tv American Artifacts 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings in Africa CSPAN March 23, 2019 5:15pm-6:02pm EDT
height of his power. i think he was 78. he said "so you're the young fellow who thinks he's going to write a book about me?" >> robert caro, sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span's "q&a." on august 7, 1998, truck bombs exploded simultaneously outside the u.s. embassies and nairobi, kenya and tanzania. the attacks killed 224, including 12 americans and wounded more than 5000. the terrorist group al qaeda and its leader osama bin laden claimed responsibility. next, on american artifacts, we visit the u.s. diplomacy center in washington, dc to tour an exhibit marking the 20th anniversary of the bombings. we are joined by the state department officials in charge of the embassies at the time.
john: hello, i am john. at time of the east africa bombings i was chief of mission at the american embassy in tanzania. there was a gap between ambassadors, i was in charge at the time. prudence: good morning, i am prudence. i was the u.s. ambassador to kenya at the time of the bombing. 20 years later we are in the pavilion of the u.s. diplomacy center. we are going to look at some of the artifacts and telling stories behind them. diplomacy does not always mean sitting behind a desk and getting your photographs taken wearing nice clothes. sometimes those nice clothes get bloody and dirty because of the
dangerous position. for example, this is the suit i was wearing. there are two things i would like to point out. number one is wool. nairobi is the land of eternal springtime and is close to the equator. our hot august in washington is a cool springtime in nairobi. august most of the bloodstains on the suit are in the back. i was on top of a one-story building with a colleague from the department of commerce represented by the suit he was wearing at the time. we were meeting with the minister of commerce, heard an explosion. most of us went to the window. 10 seconds later, a freight
train sound of impact of high energy hit all of us. he was hit in the head, wounded. you can see some of the shrapnel that still remain, which shows exactly where he was in this room closer to the window. i was wounded, not quite severely. had some cuts. with another colleague, i went down 21 endless flight of stairs. they were kenyans going down as well. that is why the blood is primarily on the back and not the front. the reason there is still blood, when i took it off i put it in a plastic bag. the suit moved with me to guatemala which was our next assignment.
i could never bear to throw it away. having been raised, i unsentimental and know how am to throw things out, but i could not bear to do that. the diplomacy center requested it and it makes my heart feel good that the suit has a home in such a peaceful place. john: one of the things that saved people from being injured, , maybe even killed, there was not a concussion grenade 10 minutes -- 10 seconds before the bomb went off. i am thankful because when the bomb went off my instinct was to get up and look out the window. and so many people did that. at the embassyg in nairobi, but all over downtown nairobi was what i
understand. so many had high injuries when the bomb went off seconds later. the glass blew in. prudence: there were 5000 people injured in nairobi because one of the two perpetrators threw a stun grenade. human instinct is go to the window if you hear a loud noise. please don't go to the window. ironically, i was the last one up. my responses are pretty good but after so many security briefings, i don't think i did get up. i was blown back but not by the window. most of the wounds of the thousands who were wounded were from the chest up and very bloody.
i returned to the bomb site the next day because once i had left the building with my colleagues, we got first aid, and then i went to our building being used as a crisis center. the next morning i returned to what was a tomb of an embassy. i was given by our security engineer a hard hat he had made overnight with the seal. we got through this together as a community. this is the hat of one of the marine security guards who was on duty at the time. these are the logs in both of our embassies the security
guards kept. ambassador on board when i arrived on august the seventh and when i went to the meeting with the department of commerce, it notes ambassador on shore. i swam across the parking lot. what this shows is that we were in business all the time. john: it is striking, from august 7, 1998, 10:00, they conducted a test. prudence: i remember that. john: i had just started a meeting in my office. there was this usual test, about three different alarm systems. 39 minutes later, after the actual bomb went off, the same marine got on the microphone,
to speak through the loudspeaker and said this is not a test. we knew, of course, from the devastation. we estimate 10:39, the marine marine reacted and 11:00 evacuated. embassy, et cetera. you can tell by the printing it was an excited marine. i had never seen this before. prudence: neither had i. this one notes one of our marines, who had gone up to cash a check, died. another of our marines got a purple heart for his actions on august 7. john: one sergeant, his wife was our community liaison officer and she was badly injured. she lost most of the sight in one of her eyes and they had to medically evacuate her.
