Mitchell Reiss: United States has a special responsibility to protect the residents at Camp Ashraf, this responsibility doesn’t end on December 31st

On Saturday December 10, on the International Human Rights Day, and on the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s meeting with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Washington DC, in a call to President Obama, American and European dignitaries urged annulment of the December 31 deadline on Ashraf and the forcible relocation of its residents inside Iraq, warning of an impending massacre and human catastrophe in Ashraf.

Speakers to the meeting were: Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance; André Glucksmann, author and a member of New France Philosophers; Andrew Card, President Bush Chief of Staff (2001-2006); Bill Richardson, New Mexico Governor (2003-2011) and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Mitchell Reiss, U.S. State Department Head of Strategy Development (2003 – 2005); Alan Dershowitz, one of the most prominent advocates of individual rights and the most well-known criminal lawyer in the world; Geoffrey Robertson QC, prominent British jurist and former appeal judge at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone; Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria; Patrick Kennedy, U.S. Congressman (1995-2011); Senator Ingrid Betancourt, Columbian presidential candidate; General David Phillips, U.S. Military Police Commander (2008-2011); Jean-François Le Garrett, Mayor of Paris 1st District; Aude de Thuin, the founder of Women’s Forum for Economics; Cynthia Fleury, West contemporary philosopher.

Below is speech by Hon. Mitchell Reiss:

Gentlemen, distinguished guests, and all those in the audience and watching round the world who cherish freedom and democracy, thank you for inviting me here today, this very special day for human rights.  I’m honored to be with you and to be on the same panel with so many outstanding public servants.  As you know, this is not the first time we’ve come together to show solidarity with the residents of Camp Ashraf.  This is not the first time we’ve come together to speak out on their behalf.  This is not the first time we’ve come together to urge the Obama administration to do the right thing and delist the MEK.  But I fear that this may be one of the last times that we can come together like this because time is quickly running out.  We all know about recent developments in Washington, as the Obama administration continues to delay responding to a court order to explain why it has listed the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization or to take it off the list completely.
We know about the recent developments in Geneva, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees struggles to gain more time to interview the 3,300 residents of Camp Ashraf so they can qualify for refugee status and resettle elsewhere outside of Iraq.  We know that the UN Security Council has recently been alerted to the situation at the camp including the very real possibility of violence.  We know about the calculations in Baghdad of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who just last week referred to these residents as terrorists and insurgents, and that he repeated his intention to close the camp by the end of this year.  And we certainly know about the poor people at Camp Ashraf who wait nervously as others determine their fate.

All these things we know.  But there’s a vast difference between knowledge and action.  During the last century, countries have failed to stop looming humanitarian disasters, not because they did not have knowledge of what tragedy was about to enfold.  They had knowledge, they knew.  But instead of acting they chose to look the other way.  Why has this happened repeatedly throughout history?  A few years ago a Harvard University professor named Samantha Power wrote a powerful book that asked this question entitled A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide.  Power concluded that there were three reasons why the United States had allowed preventable massacres to take place.  First, American officials told themselves that because they did not know all the details, because they did not have perfect information, because there were two sides to every story, because of these and other rationalizations they did not need to act.  In her words they took shelter in the fog of plausible deniability.  They used the search for certainty as an excuse for paralysis and postponement.  U.S. officials took refuge in the normal operations of the foreign policy bureaucracy which permitted the illusion of continued deliberation, complex activity and intense concern.  When officials said they did not know it was because they chose not to.  Second, these massacres took place because American officials convinced themselves that there was little they could do to stop the massacres, that the United States had no influence over the calculations of those who systematically killed innocent people.  Any intervention would be futile.  And since American officials believed that there was nothing the U.S. could do, the U.S. did nothing.  Third, American leaders did not act because they simply did not have the will to do so.  In fact, they well understand that a humanitarian disaster was about to take place, but they believed that intervention would be too costly in terms of American lives and money.

