The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Richard Paul Brewer of Falmouth is a retired U.S. Marine. He is a recipient of the Navy’s Achievement Medal, the U.S. Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, and a Purple Heart.
When $7 billion of Afghan money was frozen last August to keep it out of the hands of the Taliban, those of us who have been involved in advocacy for terror victims thought it was obvious that President Joe Biden would direct some of the funds to be deposited into the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST). After all, the fund was created by bipartisan congressional will in 2015 for this exact scenario after many years of hard work.
But much to our dismay, President Biden dictated through an executive order that none of the frozen money would be distributed through the fund. Instead, $3.5 billion would be distributed by the New York court system to a disproportionately small subset of U.S. terrorism victims, prioritizing a select few at the expense of thousands.
However, the president’s perhaps unintentional “gift” to this small community of victims is anything but. The order brought ugly and unnecessary legal drama and has placed an unfair burden on victims to demonstrate that their suffering outweighs other victims’ experiences. The courts, too, are put in an unfamiliar (and equally unfair) position of deciding the winner of this shameful public race to claim a piece of the $3.5 billion pie, where victims must compete against other victims.
Meanwhile, military victims of terror, like me, were casually abandoned by the United States government — the very institution we have sacrificed so much to protect. We deserve better.
I know what it means to risk life and limb for my country. On Sept. 20, 1984, while I was stationed as a Marine guard at the U.S. Embassy Annex in Beirut, my life changed forever when Hezbollah detonated a bomb that killed 24 people. I was knocked unconscious for more than 30 minutes before I awoke and began searching for survivors without regard for my wounds or safety. I encountered two friends, one of whom had been immediately killed by the blast and the other who died in my arms in the ruined Annex.
The indescribable rage and sadness of that day persisted upon my return to the United States. I was haunted by the sounds of my colleagues’ last, ragged breaths and the sight of their lifeless bodies in what remained of their posts. For almost 40 years, I struggled with depression, alcoholism, survivors’ guilt, and physical disabilities as a result of the explosion. I am a shadow of the man I was before the attack.
Biden’s executive order adds insult to these injuries. I and many other military victims of terrorism are positioned to not receive a single penny from the $3.5 billion in Afghan funds. Our needs — the doctors’ visits, the in-home medical aides or the hours of therapy needed to overcome our emotional trauma — are real. That’s why I have banded together with other survivors from similar attacks, including those targeting the U.S. Marine Barracks in 1983, the Khobar Towers in 1996, the USS Cole in 2000 and the American embassy in Beirut in 1983, among others, to urge the president to amend his neglectful order.
The president could start by redirecting the funds into the USVSST Fund. For years, victims of terrorist attacks had no means of pursuing justice here in America. In 2015, Congress addressed this imbalance by establishing the fund. Through the fund, there would be no legal victim-versus-victim competitions because everyone shares in the available funds. The fund also caps attorney fees to prevent big law firms from fattening their pockets. But most importantly, the USVSST does not give preference to victims of a specific attack. The fund is designed to fairly serve victims of both the 9/11 attacks and other state-sponsored terrorist attacks that have injured and killed Americans.
Biden or Congress must step up and do the right thing by depositing the Taliban funds into the USVSST Fund. After all, this is why it exists in the first place.