NEW YORK, A bipartisan group of former U.S. political and military leaders is calling for the U.S. State Department to remove a prominent Iranian dissident group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran/Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (PMOI/MeK), from its list of terrorist organizations, saying the classification is unjustified and 3,400 Iranian dissidents housed at Camp Ashraf in Iraq cannot be safely resettled until the change is made.
“What troubles me is the politicization of the national terrorist list,” former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-RI, said at a conference attended by more than 1,000 Iranian-Americans and community leaders Saturday in New York.”I call on the State Department of the United States to be honest, to be truthful, and to follow the facts.”
The event, entitled, “The Iranian Revolution, Three Decades Later: Prospects for Change, the Role of the Opposition and Camp Ashraf,” was organized by Global Initiative for Democracy (GID) and held at the landmark Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Former Freedom House Executive Director and the GID founder and President Bruce McColm convened the conference. Other panelistsincluded Carl Bernstein, Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., Governor Howard Dean, Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Director Louis Freeh, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and Gen. Hugh Shelton.
In July 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the State Department had violated the due process rights of the MEK and remanded the case to the Secretary. Nearly 19 months later, the State Department has refused to act.
“Why is the State Department waiting so long? What is it, two years now that they have been delaying in making this decision? These are terrorism experts,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said of his fellow panelists, who included former US AttorneyGeneral Michael Mukasey and former FBI Director Louis Freeh. “They know terrorism. These people know terrorism when they see it. This group [PMOI/MeK] is not a terrorist group. Lift the designation and let’s have our country on the right side [of the law and facts].”
At issue is the fate of some 3,400 Iranian dissidents housed at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, whose protection was handed over to the Iraqi forces in early 2009. The residents of the camp, most of whom belong to the MeK, voluntarily disarmed to U.S. forces in 2003, and were recognized as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention by the U.S. government in 2004.
Iraqi forces have twice attacked its inhabitants, resulting in 47 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. Until the United States revisits its designation of the MeK as a terrorist group, it is unlikely that any of those living at Camp Ashraf would be allowed to emigrate to safety in the United States or any European nation.
Director Freeh said that the group would soon petition the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia to compel U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to revisit the State Department’s terrorism designation for the MEK.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert suggested another way to prod the StateDepartment into action.
“The dollars that drive the State Department are appropriated by the Congress,” Hastert said. “And just the threat of holding up part of that appropriation will certainly get the State Department’s attention. I think this is important and it can be done. ”
Another speaker, famed Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein, challenged fellow reporters to cover a story he said had so far escaped the attention it deserves.
“One of the things that we do as journalists, the most important thing we do, is decide what is news. And this is news,” Bernstein said. “And one of the things we do when we decide what is news is we decide what portion of the story is devoted to what we know to be fact and what portion of the story is devoted to what we know is a lie. We have a responsibility not to inflate the lie and give it equal time to what we know is the truth. What is news here is [the failure to delist] isserving the purpose of the Iranian regime. That is news.”
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean noted that even inspite of the fact the camp has twice been attacked, Camp Ashraf leaders have agreed to send 100 Camp Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty, a new facility inBaghdad which Dean described as being “essentially a prison that would be governed by Iraqi military forces, without preconditions – despite the fact that residents there would have no access to attorneys and no international monitors would be able to evaluate conditions there.”
“This situation is not resolved,” Dean said. “I believe that when one side offers without conditions to do something…then we have an obligation to accept that.” Dean added, “It is immoral to sit and claim you are negotiating in good faith if you can’t take yes for an answer. Our government has a question about whether they are a moral government.” Lt. General Deptula, the former Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance at the Air Force, said “The idea to relocate residents who have already agreed to leave Iraq to CampLiberty, before departing Iraq, is suspect at best. Does Tehran have a plan to arrest a number of the residents of the camp through its Iraqi surrogates and do they plan to use the relocation process as a means to gettheir opponents arrested?”