Howard Dean: I want to say thanks to the leadership of this organization which has worked so incredibly hard to save 3400 unarmed people in Ashraf

A number of former senior military, political, and diplomatic officials from the past three US administrations appeared to speak at a symposium in Washington on Saturday, July 16, entitled, “Middle East, Iran Spring: Obstacles, Opportunities and U.S. Policy.” The event took place on the first anniversary of a decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on July 16, 2010, which ruled that the State Department had violated the due process rights of the principal Iranian opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) by placing it on the terrorist organizations list.

The court remanded the case back to the State Department and ordered it to re-evaluate the decision. Recently, the State Department exceeded a 180 day statute-mandated deadline to justify its decision by providing sufficient evidence. The speakers at Saturday’s conference emphasized the imperative of delisting the MEK immediately and underscored the U.S. responsibility to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf, Iraq.

Below is an excerpt of the speech by Governor Howard Dean, Former Presidential Candidate and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (2005-2009):

Mitch, thank you very much. And, General Shelton, thank you.

I just do want to say two thanks before I start: the first is to the leadership of this organization which has worked so incredibly hard to save 3400 unarmed people in Ashraf and to stand up for what’s right in their own country.

So I want to thank all of you who have put all these together. I don’t know what number this is, the one that I’ve done, but when this happens — and we will free the people of Ashraf, and we will free Iran from the tyranny of the mullahs — when this happens  — when this happens, you will thank us, but we will thank you, because this never happens without the people — the United States cannot stand up for people who won’t stand up for themselves. And you have stood up for yourselves, and we intend to support you in doing that.

Secondly, it’s an incredible honor to be on the platform with so many distinguished American military leaders. And I actually don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but I’m going to. My brother was a — classified as a POW/MIA in Vietnam. He was a civilian, and he was captured in Laos by the Pathet Lao and ultimately executed in December of 1974.

And since I have three Generals here, I want to thank them for the Joint Task Force full accounting, because nearly 30 years later, we recovered his remains because of this extraordinary group of young people. So I want to thank you not just for standing here today, but for what the American military has done not just in the field, which you’re adequately praised for all over the place, but what you do behind the scenes for the families.

Mitchell said when we started that there had been some progress, and there has been progress and there’s also been setbacks.

The biggest setback since the massacre on April 8th has been the clock, because the clock continues to tick. And as of January 1st, it looks like our troops will be out of Iraq, and we cannot trust the word of Prime Minister Maliki. We cannot trust the Iraqis to keep their word in terms of the promises that they made to the people of Ashraf and to the United States of America.

And I deeply regret that the American people have lost over 5,000 brave troops and many, many more than that severely injured only to see in power a puppet of one of the most dangerous regimes on the face of the Earth, which is the Iranian Government.

We can do better than this. And if for no other reason than to preserve the memory of our troops that sacrificed their lives, Maliki owes us at least the dignity of allowing us to be the brave, free country that we are and save the people of Camp Ashraf from destruction at the hands of his regime.

We did not die — we do not want to have our folks die in vain. We will not put up with what Prime Minister Maliki is representing in the Government of Iraq.

I was delighted to see the Spanish judge announce that he was going to investigate Prime Minister Maliki as soon as he stepped down, which, of course, now, he may never do. Because the Spanish courts don’t have the ability to investigate people who are in office, but they do have the ability to investigate people who leave office.

And the Spanish judge is now investigating — announced that he will investigate Prime Minister Maliki as a war criminal.

I was delighted to see that Wes Clark has said and then was quoted in the testimony before the Rohrabacher Subcommittee that he knows a war crime when he sees it, and what happened at Camp Ashraf was a war crime.

But what looms in front of us is a far bigger war crime, and that is the massacre of the remainder of the 3400 residents. And it is very clear there can be no assurance by the Iraqi Government that would have the credibility that we could rely on or that the people of Ashraf could rely on.

What are the reasons for keeping the MEK on the terrorist list?

In 2006, when we disarmed the members of the MEK in Ashraf, we gave a signed — our commander on the ground gave a signed piece of paper to every single resident of — of Ashraf saying that the United States would protect them. We did not say we will protect you until the Iraqis will take over, we will protect you until Maliki takes over or if he changes his mind, then we — we reserve the right — we said that we would protect them.

