Speech by General David Phillips at a conference entitled “Middle East in Crisis: Challenges & opportunities, the Iranian Threat” held in Washington D.C. on August 30, 2014, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the massacre of 52 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) on September 1, 2013 by Iraqi forces under the command of Nouri al-Maliki:
I served on active duty in the United States Army for 31 years. The most challenging mission I was ever given in those 31 years—and I’ve served from Oman to Just Cause in Panama, to the Middle East, was what took place right through the gates at Camp Ashraf.
I was charged with providing protection for the over 3,000 men and women in Camp Ashraf. It’s also the longest mission I ever had, because it’s not complete. I’m still working this mission.
In 2004, after going through numerous interviews, there was a promise of protection given in writing to over 3,000 members of the organization.
At the end of this road here, approximately six kilometers behind the gates you make a right-hand turn and it’s another kilometer and they had a convention center. Each and every member was given a handwritten note promising them protection indefinitely. Well, when I left there in 2005 we were providing that protection.
I could have just forgotten the people of Camp Ashraf, although I’ve been through this gate over a hundred times. I could have not had anything to do with it again and just focused on my own career. But in 2005, Human Rights Watch, an organization which I quasi-respected but didn’t have much knowledge about, wrote a report about what took place behind these gates, what took place there, and I took personal offense at the challenges they laid down, stating that my soldiers did not do the job of protecting them, that the people inside were torturing, holding their own people against their will.
While I was on active duty, and those of you who served on active duty know you do not speak out publicly while in that status. I could not live with myself, I could not fulfill my mission of protecting them unless I spoke out.
I wrote a letter to the director of Human Rights Watch countering his report, letting him know there was no torture going on. And I know firsthand because I raided the individual camps at two in the morning. There were not people being held against their will because when people wanted to leave, they were dropped off at our gates with a suitcase and Iraqi dinars in their hand.
And there weren’t many of them that decided to leave, and I kind of wonder how they feel now that they did. I bet they’re really doing a lot of soul searching.
Well, in 2007, I returned to Iraq. I went back to Ashraf as General Petraeus’s police rebuilder. I was in charge of rebuilding the Iraqi police during what you know as the surge. I convinced and assured the people of Ashraf, since we were still providing them protection at this point, that I wanted to build an Iraqi police academy just to the north of the camp. Because this was the safest location in Iraq. It was safer than the Green Zone. I could run on this road at night in PT clothes, my regular gym clothes, and not have any fear. I couldn’t even do that in the Green Zone. We built that academy. I assured them that there would be no issues with it. And then when I departed in 2008, shortly thereafter, we the United States abandoned our promise and turned over the over 3,000 men and women to the Iraqis. Well, in that time frame many have died at the hands of the Iraqis and their Iranian puppeteers.
We then were asked, there was a group of about 25 of us who had served there, and those that had gotten involved from our own government, and asked to convince the leadership to abandon Camp Ashraf where they had been for many decades, and move to Camp Liberty.
Well, I have personally been to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. My soldiers, military police soldiers, guard some of the most evil individuals on the face of the earth there. And they are in far better conditions than what the people were forced to move to at Camp Liberty.
Camp Liberty is, and I challenge this and I use this term, a concentration camp. Ask to go see it, you’ll be denied the opportunity. See if anybody from Camp Liberty can leave? They’ll be shot. It is a concentration camp. And for the past several months, even though we were ensured by Daniel Freeh of the State Department that there would be frequent visits to Camp Liberty by the U.S. Embassy none have taken place. Why? Why wouldn’t they drive the few kilometers to Camp Liberty right by the Baghdad International Airport? I’ll tell you, I think it’s plausible deniability. “We had no idea that the Iraqis were running a concentration camp, we thought they were taking care of and protecting them.” Yeah, they’re protecting them all right.
I knew, lived with, ate, worked with and sweated with many of the individuals on that board right there (pointing to photos of 52 MEK members massacred on September 1, 2013). And I venture that every one of the people on that board knew me. I knew most of them personally. Hussein (Madani) in the middle there, just off to the right and down, I consider a friend because we went through many trying times of trying to work out the negotiations. Because you know, when you have 3,000 people in captivity, there’s going to be issues. We worked through those issues. And as we got ready to leave in 2008 we made a promise to each other that one day we will meet in a free Iran. We’ll take a table at a café. We’ll order two glasses of tea. And we will sit there, not have to say anything, just have the memories of what the people at Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty persevered through in bringing freedom to Iran, which will happen. Unfortunately, I’ll be buying those two glasses of tea and I’ll be sitting there, but Hussein will not be seated across from me, nor will any of the 52 you see there, because of the fact they were brutally murdered after we promised to provide them protection. I will sip on that cup of tea. I won’t have anything to say because I’ll look at that other cup as the steam comes off of it and I’ll have the memories of knowing what we promised them.
Well, I still believe in that promise, and my mission will end the day I go to a free and democratic Iran and I sit at that table and I order those two cups of chai (tea) and I sit there, remember what Hussein and all of you at Camp Liberty have persevered through. I was with you at Ashraf, I only wish I could be with you at Camp Liberty.