Terror victims feel left out after White House order on billions in frozen Afghan funds
▶ Watch Video: White House order sparks fight among terror victims for frozen Afghan funds
In 2015, with bipartisan support, Congress created a fund to compensate all terrorism victims. The Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund is funded through fines and penalties, and it has paid out more than $3 billion in claims.
After the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan and froze $7 billion in assets from that country’s central bank, some families expected at least some of the money would go to the Victim Compensation Fund.
Among them is 77-year-old Bob Essington, who in 1983 sustained permanent injuries when a suicide bomber used a car bomb to destroy the U.S. Embassy in Beirut — killing 63 people.
The explosive force compressed Essington’s spine, permanently impairing his mobility.
“I have a stimulator implanted in my hip with 14 plates on my spine. If I shut it off, I go into instant pain. And there’s nothing to stop the pain,” he told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge.
Essington and other families were surprised by President Biden’s order to earmark $3.5 billion to support “the urgent needs of the people of Afghanistan.”
The remaining $3.5 billion was left for a New York court to decide compensation, with a small group of 9/11 families who have brought claims against the Taliban at the head of the line for the funds.
“We’re not going to get anything for what happened to us. You know, it’s like the government doesn’t care anymore,” Essington said.
Kenneth Feinberg, who has overseen more than $20 billion in victims’ compensation, including claims by 9/11 families, calls Mr. Biden’s executive order “very unusual.”
Feinberg said the federal court was also an option to handle victims’ claims, but no decision was without controversy.
“You’re going to get frustration and emotional disagreement and anger no matter how you distribute three and a half billion dollars,” Feinberg said.
Victims of terrorist attacks in the ’80s and ’90s against U.S. embassies and military installations sent a letter with over 400 signatures to Mr. Biden, urging him to change course.
In the letter, they write that the Victim Compensation Fund was created “for exactly these moments…for the benefit of all U.S. terrorism victims, not one small group.”
The White House told CBS News the administration “undertook extensive analysis on this complex issue” that factored in the urgent need for Afghan aid and victims’ compensation, adding the administration “could not simply transfer” to the victims’ fund.
Feinberg believes it is important that everyone gets a voice when it comes to the funds.
“These programs are more than just sort of taking a calculator and deciding who gets what. There’s a very important element I learned the hard way in 9/11 fund: giving everybody a voice,” he said.
Essington, a State Department and Vietnam veteran, rarely speaks of the 1983 attack because it is hard for him to talk about what has happened. But now he wants Mr. Biden to acknowledge his story.
“I don’t care about the total amount that I get or anything like that. It’s his recognition of us, the sacrifices that all of us made,” Essington said.
This month, more than 300 veterans and their families wrote to the House and Senate Armed Services and Veterans committees, urging them to support legislation that redirects the money to the victims’ fund.
Critics of the executive order say it punishes the Afghan people, who face a humanitarian crisis, and all of the money belongs to them.