it was really a sad situation. he stayed on and did his duty while his wife was medically evacuated. prudence: the marine security guard who was wearing this hat was in our embassy. if i can point you to this building. it was built in the 1970's to earthquake standards which is why on the outside it looks pretty secure. on the inside, as you can tell from the mangled remains of a television set, we were devastated. the rock that came from our embassy was blown into one of the vehicles. somebody found it in her vehicle. at the time of the bombing, i was on the 21st floor.
the truck with the tnt exploded here. the mound of rubble was once a seven-story office building. when thousands of kenyans arrived on the scene, what they found was a building that looked pretty ok compared to the house that was now in total rubble. that created a public relations issue because our marines did what they were trained to do when the bomb went off, they put on their flak jackets, got their guns, took helmets out and provided perimeter security. with thousands of kids -- what thousands of kenyans saw were white men with guns and very determined expressions.
guns pointed outward. kenyans were outraged at the point at which they needed so much help, particularly the hundreds of people who were under the rubble. they were struggling to survive and we looked as though we were doing nothing but taking care of our own. the lesson i learned, as for me as a person and a diplomat, is you have to hear somebody's anger. it is a different perception when i tried to explain what happened, i made the situation worse. sometimes you just need to understand people have a reason to be angry. as i'm sure happened to you. john: yes. i visited you in the embassy about two months before the bombing in june. i remember talking to someone.
they were in the political economics section. we looked out of the embassy on to the very busy street in front. he said to me, it's just a matter of time before an american is killed in the embassy. but he was referring to the carjackings that were going on. nobody envisioned a bombing. you knew of the security concerns, a bomb this devastating was not something we expected. prudence: we did not. although i had been sending cables for two years, complaining about the fact the embassy did not meet our own department of state security standards. because of budget, we were waived. the reason for that setback is because our embassy in beirut was blown up by a truck bomb. the purpose was to mitigate. unfortunately, i was not listened to. and, oh, my gosh.
the people who suffered as a result will always be with me. when the bomb went off, 213 people were instantly killed. 48 were employees of the united states government including 12 americans. we had a 50% casualty rate, had we been part of the military, we would have been evacuated, instead we stayed. we all stayed for the next 10 months to re-create our organization, and to assist kenyans who had been devastated. 75 businesses were blown up, thousands were injured, there
was a school bus of little boys waiting at the streetcorner at the light. they had to pick glass out of their eyes. another busload of nairobi citizens was instantly incinerated. it was a sight from hell. no one from nairobi will ever forget. i would like to point out, on this corner now is a peace court created by kenyans and american citizens that have a wall with the names of everybody who died, the people we remember today. the photo was taken on august 12 .
because the aircraft carrying american rescuers and the fairfax county fire department k-9 squad were late, the israelis arrived first. they went through the rubble. a woman named rose was called a kenyan rose because for four days she survived under rubble. 15 minutes before the rescuers got to her, she died. she was the last person to die in the rubble. the israelis had a ceremony which included a replaying. one of the photographers caught a photograph of me. my husband complained because they cut him out. he was right next to me. the photograph shows everything.
it was one of the pictures that says a thousand words. john: the u.s. government wall clocks are battery operated. prudence: and none of them are on time. john: they all stopped when the bomb went off because the shock was so great, every battery-operated clock stopped. wasecided the average time , which is when we decided the bomb went off. this is one of the clocks that was recovered. this is something i recovered from my office, and one of the reasons why people in our embassy were not killed was the shatter resistant window film.
it was a high window and the glass blew in over my head and landed on the people in front of me. they had some superficial injuries, but nobody was badly injured because it was shatter resistant. when i look at this embassy, it was built in 1960 by the israelis. when tanzania broke off relations with israel we were able to take it over in 1980. the fbi director of the investigation told me it was built like a bunker. thick walls, high windows, etc. here, you see a water tank truck and that is what took the brunt of the blast. the water truck was trying to get out of the parking lot, in the parking area. the bomb truck was trying to get in and when the bomb went off that water tank truck was seen by the gun sergeant who was
coming back to the embassy in a vehicle at the time, coming down from it, about three stories. two employees were in it and died. i had been the deputy chief and decided i was going to stay in the office rather than move into the ambassador's office. we didn't know when the u.s. ambassador would arrive. we always thought he would be confirmed in three or four months and it kept getting extended. the regional security officer told me had i been in the ambassador's office at the time, he thinks i would have been killed. he showed pictures of the ambassador's desk. if i had been sitting at the desk, things came crushing on the desk, including the flagpole with the american flag on it. that photograph which is hard to see, is of benjamin, who i gave a tour. the president of tanzania. the secretary general of the organization at the time and former tanzanian president. there was great interest and great support, i have to say, for the government of tanzania. prudence: kenyans did everything they could.
