9/11 families call on Biden to unfreeze funds for Afghanistan

More than 20 Years after 9/11, family members of those killed in the 2001 attacks have a message for the US government: Free Afghan central bank assets before millions of civilians starve.

“There is not only a moral imperative to do this, there is also a national security interest in doing this and preventing Afghanistan from descending into total collapse,” said Terry Rockefeller, whose sister is died at the World Trade Center on September 11. Rockefeller is a member of the 9/11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow, a organization formed by family members of those killed on 9/11 to oppose the war in Afghanistan.

In February, the Biden administration announcement that he would divide more than $7 billion in Afghan assets held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York between a potential settlement pool for the families of 9/11 victims and an ambiguously defined trust fund “for the benefit of the Afghan people”. The White House has yet to say when and how it will release the money, wary of the perceived legal and political repercussions that come with transferring money to Afghanistan’s central bank lest it be seen as giving money to the Taliban. Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary told reporters on February 15, that the administration was unable to release the frozen funds until the end of the ongoing litigation, but legal experts have rejected this claim. On Friday, the Treasury Department Published a new blanket license to authorize economic transactions with a suite of Afghan entities, including the country’s central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank, signaling a potential first step towards unfreezing funds.

The White House did not respond to a request from The Intercept to clarify whether it stood by PSAKI’s comments. The State Department reiterated the administration’s intentions to divert $3.5 billion to a trust fund, but did not say whether it believed the administration had the authority to release those funds immediately.

The administration’s slow march has led to a catastrophic crisis that now threatens to destroy more lives than two decades of fighting in Afghanistan, leaving the country’s people facing despair of nightmarish proportions. The UN has valued that a million children risk starving to death at the end of winter. In December, NPR reported that families were selling their children into marriage to pay for basic necessities like food and fuel. The worsening crises in Afghanistan have provoked negative reactions from the public, including family members of 9/11 victims.

“I think the Biden administration should have been braver and said it was their position that it wasn’t Taliban money and they would give it to the Afghan people,” Rockefeller said.

Reporting by The Intercept detailed the work of former White House Afghanistan lawyer Lee Wolosky representing dozens of families of 9/11 victims in a class action lawsuit against the Taliban. Lawyers suing the settlements – who are seeking to claim Afghan funds despite the fact that they are not and have never been Taliban assets – are collectively set to earn more than half a billion dollars in legal fees levied on frozen funds.

Less than a year after the war’s end, a new refugee crisis is emerging as Afghan civilians – some of whom were employed and then abandoned by the US government – flee the combined threats of economic oblivion, insecurity widespread food and retaliation from the Taliban government. Tens of thousands of refugees flocked to Pakistan and Iran every week. What the Afghan economy needs, according to experts from the International Crisis Group and the International Rescue Committee who testified on the subject in February, is an injection of liquidity – provided by its own central bank funds currently frozen and held in the United States. The new Treasury guidance issued on Friday appears to be a step in that direction, although the US government’s slow movement assures crisis will continue to deepen at a rapid pace.

the fine print of the guidance admits that working with the central bank is functionally different from working with the Taliban, and this precedent could serve as the basis for a change in policy towards the central bank. One of the “frequently asked questions” accompanying the guide demand: “Does General License (GL) 20 related to Afghanistan authorize financial transfers to government institutions in Afghanistan, including the Central Bank of Afghanistan (Da Afghanistan Bank, or DAB), or corporations and state-owned or state-controlled companies in Afghanistan?

“Yes,” reads the response. “GL 20 authorizes financial transfers to or involving all government institutions in Afghanistan – including but not limited to DAB, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Energy and Water. OFAC does not consider financial transfers to government institutions in Afghanistan or state-owned or controlled corporations and enterprises in Afghanistan as financial transfers to the Taliban, the Haqqani network…or anyone blocked who occupies a role of leadership in a government institution in Afghanistan. .” The Treasury Department did not respond to a request from The Intercept to clarify its intent behind the move.

“You can’t end terrorism by causing more civilian casualties, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now.”