Now all these excuses sound very familiar to all of us who have been involved in the issue of Camp Ashraf and the delisting of the MEK.  But the reality is that none of these excuses should apply here.  We know all the details we need to know about the murderous intentions of the Iraqi security forces.  We know that the MEK has long ago renounced terror.  We know that the defenseless residents at Camp Ashraf surrendered all their weapons and placed themselves under the protection of the United States.  We also know that the United States does have influence with the Maliki regime in Baghdad.  Despite withdrawing all of our combat forces by the end of this year, the U.S. will continue to train Iraqi troops and will continue to provide security, economic and developmental assistance to Iraq.  We have leverage to influence Iraq’s behavior if we’re willing to use it.  The threat to withhold U.S. support and funding for Baghdad would cost us nothing in terms of American lives and money.  But time is fast running out and there is no guarantee that the Obama administration will act.  Instead, the administration appears poised to repeat the tragic errors of the Clinton administration, which stood by and watched a looming humanitarian disaster unfold in all its horror.  In his memoirs, former President Bill Clinton recounts in painful detail his deep remorse at standing by and doing nothing while 800,000 people in Rwanda were slaughtered.  At one point, Clinton writes, “We were so preoccupied with Bosnia and with the memory of Somalia just six months old and with opposition in Congress to military deployments in faraway places not vital to our national interests, that neither I nor anyone on my foreign policy team, adequately focused on spending troops to stop the slaughter.  With a few thousand troops and helps from our allies we could have saved lives.  The failure to try to stop Rwanda’s tragedies became one of the greatest regrets of my presidency.”  How ironic that President Clinton’s wife is now the Secretary of State and has the power to remedy the injustice, impending catastrophe at Camp Ashraf.  No one is asking Secretary of State Clinton to send troops or to enlist the help of our European allies.  All she has to do is delist the MEK and ensure that the residents are given safe passage out of Iraq.  [applause] Will she take this decision and will she take it in the next few weeks before it’s too late?  Or in a few years’ time, will she join with her husband and express remorse at what could have been?  Will we be reading a similar passage in her memoirs about how the failure to stop the final assault on Camp Ashraf was one of her greatest regrets during her stewardship of American foreign policy?

As we all know, time is short and the need for action is urgent.  So what can we do now?  We can continue to pressure Prime minister Maliki to delay closing the camp and allow the UNHCR to do its work.  The UNHCR must be allowed to start the process of registering, identifying and interviewing the residents.  The U.S. and the European Union have ways to influence his decision making, and we know that he can be influenced.  We know that he is sensitive to negative publicity by his claiming in an article in the Washington Post this past week that he is seeking a so-called peaceful solution to Camp Ashraf.  When he comes to Washington next week President Obama must tell him to keep the camp open and allow the UNHCR to do their work. [applause]  We must also continue to publicize the vulnerability of the camp’s residents.  Silence is the enemy of their safety and their freedom.  Earlier this year the international community came together to protect the residents of Benghazi in Libya from imminent slaughter.  They decided that never again would the world stand by and watch the murder of innocent civilians when they could act and save lives and so they joined together and invoked the international community’s responsibility to protect.  If Benghazi, why not Ashraf?  The international community has a responsibility to protect the innocent residents of the camp.  It is simply not possible to stand by and do nothing.  If never again applies to the residents of Benghazi, then it applies to the residents of Camp Ashraf.  [applause] The international community cannot claim that they do not know the peril the residents of the camp face every day.  Not after the events of April 8th earlier this year that we saw so vividly on that video a few minutes ago.  It’s up to us to make sure that all of our voices continue to be heard.

Finally, the Obama administration needs to be encouraged to take a more active and aggressive role in pushing back against Iran.  We have all seen last month’s IAEA report on Iran’s ongoing nuclear ambitions, and we have read about the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a Washington D.C. restaurant a few months ago.  Dozens of American citizens would have been killed and wounded in this attack if it had been successful.  And yet the Obama administration appears intimidated by the mullahs in Tehran.  It has not invoked the crippling sanctions on Iran’s banking system that had been promised.  It reacted to the assassination plot as if this was only a minor diplomatic dustup.  They cited diplomatic protocols, invoked international norms and characterized Tehran’s plot as a violation of international law.  No doubt it was that.  But let’s call it for what it really was, a direct attack against the United States.  In other words, it was an act of war.

As we all know the United States has a special responsibility to protect the residents at Camp Ashraf.  This responsibility doesn’t end on December 31st.  It doesn’t end when the last American soldier leaves Iraq.  It ends only when all the residents of the camp are safe and secure and allowed to live their lives in peace and in dignity.  The fastest, the easiest, the best way to accomplish this goal is to delist the MEK immediately.

Thank you very much.


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