Exclusive — Top 9/11 Lawyer to Biden: Prevent Billions in Seized Afghan Funds from Reaching Taliban

TOPSHOT - Taliban fighters sit over a vehicle on a street in Laghman province on August 15, 2021. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
AFP via Getty Images

In light of President Biden’s recent executive order releasing $7 billion in frozen Afghan reserves, renowned 9/11 attorney Michael Barasch, whose law firm represents over 25,000 members of the 9/11 community, called on the Biden administration to ensure that no money reaches the Taliban and that funds dedicated to 9/11 victims be apportioned equally among all the victims, including those who suffered in the aftermath of the attacks. 

After President Joe Biden signed an executive order earlier this month seizing $7 billion in U.S.-held Afghan central bank reserves, claiming half ($3.5 billion) will be used for Afghan humanitarian aid and the other half ($3.5 billion) will go toward 9/11 victims, attorney Michael Barasch spoke with Breitbart News to discuss the matter.

Refusing to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government following its takeover in August, the U.S. froze the group’s access to the reserves that are largely managed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. 

While President Biden’s announcement on the division of funds was reported as a clear directive, Barasch accused the media of giving a misleading impression of its implications.

“That is actually what is so outrageous about this reporting by the media,” he said. “I think the media really jumped the gun on this by reporting that a decision had been made.”

A central concern that he highlighted has been whether the distribution of the funds will occur and how, given the executive order stops short of outlining such a process and omits which exact victims are eligible. 

“I’ve read the court dockets, I’m involved in this [and] I represent over 25,000 people in the 9/11 community and this announcement has really infuriated so many because there was a hint that only the plaintiffs — I believe 47 families — in this one small lawsuit that was brought against the Taliban would be eligible,” he said. “[However,] it shouldn’t be [allocated to] just the 47 families who happened to mention al-Qaeda in their lawsuit complaint.”

“[In addition,] not only were there roughly 2,900 people who died on 9/11, but more people have now died of 9/11-related injuries to the toxins than the 2,900 people who died on 9/11,” he added.

Recalling Det. Steven McDonald, who died in 2017 after being shot in Central Park while on duty and subsequently living as a quadriplegic for over 30 years, Barasch compared the fate of the late officer with many victims of the September 11 attacks.

“[Officer] McDonald was an inspiring man because he went on to live a life and had a family,” he said, “but he eventually died of his gunshot wounds and all the injuries that occurred because of the multiple surgeries from those gunshot wounds.” 

“He died 30 years later [yet] his family was granted a ‘Line of Duty’ death benefit,” he added. “So how is that any different than the people who suffered years and years from the cancers they developed from inhaling the toxic dust from 9/11?” 

Arguing there should be “no distinction at all” between those who died on 9/11 and those who died as a result of the attacks, and that “everybody in the 9/11 community who has gotten cancer or who has lost a loved one should all be treated the same and be eligible for an award from these funds,” Barasch lamented that such sentiment “hasn’t been made clear yet.” 

He then highlighted the importance of ensuring fund allocation is done justly.

“You might say that the easy part is over [because] the government [has] decided to give out some of that money — but to whom and to the plaintiffs in which cases?” he asked. “There are many, many cases that have been brought against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Afghanistan [and] Iran, [so] how do you decide who should get what?”

Barasch, a legal advocate for first responders to the 9/11 attacks and others harmed by resulting toxic dust, asserted that only a figure charged with assessing the appropriate amounts due to each victim would do justice.

“The only fair way to do it is like they did with the first [September 11th] Victim Compensation Fund and then the reauthorization and you appoint someone like a Ken Feinberg, the Special Master who administered the first fund,” he said. – he’s sometimes known as the payout czar. 

“That would be the only fair way: let him decide [how the funds should be distributed],” he added. 

When asked how he would respond to those who argue that the seized funds belong to the Afghan government and its citizens and none of it should go to the [American] victims of 9/11, he claimed that the matter is complex.

