Chris Lieberman, FISM News
President Biden signed an executive order on Friday to split $7 billion dollars in frozen Afghan assets between humanitarian relief for the Afghani people and payments to the families of 9/11 victims.
A judge told the Biden administration last month to come up with a plan for what to do with the $7 billion in currency, gold, and bonds belonging to the Afghan central bank Da Afghanistan Bank. The U.S. government froze the funds, which were being stored in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, after the Taliban takeover of the country in August.
Complicating the matter is the legal questions of who possesses the right to use the account. The Taliban argues that the funds are theirs, but the U.S. does not recognize the Taliban as the rightful government of Afghanistan and has declined to release the money to them.
The funds are also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the families of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the Taliban and others.
A 2011 decision found the victims legally entitled to compensation, but at the time the Taliban was not in power. However, last September a judge determined that, because the Taliban claimed ownership of all of the former government’s property following the takeover, the victims were now entitled to the $7 billion in frozen assets. The Federal Reserve was served with a “writ of execution” for the funds, but the Biden administration intervened, with the judge granting time to determine what would be in the nation’s best interest.
The U.S. is facing mounting pressure to use the seized funds to prevent Afghanistan’s economic collapse, which would lead to both a humanitarian crisis in the country and a refugee crisis abroad. After 20 years of being artificially propped up by Western aid, the Afghan economy has been in freefall since the takeover. The country is first on the International Rescue Committee’s 2022 Emergency Watchlist for humanitarian disaster, with 97% of the population at risk of sinking into poverty in 2022. According to the UNHCR, 9 million Afghans are at risk of famine.
The Biden administration’s plan would disperse $3.5 billion of the funds to humanitarian organizations that would provide relief to the Afghan people without going through the Taliban. This would require the judge to partially lift the writ of execution, with the remaining $3.5 billion going to the 9/11 victims.
Biden’s plan faces some unresolved legal questions. One of the issues lies in the fact that the plan to distribute half of the funds to the Afghan people is based on the determination that the Taliban does not have a right to the funds, whereas using the money to settle the 9/11 victims’ lawsuit would imply that the assets do in fact belong to the Taliban.
Victims in the 9/11 suit are divided in their opinion of this plan.
Plaintiff Ramon Melendez Sr. told the New York Times, “I became a single parent to my two sons and then lost my house. I have never received any money against my judgment. I think some money should go to humanitarian relief for the Afghan people but I also want my legal judgment to be fully honored.”
However, plaintiff Barry Amundson also told the Times, “While 9/11 families are seeking justice for their loss through these suits, I fear that the end result of seizing this money will be to cause further harm to innocent Afghans who have already suffered greatly.”