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August 7th, 2008
01:38 PM ET

Are scars a sign of healing?

Watch CNN's David McKenzie's report on the U.S. embassy bombing in East Africa, ten years later.
Watch CNN's David McKenzie's report on the U.S. embassy bombing in East Africa, ten years later.

David McKenzie
CNN Correspondent

It was the scars on his face and hands that I noticed first.

Douglas is blind - but that is not what struck me.

When I shook Douglas Sidialo's hand, it was lined with the memories of the event. Webbed with scars.

He tried to shield himself from the massive blast 10 years ago.

It is a decade since al Qaeda terrorists packed a truck with explosives and detonated it outside the U.S. embassy in downtown Nairobi.

Almost simultaneously, the US embassy in Tanzania was targeted.

In Nairobi the attack had devastating effects. Though the United States was the target, it was ordinary Kenyans who felt the full brunt.

Over 200 people were killed and 5,000 injured, the majority Kenyans going about their daily lives. And I was struck by the visceral anger many of them feel a decade later.

Douglas lost his sight and his livelihood as a marketing professional. He, like many others I spoke to on the 10th anniversary of the attack, feels that the U.S. government should compensate them for their shattered lives.

The U.S. is in a tight spot. Meeting with the U.S. ambassador, I did sense genuine compassion. The U.S. congress allocated over $40 million to rebuild Nairobi and help victims - but they draw the line at direct compensation.

Apart from anything else, it could bring from demands from non-American terror victims.

Many victims also feel let down by the Kenyan government. Over the past few years the government has done little to help the survivors committee.

And at the commemoration, there was more anger directed at previous Kenyan governments than at the U.S..

The victims feel that they should get direct compensation - and for them the easiest place to look is to the U.S. - even though the U.S. was a victim of the attack.

U.S. law does allows victims to sue nations that sponsor terror, as has been done to the Libyan government with the Lockerbie disaster in 1988.

But al Qaeda is an amorphous terror group with no one state sponsor.

"They can't expect that I, a simple victim can go to that length to compel al Qaeda, and those behind the bombing, to compensate us," Douglas told me in exasperation.

For all the obvious bitterness at the hand that the survivors have been cruelly dealt, I was amazed at the atmosphere at the anniversary.

It was as much a celebration of their individual triumphs as it was commemoration of their collective loss. And as I looked over at the hundreds of families at the memorial site today, I couldn't help but be struck by it. Some hobbled in on crutches, while others were led in by their sighted family.

But one survivor did grab the microphone to say: "We are not victims, we are survivors!"

They still bear the scars - but for many, they are badges of honor that they proudly display as if to say: "They couldn't kill my spirit."


Filed under: David McKenzie • Terrorism
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    Sometimes life deals us a really rotten hand. While it would be nice if the survivors could receive some direct compensation especially for those who can no longer work and are probably struggling, their survival speaks to the strength of their spirit and their determination not to let terrorists rip life from them. Survivors and not victims – that in itself is a statement to terrorists that they may be able to damage our bodies but they cannot kill our spirit.
    I wish all the survivors luck and good fortune in the years ahead.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 7, 2008 at 8:13 pm |
  2. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    I still have scars on my hand and ankle from a car accident that almost killed me at 17. What the physical damage didn't take (broken bones, internal injuries, a TBI), the emotional damage afterwards almost did. But I chose to survive. The scars are simply a reminder of that choice to live, that each day is a miracle, and that no day can ever be taken for granted. No amount of monetary compensation can replace those truths. Horrible crap happens in life sometimes. Looking for money as a way to feel better or justified-well at some point we have to stop being a victim and become a survivor. In my experience, healing doesn't begin until we forgive those who've hurt us (even ourselves), and once we forgive there is no room for self-righteous needs to make the one who hurt us pay.

    August 7, 2008 at 5:40 pm |
  3. Victor in Saanich, B.C. Canada

    David, scars are truly a sign of living!! I have many due to cancer surgeries. In our lives many people are the unfortunate recipients of such scars. The victory lies in acceptance of one's scars and the choice to be engaged in society and not hide from public view!!

    "They couldn't kill my spirit.". A noble statement indeed!!

    August 7, 2008 at 4:22 pm |
  4. Martina Ilstad

    i feel verry sorry for the victims in the us embassy in africa 10 years
    ago.it was the begining of terrorist in the wold.for me it was also a
    special day,because it is my son sebastian, s birthday.i am sorry for the families,who lost their lovers.

    August 7, 2008 at 2:19 pm |
  5. Cindy

    While I do feel extremely sorry for these victims I do not think that they should get direct compensation for something that we, the U.S., had no control over. We didn't ask nor want for this to happen. We have given them a lot of money to rebuild and to help the victims and that is all that we should do.

    We can not be held accountable for something that a terrorist group does. If they want compensation then they need to go after al Qaeda...good luck with that!

    Cindy...Ga.

    August 7, 2008 at 1:52 pm |