A group of more than 500 veterans and military family members are pushing lawmakers to broaden federal plans for distributing billions in seized Taliban funds to include more victims of terrorist attacks, rather than limiting it to only Sept. 11 victims.
In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, the group argues that the move is needed to better recognize all military personnel “who were killed or severely injured as a result of state-sponsored terrorist attacks while serving our country around the world at U.S. embassies, military installations and in international waters.”
Signers include surviving family members and veterans involved in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, the 1968 USS Pueblo incident with North Korea and several other international incidents.
All could potentially financially benefit from the change in policy, along with several thousand others.
At issue is a White House announcement from February that administration officials would freeze $7 billion in Afghan central bank funds in an effort to redirect the money to Afghanistan humanitarian efforts and pending legal cases related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
In an executive order, President Joe Biden directed half of the money to be put in a fund for humanitarian needs, and the other half set aside to help settle the ongoing lawsuits.
That $3.5 billion has been caught up in court debates since, with multiple groups representing Sept. 11 victims negotiating how the money may be distributed.
But the coalition of victims of other terrorist attacks argue the money should go into the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, established in 2015 by Congress in an effort to help settle similar legal questions regarding how individuals could be compensated.
They argue that the money should go to help more families, and not just be limited to the Sept. 11 attacks. Many individuals linked to the USVSST have won court judgments against foreign governments and groups, but have no way to collect money from them.
“[The February executive order] ignores the sacrifices made by the U.S. military serving our country abroad and ignores the fundamental premise under which the USVSST was established,” the group wrote.
“The fund was created by Congress to handle the fair and equitable distribution of funds for the benefit of all U.S. terrorism victims, rather than a select group.”
In 2020, USVSST fund administrators allocated $1.075 billion for payments to eligible individuals. Half of that money was set aside for claims related to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The next round of payouts from the account is scheduled to occur in January 2023, if money is available.
Lawmakers so far have not taken any action regarding the funds seized from the Taliban, which have yet to be distributed because of the ongoing legal issues. White House officials have warned that it could take months before any money is released.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.