IF there was ever a scale for imperial thievery, the past few centuries run the range: there was Clive and Rhodes and of course Leopold, king of the Belgians. We think of such men because they come quickest to mind, the kind of heroes that chopped off a hand when the rubber quota wasn’t met.
To wrangle in corporations, or worse, their fat bankers, becomes boring. But it’s necessary, because that’s when plunder graduates to pillage: East India, United Fruit, and most recently Halliburton — the oil-inhaling paymaster of war criminals as varied as Lyndon Johnson and Dick Cheney. In short, businesses.
And this past week showed, yet again, that some acts of cross-border theft are truly timeless. That though the world may pray to global capital and its invisible hand, it’s hard not to notice when that hand twists the necks of the poorest people on the planet.
Joe Biden, who was mostly in the news on Friday for confusing Ukraine for Iraq and then Iraq for Afghanistan (it’s hard keeping track of all of D.C.’s bombing sprees) is back for more. Though his presidency is best-known so far for what it did in Afghanistan — making a mad dash for the gates while drones rained death overhead — it will now be remembered for what it did to the Afghans.
Will the US steal money from a country on the brink of starvation?
In the middle of his manic escape last year, Mr Biden froze the Afghan central bank and the $7 billion inside it; thus the visuals of Afghan women cutting out their kidneys today. The country is on the brink of starvation, and the roaring kidney racket makes this plain — the reason the price of human organs is falling is because so many are ready to sell.
But the latest twist could only have come from some dazed conquistador: Mr Biden has decided to split the billions. One half will go to humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, the other half will be stashed away for the families of 9/11 victims. As jaws dropped across the world, a polite White House handout confirmed as much.
The official logic is paper-thin: back in 2011, there was a default judgement titled ‘Havish vs Laden’ awarding $6bn to a group of 9/11 families, per a federal judge in New York. The parties being sued — including the Taliban, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Iran — never showed up (hence a default judgement). It’s this sort of crazy litigation that the Oval Office has cited in its handout.
To be clear, Joe Biden and his inner circle of aging Beltway sadists are going to steal half the money, from a country on the brink of starvation. They will then shower it on a cause that was so overfunded when 9/11 actually happened, the Red Cross asked people to donate to other emergencies. When it was flooded with cash even more, the Red Cross only took it “after attempting and failing to dissuade the donor from restricting his gift for that purpose only”.
If any of this sounds absurd, it’s because it is: the richest country in human history is tearing out the kidneys of one of the poorest, in the service of a random piggy bank that has more money than it can spend, to avenge a crime committed 20 years ago by other people, almost all of them dead. It’s as much late capitalism as it’s end-stage empire, led by its oldest and foggiest Augustus yet.
Editorial: Punishing the Afghans
And to what end? If the goal is some goofy idea of collective punishment, it’s the wrong collective. The median age in Afghanistan is 18; the majority of its people had yet to be born on Sept 11, 2001. Even had they been, not a single one of Osama’s psychotic hijackers was Afghan. Yet much of this makes no difference: the whole war was a wild revenge mission that had so little point, hell’s latest resident Donald Rumsfeld complained there were no good targets.
Though Mr Biden’s people lack the same instincts, they’ve ended up looting the vault so openly that even occupation’s ex-cheerleaders are pretending to be appalled. After all, this isn’t money that belongs to the Taliban — it’s held in trust for the Afghan people. The only collective Washington will end up punishing is the kids that have already been carpet-bombed for 20 years by bipartisan consensus.
But that’s also the point: per The Nation’s David Klion, the entire population of Afghanistan can reasonably be considered 9/11 victims. As for those victims themselves, the brother of a man killed in the Pentagon attack was clear: “…I fear that the end result of seizing this money will be to cause further harm to innocent Afghans who have already suffered greatly.”
Mr Biden can condemn a country to mass starvation, and violate international law while he does it. Or he can understand that aid is no substitute for a functioning central bank, that blameless Afghans must be given back their money, and that any alternative will be both dire and far-reaching.
Because linked to Afghanistan’s death is America’s decline.
The writer is a barrister.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2022