WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2012 – Former US Officials Urge Formation of Commission of Inquiry About Conditions at Camp Liberty, Iraq, Where Hundreds of Iranian Dissidents Have Relocated.
Governor Tom RIDGE: Thank you very much for that kind introduction. Thank you for your very warm reception. I couldn’t help but think, as I think all of us have from time to time when we have assembled in your midst with your support, your strong advocacy, frankly we wouldn’t be here and with limited progress we have made in the past year and a half or two would never have occurred without your sustained, loud, sustained, consistent support of your friends and relatives and those who aspire to be free at Camp Ashraf and the MEK. We should be applauding you.
We’re not here without your support. Thank you for what you’ve done for those 3,400. You’re doing far more than any of us can do individually or collectively.
We’re very proud to be in your company.
This is very serious moments and a very serious subject. But I do think a little humor along the way is important. I never want to lose that part of humanity. As a young man I was proud to be a lawyer. Still not sure anybody would hire me. I’m still active. Professor Dershowitz, I still get my 12 hours of CE every year. I’m proud to be your client. There is no stronger public or well-recogzined committed advocate in the legal community for human rights as Alan Dershowitz. I’m honored to be your client.
I told my friend, Rudy Giuliani, I’m not running for president but if I was and got elected I might create a new cabinet position called secretary offense. He could do it.
I always enjoy being in the company of Mayor Daley, a great friend of mine, someone I’ve admired greatly for a lot of reforms he brought. But his message is one that hopefully resounded among you and you’ll take back home to those would believe as you do.
All politics is local, but if you want to get the Federal Government to move you might start at the local level. Start with your congressman and senators and everybody else. It’s a great pleasure to be in his company.
My friend Howard Dean, he and I did a couple television programs a couple weeks ago on this very issue. It was quite interesting. Technically we were supposed to talk about — we were in different rooms, the same monitor, we were supposed to be talking about Iran but in a entirely different context. And within 30 seconds, he was the first one, he turned it into, let’s talk about the MEK and then we spent the rest of the interview talking about the MEK. (Applause.)
I’d like to say some kind and wonderful things about the speakers that are going to come after me, but that means they have to put me on the speaker list last next time, so, Tom —
It’s a great honor to be with these gentlemen as well. There’s a lot of history here and we don’t have to spend a great deal of time going over it. It’s been revisited by several speakers. But I think it’s important for us and we all understand it.
The MEK surrendered their ability to defend themselves to us in response to our request at the request of the Iraqi government they surrendered their weapons to us. The exchange was a commitment from us to provide for their safety and security.
We changed our status in Iraq. Iraq became responsible. They promised to protect and defend the residents of Ashraf and to provide for safety and security.
We were on notice in ’09 that credibility is not their strong suit. We were reminded again horribly with the horrific incident in 2011 that their word is not reliable. So we find ourselves having made a commitment, having withdrawn our forces, trying to deal with a government under the enormous influence of the Iranian Mullahs to do what we believe needs to be done.
Everybody on this panel is joined to the cause for many, many reasons. But I dare say and I don’t speak for any of them but I do speak for myself, I have an instinct that tells me one of the issues that ties us all together, notwithstanding the dramatic military issue and crisis that has ensued in ’09 and ’11 and will ensue if we don’t do something immediately and effectively is the fact that we gave our word.
I’ve often said America has a brand. If America was a product, how would we try to promote ourselves when we go around the world and talk about the unique American experience. But the unique American experience does involve a system of self-government, a system of separation of balance of powers, a rule of law, commitment to humans. With the whole Guantanamo incident, in my judgment in talking with a lot of military leaders and political leaders around the world the issue at Guantanamo, it was not the incarceration, it was not the location that was problematic for America in terms of promoting our interest, it was the lack of adjudication, the lack of due process, the inability of America after 200 years with a written document called the Constitution that celebrated separation of powers, a judicial system, it was unimaginable that the United States of America — and again, immediately we didn’t know what to do with these individuals. You pick them up off the battlefield and put them someplace. It was unimaginable they would be there permanently or indefinitely without some due process. That’s part of the American brand.
That’s why many of us on this panel are very proud to be represented in the amicus brief so well stated by Professor Dershowitz. It is about due process and that’s one of the seminal issues that ties us all together. We are who we say we are, but we have to be consistent with those values and today it appears we’re running away from them rather than embracing them. If we embraced them, MEK would have been de-listed years ago or more importantly would have never been on the list because it’s not to be used for political purposes. There’s a specific adjudication and specific reasons you belong on the list.
In 2012 there is no reason, no justification under any of the guidelines under the law that this group deserves to be treated as a terrorist organization. My God, the Taliban is not on it.
My experience is limited but it’s relative. From October 8th of 2001 until the day I walked out as Secretary of Homeland Security, I used to get a threat matrix every day. I used to look at it. It’s one of the things I do. I mean, I miss not knowing. Not that what I knew we would want to talk about but it wasn’t happy circumstances but I miss not knowing.
