By Paul E. Vallely – MG US Army (ret)
Member of the Iran Policy Committee
It is this time of the year again and the “tiny tyrant of the desert,” the Iranian regime’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is in town to get the world media interested in his denial of everybody’s rights and destruction of a country, a nation, or the main Iranian opposition.
But the world attention should not be on him, as the era for the dictators is over. Instead the world should pay attention to what the Iranian people have to say and to the suffering and ideals of a nation which has been suppressed by the ruthless Ayatollahs for over three decades.
Both the United Nations and the heads of state who travel to New York as well as our own president must focus on the plight of a population who, with unmatched passion for democracy, may be slaughtered if the world does not fulfill its responsibility. As a citizen of the world and as a General, I feel obligated to speak up.
Halfway across the world, in a dusty, besieged Iraqi outpost known as Camp Ashraf, the lives of 3400 Iranian refugees, members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), rest in America’s hands. A legitimate and highly effective democratic resistance movement, the MEK were wrongly designated as a terrorist organization during past U.S. Administrations. The Iranian regime and the government of Iraq that we helped to establish take this “terrorist” designation of the MEK as a license to kill. As a result, scores of unarmed men, women, and children are being murdered with impunity. Keeping MEK on the list is literally a green light for Iran and Iraq to massacre all of the people in Camp Ashraf.
President Obama has been strangely mum on the topic. While both the UK and the European Union have removed the MEK from terrorism lists, the American President has ignored the unfolding humanitarian crisis. He may be correct to think that this problem is something he inherited from previous administrations and is not his doing. He maysubscribe to the view of past administrations and not wish to “provoke” the tyrannical regime in Tehran by de-listing their mortal foes in the MEK. But President Obama can no longer avoid the legal responsibility the US bears for protecting these people.
As Iran’s main opposition group, the MEK has been based in Iraq since the 1980’s. After the MEK surrendered their weapons and renounced violence following the 2001 invasion of Iraq and took refuge in Camp Ashraf, they were deemed “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention and were to be shielded by the U.S. military.
With this bond of trust, the residents of Camp Ashraf became dedicated partners of the US who provide critical intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and promote a popularly-supported representative republic in Iran. Indeed, the MEK ardently support democracy, freedom, gender and ethnic equality and human rights. Despite these commitments and the promise of protection by America, they die at the hands of pro-Iranian death squads.
The MEK does not meet and has never met the statutory criteria for being designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in the US. A nonviolent, disarmed group cannot as a matter of law be an FTO (the use of violence is the fundamental criterion for such a designation).
A federal appeals court in July 2010 ordered the department to reconsider its position. However, no decision has been made or even signaled by the Obama administration, and with each passing day, the danger increases.
On April 8, 36 innocent civilians lost their lives in a massacre at the hands of the Iraqi Army, which is now receiving materiel and financial support from Iran.
So, will President Obama uphold the law and direct the US State Department to avert the impending humanitarian crisis?
From a legal and humanitarian standpoint, delisting the MEK should seem a cut and dried case. However, there is an intensive disinformation campaign underway in Washington that supports Tehran’s position of marginalizing and ultimately destroying the MEK. The MEK has in recent weeks been branded a “cult”, a group with no basis of support in Iran, and more. These charges have no basis in reality, and even if they had, they would not constitute grounds for the FTO designation.
President Obama has an opportunity to be on the right side of the law and on the right side of history. Let us hope this opportunity is not squandered.
MG Vallely – Chairman Stand Up America US and Founding Member of the Iran Policy Committee.