SAN FRANCISCO, July 14 (UPI) – By JAVAD MIRABDAL and JAVID SHENASI – Almost exactly a year ago, on July 16, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the U.S. State Department to re-evaluate the “terrorist” designation of Iran’s main dissident movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq.
After an inexplicable yearlong delay, the State Department continues to drag its feet even as the biggest state sponsor of terrorism — the Iranian regime — sardonically uses the label as a pretext to kill MEK members and supporters in Iran and through its proxies in Iraq.
Many are left wondering why Washington is so conciliatory toward Tehran’s demands despite the regime’s rogue behavior.
The inclusion of the MEK — an organization dedicated to establishing a democratic Iran — on the U.S. terrorist list has a murky history and even more intriguing are the motivations.
In essence, terrorism is the last thing it’s about. What it is and has always been about is placating the tyrannical regime in Iran.
“Iranian officials for years have made suppression of the MEK a priority in negotiations with Western governments, according to several diplomats who were involved in those talks,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
In 1997, Tehran got its wish. Enamored with the (spurious) “reformist” streak in Tehran, and in order to instigate a thaw in bilateral relations, Washington took several unilateral steps, most important among them restricting the MEK.
“The inclusion of the [MEK on the terror list] was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran,” a senior U.S. official told the Los Angeles Times at the time. In 2002, another official described it as “‘a signal’ of the U.S.’s desire for rapprochement with Tehran’s reformists.”
Tehran interpreted the MEK’s listing as a sign of American weakness, and in the ensuing months and years, it intensified its nuclear activities and terrorism.
Still, as several former high-ranking officials have said, the MEK was kept on the list even “during the administration of George W. Bush, in part out of fear that Iran would provide (improvised explosive devices) to our enemies in Iraq, which of course the mullahs are doing anyway.”
Kowtowing to pressure from Tehran, in 2001 and 2002, Britain and the European Union followed suit both blacklisting the MEK but they were unable to produce a shred of evidence to actually back up the allegations against the organization.
Predictably, both the United Kingdom and the European Union were forced to delist the MEK in 2008 and 2009, respectively, following successive court rulings.
In 2007, U.K. courts concluded that the designation of the MEK was “perverse,” a highly unconventional criticism of a government decision. And, the country’s highest court noted that after seeing all the evidence, both open and classified, that it “reinforced” its view that the MEK is not a terrorist group.
Indeed, the MEK has explicitly and repeatedly rejected all forms of violence as far back as a decade ago. Its members in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, are unarmed civilians and are considered “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. All members were investigated and interviewed thoroughly by agencies like the FBI and the State Department after the 2003 Iraq war during a 16-month investigation. According to the U.S. government itself, none had violated U.S. laws.
The July 16, 2010, appeals court decision said that the MEK’s due process rights were violated and questioned the State Department’s flawed evidence. The decision “strongly” suggested that the designation should be revoked.
The clock continues to tick on an issue that is not simply a political one, although its implications are strategically important. As seconds go by, the State Department’s deliberate delay in implementing the court ruling helps raise the specter of another massacre against thousands of lives in Ashraf.
The pro-Tehran government in Iraq is using the label as a pretext to commit abhorrent crimes against humanity in Camp Ashraf. As recently as April, 36 residents in Ashraf were killed in a massacre that provoked international outrage and calls for an impartial investigation.
The U.S. government, which bears responsibility for the residents under international law, must spearhead an investigation and reassume protection of Ashraf.
A growing roster of prominent senior U.S. officials who have served in the administrations of presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton have also called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to delist the MEK.
At a conference on Capitol Hill in March, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said, “There are many reasons, including MEK’s close cooperation with the United States in exposing Iran’s nuclear program for removing MEK from that list.”
Nearly 100 members of Congress have also co-sponsored a resolution, calling on Secretary Clinton to revoke the MEK’s designation — and the list is growing, including U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who heads the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
In March, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., told Secretary Clinton: “I asked for a classified briefing of the relevant subcommittee, the State Department refused because of the litigation, the intelligence community provided it. And frankly, after that classified briefing, I thought that perhaps there was nothing done this century that justified the MEK being on that list and it provided substantial ammunition to the belief that the MEK is on the list as part of the peace offering or concession to Tehran.”
The appeals court judges reflected the same sentiment in their July 16 ruling. They observed that the State Department evidence “included in the secretary’s analysis on their face express reservations about the accuracy of the information contained therein.”
Former CIA Director James Woolsey made an apt observation when describing the July 16 court opinion, “What the Department of State has done is what the red queen does in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ … execution first, then trial.”
In reviewing the MEK’s designation, Secretary Clinton should base her decision on facts and evidence rather than on political considerations, either intended to mollify the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, or resulting from a lack of political fortitude to stand firm in the face of the Iranian regime’s intransigence.
(Javad Mirabdal is a transportation engineer and a human rights activist. Javid Shenasi is an expert in Natural Pollution Discharge Elimination, working with California Department of Transportation.)