THE HILL(Congress Blog) – By Roger Gale, Member of U.K. Parliament
As the U.S. acts to prevent the massacre of defenseless populations in Syria and Libya, it is surprisingly silent about the Iranian regime’s attempts to perpetrate a brutal massacre at Camp Ashraf, where over 3,400 defenseless Iranian political dissidents reside.
Camp Ashraf, Iraq, is located near the Iran-Iraq border, and is home to supporters of the main Iranian opposition, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). They are unarmed civilians and designated as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Over the past two years, the Iraqi government has ordered attacks on the camp on a number of occasions, while psychologically torturing and depriving the residents of their basic needs like fuel and medicine.
When Colonel Gadhafi’s forces unleashed a wave of attacks on unarmed civilians, the US and European governments ensured the passage of a resolution at the U.N. Security Council allowing humanitarian intervention to protect civilians.
In March, President Obama rightly defended the action by saying, “I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; when someone like Gadhafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region; and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives — then it’s in our national interest to act.”
Yet, there is a major disconnect when it comes to the thousands of innocent lives at risk in Ashraf. In April, Iraqi troops, using armored vehicles, brutally attacked Camp Ashraf under the orders of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Thirty-six people, including 8 women, were murdered and hundreds more were injured.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said there is no excuse for the number of casualties, and Senator John Kerry described the incident as a “massacre” that should be investigated.
The U.S. obligation is not merely a moral one. In 2004, after sixteen months of thorough screening of every single Ashraf resident, in written statements, the US guaranteed the protection of Ashraf residents until their final disposition.
So far, over 4,000 parliamentarians around the world, including majorities of 30 parliaments, have called for urgent protection of Ashraf by U.S. and U.N. forces. At a large gathering near Paris on June 18, thousands of Iranian exiles joined by hundreds of politicians and lawmakers from around the world called for protection of Ashraf.
In June, a U.S. congressional delegation was barred from visiting Camp Ashraf by the Iraqi government, as was a European parliamentary delegation in May. The Iraqi government is clearly intent on hiding its crimes against humanity, but on Thursday Spain’s central court said it would investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.
A plan by members of the European Parliament has called for the short-term protection of the residents of Ashraf by U.S. forces and a withdrawal of hostile Iraqi forces from the camp until the residents can be relocated to third countries, in particular the E.U. member states.
President Obama needs to take an active leadership role with respect to the humanitarian crisis at Camp Ashraf. There is no excuse for inaction, especially because the residents were promised protection by the US in 2004.
The President should publicly support the European Parliament’s plan for Ashraf, convince the U.N. to establish a permanent presence there and ensure US troops will protect the U.N. team. Any plan to displace the residents of Ashraf within Iraqi territory should be firmly rejected as this would be a prelude to another massacre.
Washington ought to immediately remove the MEK from the list of terrorist organizations, in accordance with a July 2010 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling. The United Kingdom and the European Union have already done so after their courts vindicated the MEK of terrorism charges. The MEK was placed on the list in an attempt to placate Iran. Now, the terror label is being used as a shameful pretext by the Iranian regime to perpetrate inhumane crimes against the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US should not be seen as complicit.
Dozens of former US officials, among them three former chiefs of staff, two former CIA directors and a former Homeland Security Secretary, have publicly called for the MEK’s delisting. The State Department must heed their calls before it’s too late.
On July 5, a Dutch court ruled that the Dutch government had to pay retributions to families of a number of victims in Srebrenica, who were slaughtered there in 1995. According to the court’s decree, the Dutch government is responsible for the death of those men because the Dutch peacekeeping forces should not have handed them over to the Serb military in Bosnia.
The non-interference of the U.S. in Ashraf’s case is far more serious and unacceptable than the inaction of Dutch forces in the Srebrenica tragedy. Doubtless, the United States, because of its irrefutable responsibility to protect the lives of Ashraf residents, should be the first investigator and inspector, and should answer for the crimes committed by the Iraqi forces.
It’s time to act, unless we are prepared to see a Srebrenica-style massacre, this time by a tyrannical regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
Roger Gale is a member of Parliament in the United Kingdom and a former vice chairman of the Conservative Party.