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Truth will trump fiction in Iran opposition case

Truth will trump fiction in Iran opposition case

Joseph Omidvar
August 31, 2011

On August 13, 2011, an article written by Elizabeth Rubin appeared in NYT's Sunday review. The highly biased article which lacks the slightest notion of neutral reporting cites allegations emanating from Iran’s rulers against their main opposition, Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK/PMOI). As the US Department of State is due to review its decision on FTO designation of MEK, the Iranian regime and its lobbyists have been hard at work to influence Secretary Hillary Clinton's decision.

Elizabeth Rubin's allegations against MEK are a duplication of what has filled websites and media known to be affiliated with the Iranian regime for the past 10 years. The article, which repeats the same allegations she made in 2003, was well received by the Iranian regime’s media. Her July 2003 article was used as propaganda material by Iranian embassies throughout the world and widely distributed for some time. The source of her misinformation is certainly not any of the residents of Camp Ashraf, where she visited in April 2003; rather the propaganda seems to come from MEK adversaries working with Iran’s infamous Ministry of Intelligence.

Needless to say that Elizabeth Rubin has links to some circles and elements within the Iranian regime, devoted to helping the regime stay in power. She has reportedly visited Iran in 2003 and again in 2007 where she met and interviewed many of the so-called moderates inside the ruling dictatorship.

The MEK was placed on the FTO list in 1997 for political reasons to appease the so-called moderates inside the ruling dictatorship in Iran. Now that the myth of moderation in Iran has faded, the players have resorted to another ploy, advocating for a "green movement" in Iran and purporting to represent Iranian protesters.

US military personnel and commanders who have worked closely with MEK members in Camp Ashraf from 2003 to 2009 are certainly more qualified to judge MEK. In contrast, Mrs Rubin who has spent only a few hours in the camp has spent more time with Iranian officials in Tehran and their Washington based lobbyists.

Captain Vivian Gembara, an attorney for the U.S. military for 4 years, was deployed in Iraq for 12 months, beginning in April 2003. During that time, she participated in negotiations with the MEK. She was a member of the 4th Infantry Division team that negotiated and drafted the "voluntary consolidation" agreement between the United States and the MEK. In an article published in Global Politician on April 11, 2005 she writes that the U.S. Special Forces were first to encounter the MEK in April 2003, when the MEK "offered to work alongside the U.S. to stabilize the country."

Describing the MEK as a resistance movement which aims "to overthrow Iran’s current Islamic fundamentalist regime and replace it with a democratic government," Captain Gembara added "classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997, the [MEK] bears the burden of an outdated and inaccurate label."

After Ashraf residents submitted their arms to the US forces in 2003, General Ray Odierno, who was then the commander of 4th Infantry Division was quoted by the French News Agency as saying "I would say that any organization that has given up their equipment to the Coalition clearly is cooperating with us, and I believe that should lead to a review of whether they are still a terrorist organization or not."

Court rulings in the UK, France, and EU have also indicated that the terrorist allegations against MEK are unfounded.

On Nov. 30, 2007, a British court ordered MEK to be removed from the British government's list of terrorist organizations. MEK was subsequently removed from the UK list and was later removed from the European list in January 2009, following a 7-year court battle. The Washington DC Circuit of the US Federal Appeals Court has also ordered the US State Department to review MEK's FTO listing.
Elizabeth Rubin's article gives the Iranian regime and the Maliki government in Iraq the excuse they need to massacre the residents of Camp Ashraf, home to 3400 unarmed and defenseless members of MEK in Iraq. The Iraqi army has conducted two separate raids on the camp in July 2009 and April 2011. In the recent deadly attack 35 residents of the camp were murdered in cold blood.

Many Iranian-Americans concerned at the listing and the legacy of appeasement of the current Iranian regime have organized to voice their opposition to the State Department’s FTO listing of the MEK. They have held numerous seminars and public events to educate the public about the facts of the case. In a large rally opposite the State Department on August 26, thousands of Iranian Americans joined former US officials to call again on Secretary Hillary Clinton to delist the MEK.

