctions and benefit from participating in the global economy without first fully compensating those harmed by its previous support of terrorism,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyMcSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case MORE (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote in an October letter.

The State Department responded in November that the agency is working on an “updated bilateral engagement plan” and that the process of removing Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism is a “multi-step process.”

An aide for Grassley said the State Department has failed to provide specifics over the process and has yet to respond to additional requests made by the chairman’s office.

Grassley is the architect of the Anti-Terrorism Act, the 1992 law that paved the way for Americans to sue foreign governments for their responsibility in terrorist attacks that happen abroad.

Following nearly two decades of litigation, U.S. courts have ruled that Sudan is liable for providing financial and material support to al Qaeda terrorists who carried out twin bombings on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in August 1998, where more than 200 people were killed and more than 4,000 injured.

In a separate case on behalf of American servicemen killed and injured in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, a Naval missile destroyer warship that al Qaeda attacked while it was refueling in Aden harbor in Yemen, an appeals court vacated a more than $300 million judgement against Sudan because of a procedural issue.

Miller, the lawyer for the embassy plaintiffs, said the Trump administration has signaled that Sudan should provide some compensation for the service members in any final resolution.

“Even though they lost their judgement, we all agree those people need to be compensated as well,” he said.