that is what diplomacy is all about, regaining friendship when somebody tries to blow it up. john: this is a photograph of my residence. you moved to the -- building after the bomb went off. >> correct. >> the building options were not secure so we moved for 72 hours. then we later moved to a temporary embassy in another employee's residence. this was a two-story living room. this was taken from up above before a press conference that slater andndsey laura mclellan. it had been very difficult to get washington to agree to have this interview, which was really a human interest story on how
these americans had been in the middle of this bombing and had been hurt, to some extent, but still were able to continue going. it is difficult for a public affairs officer to get approval for that from washington. once it was shown, they said, we would like more of that. that is one of the frustrations we had. prudence: many foreign service couples have to go on separate assignments because embassies cannot accommodate both. this was the case of lizzie and charlie slater. lizzie was going to tanzania as a communications officer, and charlie was coming to nairobi as head of our financial management center. lizzie had arrived in dar saalam.
charlie was still in london, about to get on the plane. their son was with their grandmother in london when charlie heard about the nairobi bombing. he got on the plane. he was instrumental in helping us to go through the challenges as we hemorrhaged money. one of the first things i remember you and i working on was trying to get washington to approve lizzie's transfer to nairobi to reunite the couple. that was the first thing, it took a long time. it should have been immediate and it took far too long. john: the community liaison
's office was right there, and that is where lizzie was when the bomb went off. the concrete outer wall blew in, and i remember when i left my office, which was around the corner, and i was called over by in regional security officer the temporary consular officer to try to lift the rubble off of lizzie. she was sitting at the desk. she was unable to move and we get the rubble off her. lizzie, being separated from charlie and having gone through the bombing, even though she was injured and later had to be medically evacuated, she was a strong-willed person. wanted to keep working. she wrote a note to her husband, here it is. my darling, i am alive and well.
i hope to see you soon. tdy in dar es salam. it is a blast. tdy meaning temporary duty. it was something to see how we were trying to communicate. it is so different nowadays when one could send text messages for things like that and the world would know immediately. back then, one of the things i am proud of and why i think it was important that senior officials at the embassy have experience in foreign service, i said because i knew communications were so bad. very few of us had cell phones at the time. csaid to the conseil are --
onsular section, please call the state department operations center and ask them to contact every americans' immediate family and let them know they are all right. the state department initially balked at doing that. i insisted they had to do that. my mother got a call about 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning in milwaukee, where she was living. she was surprised but heard i was all right. at 7:00, if she had turned on the "today" show and seen the devastation, two u.s. embassies bombed, hundreds killed, she would have had a heart attack. it was important to alert family members of the living. 11 people died, 85 were injured, of those 11 who died there were nine tanzanians, one somali visa applicant, and one kenyan who
was married to susan hirsch, who was a fulbright fellow who was about to move back to the united states with her. i really believe the only reason we did not have many more deaths, two reasons, one was the way the building was constructed, very much like a bunker, as the fbi described it. the other thing was the embassies were in different locations. you were in the middle of this big city with a lot of high-rise buildings and the shockwave went back and forth. the housed, collapsed. for us it was spread out, it was not in the center, it was in the outskirts, no building was higher than three stories, so the bomb went that way instead of having to go back-and-forth between buildings. i think that saved lives.
but i must say, we had the nigerian embassy next us, the french embassy next to us, the russian ambassador's residence next to us, all were badly damaged. thehe easel, we have "international herald tribune" front page from august 10, 1998. i did not know i was on the cover until two weeks later when it showed up in the mail. it would be mailed from paris. you know how we used to get newspapers late, we didn't have access to them on the internet. it has a description, was the blast videotaped? the only reason it says that is because i was under instructions not to confirm whether or not the cameras outside the embassy had tape. so they could have recorded what was going on. they did not have tape at the time.
they do now, but they did not back then. i was told by the security group not to disclose that, because they did not want the perpetrators to know we did not have tape. when the question came at the press conference, i said i cannot confirm or deny whether it had tape. then i find on the front page the question, was the blast videotaped? i knew it wasn't, but i was not able to save africa's because of -- iestrictions put on me was not able to say that because of the restrictions put on me. being an ambassador, you were given more leeway. they give you permission, and you took it to be more outspoken in the press. i was this mid-level foreign service officer running the u.s. embassy. prudence: i always asked for permission. seriously.
