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Domenica, 29 Maggio 2022
Attualità Afghanistan

Biden wants to give the money of the Afghan people to the families of 9/11 victims

The United States has frozen Afghanistan's foreign exchange reserves and President Biden is preparing to set aside half of them for the 9/11 victims. Do Afghan people have any responsibility for the terroristic attacks?

President Biden’s decisions regarding the 7 billions Afghan fund held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has succeeded in bringing together in the name of outrage the Taliban, the diaspora, former members of the deposed government and ordinary people. 

The outrage arose from the proposal to divide the deposed Afghan government funds currently seized in the US and directing 3.5 billions into a trust fund to use for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, and keeping the other 3.5 billions available for potential future compensation to groups of relatives of the 9/11 attacks which have pending cases.

Official White House sources explained that the President started the judicial process of splitting the money to enable part of the US based assets to be made available to alleviate Afghanistan’s  economic and humanitarian needs, without  this act, the fund would have been “ tied up in courts for years”  due to renewed attempts by groups of family members of those who died on 11 September to seek compensation from Talibans

Legal actions after 11 September

Biden’s decision is based on legal proceedings dating back just days after the September 11 attacks, when a group of families filed a lawsuit against a variety of parties they held responsible for the deaths of their loved ones, including Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda , Saudi Arabia, Iran and Talibans. When none of the defendants showed up in court to contest the charges, the judge found them guilty by default, and in 2012 awarded the plaintiffs with -at the time symbolic because there was no way to collect it - amount of exactly  $7,045,632,402.79.

There have been thousands of lawsuits, but only the one known as Havlish obtained a ruling against the Taliban, based on evidence such as a July 1999 Executive Order, in which President Bill Clinton froze Taliban assets following intelligence that the group allowed Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda to use Afghanistan soil as a safe heaven. The Executive Order had continuity under President George W. Bush which following the terrorist attacks accused the Taliban of having supported the terrorists in addresses to a joint session of Congress in September 2001. Furthermore, the Taliban leadership  admitted that it harbored, supported and was working in concert with Osama bin Laden, the leader and organizer of Al Qaeda.

At the time of the 2012 sentence that finds them guilty, the Taliban were not in power, but after taking control of both the country and the Afghan Central Bank “Da Afghanistan Bank” in August 2020, the plaintiffs persuaded a judge to serve the Federal Reserve with a writ of execution on Sept. 13 that says that because the Taliban - "AKA the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" - now "claims ownership of, and control over, all property" belonging to the former government, the judgment "can now be enforced against any and all assets belonging to the government of Afghanistan." That includes assets held by the Federal Reserve "in the name, for the benefit, or on the account of Da Afghanistan Bank," the central bank of Afghanistan.

Whose is the frozen money?

From the International law point of view, the 7 billions belong to Afghanistan and its people and not to the Taliban. As a Sovereign State it has the right to it, but the legal impediments lies in the lack of international recognition of the Taliban government, and in the absence of this requirement it is unclear who is legally authorized to access it.

Moreover, Biden’s act of dividing the money and binding it does set a dangerous precedent because although in the context the freezing of assets is common in recent history, the disposal of the sovereign wealth of another State is not a trivial matter.

With the freezing of assets of the Afghan Central Bank, part of the savings of ordinary afghans who had an account in their local bank were made unavailable to them, at a time when inflation is rampant and the use of foreign currency is prohibited. 

As a country whose economy was depended at 75% on foreign aid to pay the salaries of public servants, government ministries, doctors and teachers, sanctions have made it de facto impossible  for foreign governments, humanitarian organizations and other charities to continue to support the country without running the risk of breaching sanction and/or risking  reputational damage (it is illegal to engage in economical exchanges with terrorist associations or individuals subjected to personal sanctions) worsening  or annihilating whatever little that had been achieved in the past 20 years.

The reactions to Biden’s decision

While Afghan public opinion is unified in condemning the matter,  the various groups of 9/11 families are far from agreeing  on who among them has a legitimate right to try to claim the funds.

After the writ of execution that the Havlish group obtained went public, other separate groups filed similar lawsuits indicated they also are entitled to the funds, regardless of whether they had already been compensated in the past as they believe that all  9/11 families should be treated equally, bringing the number of plaintiffs claiming the money to at least 150 people.  Lawyers in the Havlish case have instead argued that all the other cases that do not have a default judgement or final ruling against the Taliban lack  the legal requisites to try seize the money.

The 11 September  Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an association that was born when a small group of family members of those killed on 9/11 become connected and realized they have in common the fact that they do not blame the Afghan population for their tragedy, stated that all the money should go to benefit Afghans and that they can’t think of a worse betrayal of the people of Afghanistan than to freeze their assets and give it to 9/11 families. Phyllis Rodriguez, who lost her son 20 years ago, summed up the association’s sentiment by -quote-  ” this is adding insult to injury”.

Many exponents of the Afghan diaspora also oppose having the humanitarian aid fund managed by  foreign aid organizations, as they have huge overheads, so little of that money will go where it is needed. Thomas West, who serves as the State Department’s Special Representative and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Afghanistan in a conference  held on 16 February at the United States Institute of Peace complimented Talibans for being able to distribute humanitarian aid to places that were never been reached in the past 20 years.

The UNFREEZEAFGHANISTAN movement, a women led initiative founded by Afghan and American activists to lobby for the lifting of  sanctions against Afghanistan due to its consequences on the life of the population, has highlitghted  more alarming implications and prospects if the court will assign the money to the plaintiffs. Masuda Sultan, one of the funding members who back in 2001 lost 19 members of her family to a usa air raid, after reminding us that none of the 19 hijakers were Afghan citizens, explained that a ruling in favor of the appropriation of the Afghan funds by the families of the 9/11 victims could fuel strong anti-American sentiments and cause a new wave of terrorism. Young adults, many of whom were born after 9/11, could easily be recruited by Isis or try to emigrate to Europe, adding to the wave of refugees and economic migrants against  which the European Union  has developed a chronic struggle.

Earlier this week the Islamic Emirate warned that if President Biden does not abandon its current robbery of the country’s  money, it will reconsider its policy toward the United States, adding that many Afghans lost their life as a result of usa bombing attacks occurred even during religious ceremonies, therefore USA should pay compensation. And regarding this matter, the Islamic Emirate may have a point.

Contributed by Laura Prisacariu - Expert in international relations and  Afghanistan issues

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