Targeting the victim instead of the henchman and setting the stage for a fourth massacre
U.S. obligations for safety and security of the residents of Ashraf and Liberty
“U.S. plans to move Iranian exile group out of Iraq hit snag” (The Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2013), is not only a classic example of biased, unprofessional and yellow journalism, but also an astonishing mix of extraordinary lies, which wittingly or unwittingly sets the stage for a fourth massacre of the very same “Iranian exile group”.
Contrary to the author’s assertion, the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI-US) was never contacted about the story and attempts by the NCRI-US office to contact the author were left unanswered. To set the record straight, the following observations are in order:
1. The article refers to the “State Department’s decade-long effort to find a new home” for the main Iranian opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and European governments acknowledged that the U.S. State Department’s unjust terrorist tag against the MEK, which was revoked last September after 15 years, served as the greatest obstacle for the resettlement of the residents. The reference to a bogus decade-long effort conveniently glosses over the fact that not even a single resident in Camp Liberty already with refugee status in the U.S., including 66 individuals interviewed separately by the departments of State and Homeland Security, has been allowed to return to the United States.
2. In 2003, in a quid pro quo with the Iranian regime, the United States bombed MEK bases in Iraq even though the group was neither a party to nor had fired a single bullet in the course of the Iraq war. The air strikes killed dozens and wounded scores more (The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2003; The Washington Post, April 18, 2003). In the aftermath of the war, after a 16-month investigation into the backgrounds of all residents of Camp Ashraf, the United States recognized the residents as non-combatants and “protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention” in July 2004 and gave a written commitment to protect them “until their final disposition” in return for their disarmament.
3. In early 2009, despite international warnings, including those by the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNHCR, and while fully cognizant of the Iraqi government’s allegiance to the Iranian regime, the U.S. nonetheless violated international law by transferring the responsibility to protect the residents to Iraq. As a result of this illegal transfer, 50 residents were killed and more than 1,000 injured in two massacres in Ashraf in July 2009 and April 2011. Both attacks by the Iraqi army occurred under the watchful eyes of U.S. forces and while then-U.S. Secretary of Defense was visiting Iraq.
4. The MEK’s leadership never signed “an agreement with the U.N. and Iraq last year to abandon … Camp Ashraf.” The December 25, 2011 Memorandum of Understanding was signed without even the knowledge or consent of the residents between Martin Kobler, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Iraq, and Iraq’s National Security Advisor. Kobler sent the residents to Camp Liberty by concocting three bold-faced lies, promising speedy resettlement, safety and security, and international humanitarian standards at the camp. In two opinions the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has described Camp Liberty as a prison. That said, the relocation did not begin in September 2012 as the writer claims, but seven months earlier in February 2012.
5. The assertion by the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Beth Jones that the MEK leadership “was not cooperating in the departures, despite the risks to the members’ lives in Iraq,” turns truth on its head and targets the victim instead of the henchman. It blatantly contradicts Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony at hearings at the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on April 17 and at the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Other Matters of the Appropriations Committee on April 18, where he told lawmakers, “We have contacted countless countries [to resettle the residents]; we have been refused by countless countries.” The residents of Liberty, their representatives and the NCRI office in Paris, have sent dozens of letters to the UN Secretary General and the U.S. Secretary of State, demanding the immediate transfer of all the residents to the U.S. or Europe, even on a temporary basis, adding that they will shoulder all necessary resettlement costs themselves. From February 17, 2012, when the relocation to Liberty began, until May 15, 2013 (some 15 months), only eight were relocated to third countries, while eight other residents were killed in a rocket attack on February 9 and six more died due to lack of medical treatment. The medical siege had previously taken eight other lives in Ashraf.
6. In a bid to escape accountability over the transfer of the residents to Liberty prison and a lack of security there, as well as the failure of the resettlement project, and his brazen bias and support for the Iraqi government, which has also drawn extensive rebuke from the Iraqi people, Kobler continues to fabricate false and criminal assertions against the residents. It is unfortunate that the U.S. State Department has rehashed these lies and the author has weighed in by exaggerating them. Following the rocket attack on Liberty, the resettlement process was not making headway due to a lack of minimum security requirements, prompting the introduction of House resolution 89, which called for the residents’ return to Ashraf for better protection until their resettlement outside Iraq. This resolution enjoys bipartisan support of nearly 100 Members of Congress.
7. In early April 2012, the Iranian Resistance initiated negotiations with the Albanian government to accept all or a significant number of the residents. The U.S. and UNHCR joined this effort. In November 2012, the government of Albania agreed to the resettlement of 210 residents. But, Kobler’s ill-timed announcement of the agreement for propaganda purposes triggered an immediate reaction from the clerical regime in Iran, which effectively wiped out prospects of resettlement for a greater number of residents in Albania.
8. The representatives of the residents have sent three separate lists to the UN and the State Department (March 21, April 12, and May 17, 2013 respectively), providing the names of 240 residents for resettlement in Albania. They have also made a written commitment to accept any and all costs pertaining to the residents’ transfer to that country. At the Senate hearing on April 18, Secretary Kerry had underscored, “170 [residents] have agreed to go to Albania.” In addition, on April 19, a list of 100 residents with German refugee documents was formally presented to the UNHCR for resettlement in Germany. Following the rocket attack, the residents correctly emphasize that the main issue is their collective security. That is why they oppose piecemeal resettlement solutions and are demanding the immediate resettlement of all the residents together. They ask: how can we leave and save our own lives while our friends and relatives stay behind and remain at the mercy of bombings, and missile and mortar attacks? Nevertheless, through an intense effort, the Camp’s leadership and the residents’ representatives in Paris managed to convince the 340 aforementioned residents to resettle. To date, however, with the exception of the 14 residents transferred to Albania on May 15, no one else has been resettled.
9. The 100 residents at Camp Ashraf have remained there without a time limit and based on a quadrilateral agreement (involving the State Department, the UN, the Iraqi government and the residents) with the aim of watching over the residents’ moveable and immoveable assets worth more than 500 million dollars. Based on this agreement and in accordance with its August 29 statement, the State Department supports the safety and security of the residents in Liberty. On October 3, 2012, Agence France Presse quoted Ambassador Daniel Fried, Secretary Hillary Clinton’s special advisor on Ashraf, as saying, “Some 200 members of the group had been authorized by the Iraqis to remain in Camp Ashraf until the end of last month to sell off vehicles and property but that 100 were due to leave shortly… Asked whether there was a deadline for the last group of 100 to leave, he said there was ‘no time limit.'”
10. Characterizing the MEK as “Marxist-Islamist” or a “cult” is merely the parroting of the oft-repeated propaganda disseminated by the Iranian regime’s intelligence services. A December 2012 report prepared by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress for the Pentagon stated that the Iranian regime “considers the Mojahedin-e-Khalq to be the organization that most threatens the Islamic Republic of Iran,” adding that one of the main responsibilities of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence “is to conduct covert operations against the Mojahedin-e-Khalq and to identify and eliminate its members.” The report goes on to say that the regime’s spy agency recruits people claiming to be former MEK members and “uses them to launch a disinformation campaign” against the MEK. On July 5, 2010, the Canadian daily Toronto Sun quoted John Thompson, head of the Mackenzie Institute, a security minded think-tank, as saying, “he was offered $80,000 by a man tied to Iran’s mission in Canada. ‘They wanted me to publish a piece on the Mujahedin-e Khalq,’ he said. ‘Iran is trying to get other countries to label it as a terrorist cult.'”
Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran
May 25, 2013