there was a huge amount of press interest. i was in nairobi because i had been meeting with the minister of commerce, and per protocol, we had a press op before the meeting started. the press descended the stairs. we were leaving the building just as the bomb went off. one of the video journalists began recording and everybody in nairobi was glued to their tv station watching the raw film of the total carnage that came in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. it just heightened the tension of the people in nairobi. fortunately that film never got to the united states. i have not seen it. john: i have seen some video
footage that was used in the trials in new york. that was used when they were tried and sentenced. i do not know where these people came from, but they had videotape of a couple of minutes after the bomb went off. some of it was quite gruesome, what they showed. speaking of the trial, there was a poster that was put around of wanted for murder, showing photographs of the people who were believed to be in the conspiracy, including osama bin laden. when i later became the u.s. ambassador to botswana, i have that on my wall. i would have some non-americans who came to visit me who wondered why an ambassador had a wanted poster on his wall. i just had to keep it there. one other thing. "the international herald tribune" front page, the
photograph of me is taken from a street half a block from the embassy with a marine security guard and all the sandbags around him. i had visited the embassy as i did a couple of times a day. i came out and chatted with the marines. i have always wondered if anybody looked at it carefully because i am there and i'm leaning on what is called a gentleman's valet, this wooden structure where a man can put their suit coat on, and here i am in the middle of the dirt street leaning on this. kind of the image of the diplomat, although i did not think of myself as one. when i went back to the office, i would usually then salvage a few things, including the glass shards we saw earlier.
i ended up thinking this was the only time in my career i had ever had one of these in my office, i better save it. actually, i still have them. in this last case, we talk about the worldwide reaction, which was quite something. i believe the president called you on the day of the bombing, president clinton called me. secretary of state albright visited 10 days after the bombing. there was a memorial service held in the national cathedral, which you and i both were at. it was with the president and vice president, secretaries of state and defense. rev. jesse jackson gave a sermon. it's kind of spooky to me, but the date of that was september 11, 1998. prudence: i remember that vividly.
john: three years before 9/11. prudence: three years. was a crisise around the world, the operations center steps up a crisis task force. the first question the crisis task force is asked is, where are the americans? what is the status of americans? one of the steno pads has the number of americans. the numbers kept shifting as time went on and they discovered more. it was typical of the kinds of data you will find among people. what is also quite typical after a tragedy is the diplomatic community at large, is that embassies will open up condolence letters to encourage members of the public to write letters of support, messages of
hope. these are some of the condolence notes from our embassies around the world. at the time of the bombing, we had two members of our marine detachment, one killed, one injured. the rest came out to provide perimeter security. the british had a training group who came to help overnight. the plane on which our rescuers were coming had malfunctioned. i had british colleagues immediately providing a satellite radio because it was the only way we had to communicate. all this to say people around the world, our communities, they care about us as people.
they care about what happens. this is the proof. john: i remember one of the first people i saw after i evacuated was the french ambassador, because his embassy was across the street and was damaged. we shook hands, and he said come on in if you want. but i needed to get to work. i must say, if i can read this, it is a condolence message from the u.s. ambassador from turkey. it is quite something. it is with a mixture of sorrow and resolve that i open this book, dedicated to the memory of our fellow colleagues in nairobi. we offer comfort to the families of those who perished. we are determined that the perpetrators of this cowardly act not achieve their aims.
we owe it to the victims, americans and non-americans, to carry on the vital work of representing the united states of america throughout the dangerous world. that was the spirit we had and nairobiou had in afterward, when people united every single employee, american, or tanzanian, or kenyan. we had to grieve for the dead and a help the injured, but we also had to move forward and not let terrorists win. we ended up putting a major effort into resurrecting those embassy operations to the point where we made a major show of raising the american flag over our new temporary office building. we had all the marines gathered because the marines gave us support and additional security when they sent additional marines.
it was so important that united states would not back down. prudence: we formed groups of people, kenyans and americans, who went through morgues and hospitals seeking our employees who died. african-americans who died or were wounded were mixed up with kenyan bodies. we had members of our kenyan staff on telephones overnight to provide information to the family members who had no idea where their loved ones were. i had been told don't tell anyone if there can talk was kinfolk washeir dead, tell them to come in. these were trained professionals, and they were given the task of dealing with the impossible, the tragedy, and devastation.
