A US judge has determined that families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks are not entitled to Afghan central bank funds that the Biden administration has seized.
During the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the US withdrawal in 2021, the Biden administration froze $7 billion in Afghan central bank reserves that are held by the Federal Reserve. Biden signed an order to make half of the funds available for 9/11 families even though the people of Afghanistan had nothing to do with the attacks.
US District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan said that allowing the money to go to 9/11 families would amount to recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government. Daniels said he didn’t have the power to do so since the Biden administration doesn’t recognize the Taliban-led government that holds power in Kabul.
A lawyer from one group of 9/11 families said they disagreed with the decision and will appeal. But other family members of victims of the attacks called on President Biden to release the funds to Afghans.
“Any use of the $7 billion to pay off 9/11 family member judgments is legally suspect and morally wrong. We call on you to modify your Executive Order and affirm that the Afghanistan central bank funds belong to the Afghan people and the Afghan people alone,” the families said in a letter to Biden sent in August 2022.
The letter said that the families joined other lawsuits over the attacks but that “no 9/11 family member joined these lawsuits to take money away from starving Afghans.”
The Biden administration said it would put the other $3.5 billion in a Swiss bank account to be used for aid for Afghanistan that would bypass the Taliban. But it’s not clear if the money has been disbursed.
Besides the frozen funds, the US still maintains sanctions on Taliban leaders who are now part of the Afghan government. The sanctions discourage international companies and banks from doing business in Afghanistan, making it harder for Afghans to find relief.
The UN recently warned that six million Afghans are facing the risk of famine, but the US has shown no interest in removing sanctions on the Taliban or releasing the frozen funds.