There have been strong calls by former US officials from both parties to delist MEK from the State Department's FTO listing and provide protection for Camp Ashraf in Iraq. The appeals by three joint chiefs of staff of the U.S. armed forces, a former commander of NATO, a former national security adviser to the president, a former attorney general, two former directors of the CIA, two former U.S. ambassadors to the U.N., a former Homeland Security secretary, a former White House chief of staff, a former commandant of the Marine Corps, a former policy planning director of the State Department, a former FBI director, and a director of Counterterrorism at the State Department has apparently troubled the Iranian regime forcing it to launch the recent disinformation campaign against its main opposition.

Recently, a bi-partisan panel was held in Washington D.C. on July 18, 2011. The panel was joined by General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1997-2001) and Howard Dean, former Chair, Democratic National Committee and other US former officials. The speakers expressed dismay over the administration's failure to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, and its failure to review delisting of MEK from FTO list.

General Hugh Shelton stated, "The State Department has failed to provide any, either classified or declassified, information that states why the MEK should have been placed on the list in the first place. They also last week, exceeded the 180 days that they had been given by the Court to produce evidence to substantiate their reasons why the MEK is on the list. I say, Wake up, State Department, take the MEK off the FTO list today."

Referring to the recent heightened campaign by the Iranian regime and its U.S.-based lobby to overshadow the growing consensus in the U.S. Congress and among policy and political circles on the need to immediately de-list the MEK, Governor Dean stated: "These people are not terrorists. You see in the paper the pro-Iranian lobbyist saying, well, they're a cult and they're this and they're that. Well, first of all, I don't believe that's true, but even if it were, does that justify the murder in cold blood of people who are under American protection? I think not. Let's stop the name calling and the foolishness and look at this for what it is. This is genocide, and we will not have it."

Many members of the US Congress have also joined the calls for removing MEK from FTO list and protection of Ashraf. On July 28, 2011 a bi-partisan panel was held by members of U.S. Congress and senior former public officials.

The panel, held at the U.S. House of Representatives, praised the unanimous adoption of a language to H.R. 2583 to make it the policy of the United States to "prevent the forcible relocation of Camp Ashraf residents inside Iraq and facilitate the robust presence of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq in Camp Ashraf."

The House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said, "Now, the government of Iraq knows full well what the position of the U.S. House of Representatives is as stated by our committee ... and it's time for the Obama administration to follow suit and to make sure that Ashraf residents receive the protections that they were promised, that they are entitled to. There is no time to waste."

The Florida lawmaker added, "There's no guarantee that the government of Iraq and their security forces will not repeat their past unacceptable behavior [the April 8 massacre] because they have paid no price for it in the international community. The safety of the residents of Camp Ashraf is in jeopardy. It's in jeopardy right now, right this moment. It will be in jeopardy until the international community says that this is unacceptable. This is the critical time for the U.S. to stand up and do the right thing."

Judge Ted Poe (R-Texas) who is a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee stated: "I have seen everything that they [State Department] have to offer and I am not convinced that the MEK should stay on the foreign terrorist organization list. So I introduced a resolution, along with about 80 cosponsors -- republicans and democrats -- to delist the MEK. It's time to do that because as long as the MEK is designated as an FTO it will be harder to preserve freedom for those people in Camp Ashraf. [Iraq's Prime Minister] Mr. Maliki and his government and the Iranian government both use that designation by the United States as a reason to oppress those residents,"

The fact is that the MEK listing has been a main stumbling block against democratic change in Iran. The Iranian regime has used this label to arrest demonstrators in Tehran’s streets during 2009 uprisings and has executed prisoners supporting the MEK. Ali Saremi, 63 was executed in Tehran's notorious Evin prison on December 28, 2010 for affiliation with MEK and visiting his son in camp Ashraf. Jafar Kazemi, 47 and Mohammad Ali Haj-Aghaii, 52 were hanged in Evin prison on the same basis on January 24, 2011. There are many other prisoners in Iran, whose lives are endangered by continued MEK designation as a terrorist organization.

The injustice against MEK must end; the continued listing of MEK will result in more killings in Camp Ashraf and of MEK supporters in Iran. Secretary Hillary Clinton should remove the MEK from the US Department of State's FTO list based on facts and evidence as demanded by many Iranian-Americans and prominent US dignitaries.


Joseph Omidvar is an Iranian Scholar in Middle Eastern Studies now living in exile.

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