wounded physically, some of us were wounded psychologically, and we did it anyway. colleagues from around the world came. we had a foreign service national from london who came and did nothing for six weeks but write position descriptions, because we could not replace the 34 kenyan colleagues who were so critical to us because our job descriptions had been blown up. you could not put the position description in the newspaper and we had to start from scratch. people were willing to come and do work for us in order to keep us going. look at us, we are here to talk about it. john: at one point we had 350 people on temporary duty, filling up almost every hotel in town.
it was important. over half of them were from the fbi doing the investigation. i am so impressed by how they did that. i saw in the first trial where testified, you can see their testimony was so critical to connect the bombing to the perpetrators. prudence: you mentioned president clinton called you, and he called me too. as i was waiting on the phone for his staff to bring him to the phone, i was thinking of what to say. i was in a state of shock. when he came on he said how are you, i said, mr. president, my heart is bursting with sorrow at what happened and with pride at the way we are responding. 20 years later, i opened that drawer and it was filled with sorrow and pride, and the
leadership lesson is that the leaders of this country, in the white house, congress, and state department, have a responsibility to maintain an even flow of resources for the people around the world representing the united states defense and our interest without guns. john: people often underestimate the risks that we go through. these were two horrific bombings. but there have been other instances at other u.s. embassies over the years, especially since 9/11 and the difficulties in iraq, afghanistan, et cetera. we have to maintain that u.s. presence and it has to be done
in a way that protects the lives of employees at risk out there. i have to say, those of us that went through the bombing at dar es salaam, and i'm sure those at nairobi, cannot forget it and will not forget it. it is something that comes up, as you see the newspaper references to the east african bombings. you were there. i at times have watched the video on cable news which will have the u.s. embassy in dar es salaam with smoke coming from it. i realize i'm still in the embassy when that video was taken. and some of our people sadly have suffered from president might stress disorder -- posttraumatic stress disorder. it is quite clear they needed help for that and the state department owes them help for that. we should always keep in mind and be sensitive to that when we
are talking to people who went through these bombings. it is something that lives with you forever. announcer: you can watch this or other american artifacts programs at any time by visiting our website, cspan.org/history. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] was simply three giant networks and a government supported service called pbs. then, in 1979, a small network rolled out a big idea. let viewers decide what is important to them. c-span opened the doors to washington policymaking for all to see, bringing unfiltered content from congress and beyond. this was true people power. the landscape has clearly changed. there is no monolithic media. youtube stars are in thing.
but c-span's big idea is more relevant today than ever. no government money supports c-span. it is funded as a public service by your cable and satellite provider. c-span is your unfiltered view of government, so you can make up euro mind. -- your own mind. announcer: former president george h.w. bush died on november 30, 2018. this weekend on the presidency, former secretary of state james baker remembers his longtime friend and talks about notable events of the first bush administration. here is a preview. >> the toughest time, i think, was in may of 1980. we had run a good race. we were the only candidate in the race who had accumulated some delegates, but
mathematically we had been ruled out. every otherad won primary, we could not pick up another delegate. i suggested maybe it was time for us to get out. george looked at me and said, i'm not a quitter. i said, you know, if you want to have any shot at being vice president, now is the time, probably the time to fold. the question was whether we would go to california and compete against reagan in his own home state. the primary had been fairly bitter. running bush's campaign came up with the idea that supply-side economics was voodoo economics. i don't know who did that. [laughter] reagan hated it, and ms. reagan hated it even more. it was time to go, but i want to tell you george's position was,
i'm not a quitter, i'm not running for vice president. i said, i know you are not running for vice president, but more people become president by first becoming vice president. that was the only time there was any serious friction between us. announcer: watch the entire program on president george w. sunday atjames baker 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern on "the presidency," here on american history tv. in 1956, while working as a historian at vicksburg national military tok, and when bars set out recover and preserve the uss cairo, a warship sunk in 1962 during the civil war. rss details. bea the challenge of removing the ship from the yazoo river in mississippi.
bearss is the author of "hardluck ironclad." the talk was part of a daylong virginia. farmville, mr. bearss certainly does not need an introduction, but i will give a brief one. he is a legend in civil war historiography, battle preservation. joined theschool, he marines, served in world war ii and was seriously injured. after the war, he received a bs ma fromorgetown, an indiana university. he is best-known known for his work at the national park service. atwas parked historian vicksburg and became chief historian of the national park service until his retirement. he published many