That is the word of the United States of America.

At that time, when we took over Ashraf and disarmed the residents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation — and we have one of the most distinguished leaders of that agency with us today — according to Colonel Morse, interviewed every single person in Ashraf — at Ashraf, including interrogating some of them.

Not one person that they interviewed out of the 3400 was fined — found to be a terrorist.

So now we have a group of people who are under siege by supposedly our ally, who have been found by the Federal Bureau of Investigation not to be terrorists, who have been promised the protection of the greatest nation on the face of the earth, and 35 of them were massacred in cold blood a few months ago. And the threat now is to get the other 3365 at a later time.

These people are not terrorists. This is not a rhetorical game. 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.

The president of the Iraqi Parliament recently visited with Struan Stevenson, who chairs the European Parliament Committee on Iraq. The President of the Iraqi Parliament, the President of the Iraqi Parliament, in his delegation, said that it was an extraordinarily foolish idea to move the people from Ashraf to another location inside Iraq.

If the President of Iraqi Parliament believes that it is a foolish idea to move the people from Ashraf to another location inside Iraq because they won’t be adequately protected, then why is it the policy of the United States to move people from Ashraf to another location inside Iraq?

The American proposal is harming the chances of getting these unarmed civilians out of Iraq alive.

Because the Europeans are now interested in a process where folks from Ashraf could go back — as you know, many of the people in Ashraf grew up in European countries, sometimes, at some point, were citizens, and not only European countries, but American — of America.

Many were educated in the West. In fact, at least there’s one person and maybe more who actually worked for the Department of Defense in the United States of America who has been in Ashraf for some years.

So one of the plans that the Europeans have is that we could relocate the 3400 members of Ashraf, to save their lives, to the West.

Every time the United States Ambassador says anything about relocating them in Iraq, it makes it easier for those who don’t want to relocate folks into Europe to say no.

This is a bad policy that we have, and there is no logical basis for the policy of the United States of America right now. And it has to change.

Now, there are some very smart people here who know a lot about intelligence, a lot more than I do. I’m going to let them talk about it.

But I — I want to close by saying a little bit about why I’m in this. You know, there are — as General Mukasey said at another meeting, there’s about the widest diversity of people on this group, politically speaking, as any group that I’ve certainly ever worked with.

It’s actually been a pleasure for me to actually get to know Republicans as people. I had a job which was trying to get rid of as many people as I could — get them out of office. We’re not talking about the Iraqi way of doing it.

so it’s been a great opportunity for me to get to reach across the aisle and get to know people and respect them, even though, of course, my job was to get them out of office as soon as I could for four years.

I think the thing that brings us together is that we believe in America. Many of the people in this room are Iranian-Americans. And you have very deep feelings about Iran, as you should, as many Irish-Americans have feelings about Ireland, and Jews have feelings about Israel, and so forth and so on.

But as — I’m doing this because I’m an American. I’m doing this because we do live, I think, in the greatest country in the world. What makes — I don’t believe an American is a better person than an Iranian or an African or a Hispanic or from South America or any — I don’t believe — but I do believe the founding documents in the United States makes us an exceptional country in this way: If you look at the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, all those years ago, we established ourselves as not only a nation of laws, but a nation of hope, that we hope for something better for ourselves than what we had left; that we had a more positive view of human beings than what was currently available in the world of the late 1770s; and that we would stand not just for individual freedoms, but for hope, for opportunity and, most importantly, which is frequently forgotten today, individual responsibilities to each other to recognize the extraordinary human potential that was available. That’s the greatness of America.

This is a moment to decide whether we are not — we are the — whether we are or are not still a great nation.

We are in this for the people of Ashraf not because we want to overthrow the Iranian Government, although that would be a very good idea; we are in this for the people of Ashraf because, as General Shelton said, we gave our word. We stand up for those who are trying to stand up for themselves but don’t have the means to do this.

We risk being the Dutch at Srebrenica instead of being the Americans in the Balkans. We cannot give up our legacy of standing for a free people who are willing to stand for themselves, especially for those who do not have the ability right now to stand for themselves.

We have to do this not for the people of Ashraf, not for the Iranian community; we have to do this so that the United States of America remains a great country dedicated to freedom, opportunity and personal responsibility.

Thank you very much.

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