Rockefeller sees the Biden administration’s hesitation over central bank recapitalization as the final act in the failed US war on terrorism in Afghanistan. Peaceful Tomorrows “has had a long campaign for years that has led to payments for civilian casualties and payments for hospital care for innocent civilians who were injured in the US bombings to bring down the Taliban,” it said. she told The Intercept. “Our position then was that there was no way to wage a war on terrorism. You cannot end terrorism by causing more civilian casualties, and that is exactly what is happening now, more Afghan civilian deaths even after 20 years of war.

On Feb. 17, Rockefeller said, Peaceful Tomorrows met with senior Biden administration officials who claimed that a large percentage of frozen assets consisted of money that had first been transferred to Afghanistan in the form of humanitarian aid by Western governments and foundations.

“They told us that their research confirmed that the sources of Afghan bank funds were international aid,” Rockefeller said. “I thought the Biden administration could have made this their first pitch and been much more assertive in saying that it was crucial that a large portion of the funds immediately reached the Afghan people.” The National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment on this argument.

Shah Mehrabi, an economics professor at Montgomery College who sits on the Afghan central bank’s supreme council, noted that the local currency that backs reserves was created by the Afghan central bank. “All foreign exchange reserves will have to be converted into local currency,” he told The Intercept. “Who provided the local currency? It was DAB,” he said, referring to the central bank’s initials.

“It is clear that in some sense the 9/11 family members who are furious at their loss and want the Taliban to suffer may have a serious misunderstanding that this is the money of the Taliban, when in fact it is far from the case,” Rockefeller said. . She added that there was also “a serious misunderstanding that Biden took Afghan money and gave it to 9/11 family members, which didn’t happen,” because the procedure is still suspended in the context of a dispute. “I fervently hope that the court rulings confirm what the Biden administrator is saying, that it was never Taliban money.”

“I fervently hope that the court rulings confirm what the Biden administrator is saying, that it was never Taliban money.”

Rockefeller also said Biden officials informed the group that there were still $2 billion to $2.5 billion in Afghan bank reserves in Europe — making up the country’s more than $9 billion in total foreign exchange reserves — and that this too was probably made up of aid rather than the Taliban. -generated assets.

Peaceful Tomorrows member Leila Murphy, who lost her father on 9/11, told The Intercept that she believes releasing billions of dollars in frozen funds to recapitalize Afghanistan’s central bank is within the purview of the Biden administration, but that the White House fears the political backlash the action could cause. She characterized the perspective as “rooted in fear and a particular idea of ​​the victims of 9/11 and the place 9/11 occupies in the American imagination.”

More than 60 attempts to contact class action members pursuing claims against the Taliban have been unsuccessful, except for one.

“Aren’t we supposed to talk to you?” asked one requester, Joslin Zeplin-Paradise, when reached by The Intercept. “Our lawyer said not to talk to you.”

Lawyers and lobbyists have stepped up their efforts to get them cut from the $3.5 billion in funds set aside by the Biden administration. Andrew Maloney, one of the lawyers leading the effort to profit from frozen Afghan assets, justified his position by tell the BBC, “The reality is that the Afghan people did not resist the Taliban. … They bear the responsibility for the state in which they find themselves.

“This money belongs to ordinary people in Afghanistan. It’s their money, and it should be theirs.

Phyllis Rodriguez, founding member of Peaceful Tomorrows, disagrees. Rodriguez told The Intercept that the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan is contrary to both his own values ​​and those of his son Greg, who was killed on 9/11.

“He had wonderful values. We didn’t always agree on everything, but one thing we always agreed on was that war is wrong, killing is wrong and victimization is wrong. He was an empathetic person who would certainly have thought that millions of starving people are evil,” Rodriguez said.

“The identity of being a victim of 9/11 is something I’ve tried to avoid because people assume victims want all of these hard outcomes,” Murphy told The Intercept. “I was in Guantanamo to attend the preliminary hearings of those accused of planning the attacks, and I traveled with the victim support group, and it was as if we were considered victims that the prosecution wanted us on their side, and they wanted the death penalty.”

“Our principles and beliefs have not changed since September 10, 2001,” Rodriguez said. “We were supposed to be vengeful. I want people to understand that we aren’t and don’t have to be. This money belongs to ordinary people in Afghanistan. It’s their money, and it should be theirs.

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