Every day I got a list of terrorists threats against the United States. I must tell, I don’t recall ever seeing a reference to the MEK as an organization or a terrorist who allegedly belonged to MEK threatening the United States, its citizens, or its interest. I never saw it, any single day I served either in the White House. They do not belong on the list. They’re not a terrorist organization. Take them off the list.
Couple final thoughts if I might. Second issue at stake here is credibility. And there are a lot of credibility — couple issues here and personalities and institutions I’m very concerned about.
I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of being in the company of Mrs. Rajavi on many, many occasions. I’ve been in the company of parents, of sons and daughters who have shown me pictures of those who have been killed by the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad. Those that have been in the Camp Ashraf, with a real personal connection. But I know how painfully difficult it was, I can only believe for Mrs. Rajavi and the leadership of the MEK to convince their colleagues and their friends and their relatives to go to Camp Liberty.
So while we worry about the credibility of the U.N. and the United States, one of the greatest concerns I have is that Mrs. Rajavi relied on representations by others she wanted to believe in. And they breached faith with her. They gave her one set of photographs or they gave the leadership one set of photographs and they realized they were taken at another day and another time by another photographer. They made representations about the conditions at Camp Ashraf.
I would simply hope to the extent that you have an ability to influence and talk to those and interact with those at Camp Ashraf and around the world, the support of the MEK, that they understand that many of us here are aware of the representations made to Mrs. Rajavi as well and we believed them, too.
And they turned out to be false. A hoax. A cruel hoax. I was talking to the leadership the other day. They need about 120,000 liters of water a day for 400 people there; they got a quarter of that. Electricity on sometimes, off sometimes. People haven’t showered in a week.
You think of that in terms of the second organization whose credibility is at stake and that’s where US High Commission for Refugees founded in 1950.
It twice winners for the Nobel Peace prize for the work they’d done globally. It’s an extraordinary organization. But our appeal has to go out to them and the secretary general and the Tony Guterres. Representations were made that were wrong, and we’re not about to spend a lot of time accusing people. Though somebody has to figure out why they were made and perhaps Professor Dershowitz is correct.
Why did you say what you said when you knew it was wrong? But having said that, our appeal to them today, fix it. Take care of it now.
You know who would be willing to do it for you, the residents of Camp Ashraf. Now, you made the decision to leave Camp Ashraf and for the Good Lord, I have no idea why. But if you’re going to have them at Camp Liberty, look what they built the Camp Liberty. They can take care of themselves if you give them the tools to do it down there. Get out of their way, they’ll fix it. (Applause.)
Finally, you just can’t pick up a newspaper, turn on a talk show or radio show and not talk about America’s relationship with the Middle East and what’s going on in the Middle East I remember talking to a political leader in the Middle East many years ago. There are three real problems in this part of the world. I said what are they, sir? He said, Iran, Iran and Iran. Absolutely correct.
Isn’t it fascinating to you that you’ve got Iran on one side and you’ve got Syria on the other. That’s a nexus there. They’re a surrogate. And in spite of all the public support we seem to be waning about the Arab spring. Very little — no condemnation of Iran in ’09, no condemnation of ’11, fascinating.
And we’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do.
I mean, we got a lot of the U.N. together because we were afraid what was going to happen in Benghazi, yet there’s 6,000 Syrians been killed and we’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do.
At the end of the day you say, are we in this United States so concerned about our relationship with Iran that we don’t send, in my judgment, the strongest signal. We’re going to debate and talk about a nuclear strike. Everybody is worried whether Israel is gonna do it or we’re going to help Israel do it.
By the way, the U.N. has had four series of sanctions. We have had the MEK on the list since ’97 or ’99 because we thought we could negotiate, talk to them. How has that worked out? Long time ago, we said, put up a naval blockade, keep the oil out of Iran. They got a lot of nature resources but if you put the economy down if we can keep refined oil. We haven’t even bothered trying that. So we have been talking to them and negotiating and hoping against hope. Some of the previous speakers have talked about it.
This is Iran. Look at the history. They’re responsible for killing American soldiers, by the way, in Afghanistan and Iraq. They’re responsible for the assassination of President Hariri in Lebanon, by the way whose wife once told me, in our part of the world you’d be better respected than liked. I don’t want to be liked by the Iranian government; I want to be loved by the Iranian people. (Applause.)
MR. RIDGE: So we’re going to try to figure out if sanctions will work, negotiations will work. We’re going to be talking to the Israelis about doing this and that. A lot of things in the air I’ll give you one positive, concrete thing that this government can do, Secretary Clinton, President Obama, everybody associated. One, immediate. Clarion call, signal. U.S., we stand by our word. We stand by our conviction for humanitarian. We stand by the people. We promise to provide for their safety and security. Mullahs, Ahmadinejad, we’re going to de-list the MEK. Deal with it.