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‘It’s immoral,’ says Bay Area lawyer on Biden’s decision to freeze Afghan money for 9/11 victims

Brett Eagleson, whose father, Bruce, died in the attack on the World Trade Center, said that although the families of the victims support the distribution of a large part of the funds to the Afghan people, the remaining funds should be evenly distributed among families.

“Anything less than fair treatment for and between the 9/11 families with respect to these frozen assets is outrageous and will be viewed as treason” by the government, Eagleson said in a statement.

The Justice Department reported months ago that the administration was set to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed by 9/11 victims and families in New York. The deadline for this filing had been pushed back to Friday.

The families in this case won a 2012 US court judgment against the Taliban and other entities. But relatives of other victims also have pending lawsuits over the attacks, and a New York-based attorney for about 500 families urged on Friday that all be on equal footing for the fund.

“It will take a lot of money to provide monetary compensation, but we will never cure these people. Never,” attorney Jerry S. Goldman said.

Afghanistan’s long-troubled economy has been in freefall since the Taliban took power. Nearly 80% of the previous government’s budget came from the international community. This money, now cut, financed hospitals, schools, factories and ministries. The desperation for these basic necessities has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as health care shortages, drought and malnutrition.

Aid groups have warned of an impending humanitarian disaster. State employees, from doctors to teachers and administrative officials, have not been paid for months. Banks have limited the amount that account holders can withdraw.

U.S. courts where 9/11 victims filed claims against the Taliban will have to take further steps to get victims and families compensated from the $3.5 billion, deciding whether they have a claim, according to reports. senior government officials briefing journalists.

The Biden administration is still working out the details of setting up the trust fund, an effort the White House says will likely take months.

Because victims have pending legal claims against the US banking system’s $7 billion, courts would have to approve before half of the money for humanitarian aid could be released to Afghanistan, officials said.

The United States launched the war in Afghanistan more than 20 years ago after then-Taliban leader Mullah Omar refused to hand over al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following of the September 11 attacks in the United States. Bin Laden, who was born in Saudi Arabia but whose citizenship was revoked, moved to Afghanistan after being expelled from Sudan in 1996.

Taliban political spokesman Mohammad Naeem has criticized the Biden administration for not releasing all funds for Afghanistan.

“The theft of blocked funds from the nation of Afghanistan by the United States of America and its seizure (of these funds) shows the lowest level of humanity . . . of a country and a nation,” said tweeted Naeem on Friday.

The Taliban have called on the international community to release funds and help avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Biden administration has pushed back against criticism that the $7 billion — largely from donations from the United States and other countries to Afghanistan — should be returned to Afghanistan, arguing that 9/11 claimants September under the American legal system are entitled to their day in search.

Afghanistan has over $9 billion in reserves, including just over $7 billion in reserves held in the United States. The rest are largely in Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland.

By January, the Taliban had managed to pay their ministries’ salaries but were struggling to keep employees on the job. They have promised to open schools for girls after the Afghan New Year at the end of March, but aid organizations say it takes money to pay teachers. Women’s universities have reopened in several provinces, with the Taliban saying the phased opening will be completed by the end of February when all women’s and men’s universities open, a major concession to international demands.

In recent months, Afghans have only been able to withdraw $200 a week and that only in Afghans, not US currency. The Afghan economy is on the verge of collapse.

Last month, the United Nations launched an appeal for nearly $5 billion, its largest ever appeal for a country, estimating that nearly 90% of the country’s 38 million people were surviving below the poverty line $1.90 per day. The UN has also warned that more than a million children are at risk of starvation.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said late Friday he was “encouraged” by Biden’s executive order.

“It is also important to reiterate that humanitarian assistance alone will not be enough to meet the immense needs of Afghan women, men and children in the long term, and it is essential that the Afghan economy is able to restart in order to to meet these Afghan needs. people are met in a lasting and meaningful way,” said Dujarric.

David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, called on Wednesday for the release of funds to prevent famine.

“The humanitarian community didn’t choose the government, but that’s no excuse to punish the people, and there is a middle way – to help the Afghan people without embracing the new government,” Miliband said during an interview. a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the matter. .

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This post includes additional reporting by Annelise Finney of KQED. Gannon reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed reporting.