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U.S. freezing Afghan money for 9/11 victims is cruel and unjust

The U.S. is not pursuing justice in this case but is engaging in cruelty.
Image: Early morning light in the smoke and wreckage at the World Trade Center on Sept. 13, 2001.
Early morning light in the smoke and wreckage at the World Trade Center on Sept. 13, 2001.Chris Hondros / Getty Images file

The Biden administration announced Friday that it is freezing $7 billion that the Afghan central bank has in U.S. banks, surprising many who had been calling on the U.S. to release the funds to aid organizations that are addressing the humanitarian crisis ravaging the country. But the Biden administration set aside half those assets, $3.5 billion, to be used as possible compensation to the families of those killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with pending legal judgments against the Taliban. Taking money from Afghanistan to pay the families of 9/11 victims while the country is in dire need of assistance is cruel and unjust. Let me explain why.

Let’s start with the fact that the money the U.S. is holding does not belong to the Taliban.

Let’s start with the fact that the money the U.S. is holding does not belong to the Taliban. It is money the Afghan government (and its Central Bank) earned and collected after the government's formation in 2001. In other words, this is money that belonged to the internationally recognized and legitimate Afghan government that was established by the United States and other international partners after the U.S. invasion. That government came into existence after the terrorist attacks, so it clearly had nothing to do with those attacks. Moreover, those funds include revenues from exports and aid assistance provided by donor countries. It’s not money that was earned or ever held by the Taliban. In short, this money belonged to the Afghan people not the Taliban.

It’s also important to remember that of the 19 hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks, none was Afghan. There 15 were Saudis, two Emiratis, one Egyptian and one Lebanese. The mastermind of the operation is Pakistani, and the leader of al Qaeda, the organization to which all the men belonged, was Osama bin Laden, a one-time Saudi national. The families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks have not received compensation from the countries of any of the actual hijackers.

The idea that the people of Afghanistan were ever responsible for what the Taliban did in connection to 9/11 is not only preposterous, it’s offensive. They didn’t elect the Taliban; the Taliban seized power after a bloody civil war and oppressed and killed Afghans and violated all sorts of international laws to hold on to power. Any consequences from the relationship they forged with terrorist organizations like al Qaeda is the Taliban’s to bear alone. It is certainly not a debt owed by the Afghan people who were victimized by the Taliban.

The families of the 9/11 victims deserve to be compensated, and they have already received billions from the U.S. government and from charities. But bizarrely, they have filed separate lawsuits in U.S. courts that have resulted in judgments against an array of individuals and groups across the Middle East who are ideological enemies and employ different strategies including the Taliban, Hezbollah, Iran and its supreme leader the ayatollah and the executed former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein.

It’s hard to imagine all these entities being responsible for or playing a role in 9/11, which raises the concern that these judgments against those entities are just political theater. The Biden administration setting aside Afghan money to potentially pay 9/11 families reeks of political theater given that the courts have not found in favor of the families. Not to mention the ruling against the Taliban was in large part a default judgment and not a trial that determined the Taliban’s precise role in those heinous terrorist attacks.

One of the most bizarre justifications for Afghan money being distributed to 9/11 families came from Andrew Maloney, an attorney for one of the families, who told the BBC that the Afghan people did not fight the Taliban hard enough to prevent their seizing power. Let that sink in. The United States, the world’s sole super power was unable to defeat the Taliban despite its economic and military strength and, yet, Maloney blames poorer and weaker Afghans for not stopping them. Let’s not forget that thousands of Afghans, both civilians and members of the national security forces have died fighting the Taliban.

An attorney for one of the families told the BBC that the Afghan people did not fight the Taliban hard enough.

This financial punishment comes as the United Nations says 1 million Afghan children could die from starvation or cold this winter. Twenty-four million Afghans are facing acute hunger and 8.7 million are facing famine, a crisis believed to be a result of a crescendo of disasters following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the collapse of its government and the return of the Taliban to power. The Taliban’s return resulted in the overnight freezing of diplomatic recognition and financial assistance.

The concerns that funds released to Afghan partners would end up in the hands of the Taliban are legitimate and valid. No one wants to see money end up in the hands of the Taliban. But there is every reason to believe that credible aid organizations can get the funds to the people who need them. The U.S. must believes so, too, otherwise the Biden administration would not have allocated the other $3.5 billion to aid organizations. If you can give those organizations half the frozen assets, then you can give them all of it.

Children are freezing. Families are starving. Millions of people need help. We have already caused irreparable damage to the people of Afghanistan with 20 years of a disastrous war that brought neither prosperity nor peace to the country. The Taliban are responsible for their fair share of the hell they have brought to the country. But one thing is clear, the Afghan people aren’t responsible for 9/11 and they don’t deserve the punishment of the U.S. taking their money.