“That’s the exact point: who should it go to? The people in Afghanistan who are starving?” he asked. “They clearly could use this money but if we did give [it to] them, who would we give the money to, the Taliban? How do you know they’re not just going to buy arms with it and use it to attack us? 

“There’s no simple solution here,” he added. “It’s very complicated.”

In light of the complexity, he suggested a judge preside over the matter.

“Perhaps the way to do it, and this is what I’ve heard a lot of people say, is give half the money to the 9/11 community but let a judge decide and equally split it up among everybody: those who died on 9/11 and those who died from 9/11 illnesses in the years that followed,” he said.

In addition, Barasch highlighted the need to take the currently living victims of 9/11 into account and ensure funds dedicated to Afghans be received by those in need.

“You’re going to have to create a fund for the people who are sick now who have not yet died but who will die of their 9/11 illnesses,” he said, “and then the other half should go perhaps to the International Red Cross to give out and make sure that the food goes to the people who are so desperately needing it now.”

He also emphasized that, despite reports to the contrary, there has yet to be explicit instruction as to how to allocate the funds.

“I hate when I hear people start making this a political thing of: ‘Oh, good for Biden’ or ‘Bad for Biden,’” he said. “All [Biden] did was say ‘OK, let the courts decide,’ and unfortunately there’s no clear directive now as of how that’s going to be split up.” 

“But I will fight for my clients and I represent so many people who died on 9/11 and who died since [and] they should all be treated equally,” he reiterated.

He also expressed reservations about the argument that the funds should be released to Afghanistan because none of the 19 terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks were from there.

“I understand that [but] on the other hand, these terrorists were allowed to train in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda, and perhaps they do deserve culpability for the attacks,” he said. “They certainly made a hospitable place for them to train. How much [of] their letting the Saudi terrorists train on their property, on their land, was responsible for the attacks? We will know a lot more once we see the FBI files which are coming out in early March.” 

“I’d like to see what the FBI has and then we’ll be able to make an educated decision,” he added. “We’ve waited 20 years. There’s no reason to rush right now and start giving this money out. Let’s make sure the right people get the money.” 

In a message to the Biden administration, Barasch urged patience and responsibility in distributing the funds.

“Until [the files are released], I submit they shouldn’t give any of the money out at all,” he said, “and when there is a time that comes for the money to be given out, they should make sure that the Taliban doesn’t get any of it, but it all goes through the International Red Cross — that [is] whatever amount goes to the people of Afghanistan.” 

“And the amount that goes to the 9/11 community should be divided equally among those who died on 9/11, those who have died since 9/11, and those who will die of 9/11 illnesses,” he added. “And that can be done very easily with a Special Master such as Ken Feinberg.” 

Barasch spearheaded the efforts to reach hundreds of thousands of uninformed 9/11 victims still owed benefits after having suffered from harmful consequences of toxic exposure to post-9/11 World Trade Center dust, noting that “9/11 didn’t end on 9/11” as many individuals continue to die as a result every day. 

With first responders and potentially hundreds of thousands of others exposed to harmful toxins after returning to downtown Manhattan to work, study, or live following the 9/11 attacks, many continue to suffer from respiratory disorders, cancers, and other disabling conditions linked to the exposure, despite assurances the air was safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As a result, Barasch made a commitment to locate and fight for victims, relentlessly lobbying Congress with labor union members, responders, and downtown office workers and residents. 

In a campaign titled “Finding the Forgotten Victims of 9/11,” Barasch has actively sought the many “forgotten” victims of 9/11, helping those successfully located register for federal health protection and compensation.   

Despite hundreds of thousands being eligible for benefits, two decades later only a small percentage of those have registered for health care protections, benefits, and compensation established by Congress, with many simply unaware of their right to compensation and others failing to make a connection between the 9/11 attacks and resulting toxic air-induced illnesses. 

Despite his successful push for Congress to reopen the Victim Compensation Fund and establish the World Trade Center Health Program with former President Donald Trump signing a bill in 2019 “permanently extending” both, many are still unaware of benefits they are entitled to as a result, he claimed.

Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein

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