› The MEK And 1979 Comparisons | Ali Gharib
The Republican ticket has taken to comparing the current crisis—or series of mini-crises, really—to the Iran’s Islamic Revolution. “I mean, turn on the TV and it reminds me of 1979 in Tehran,” Paul Ryan said recently on the stump. “They’re burning our flags in capitals all around the world. They’re storming our embassies.” While comparisons are obvious, Ryan’s use of the discomfiting capital-T “they” got me thinking: who exactly were “they”? In just one of the subtle differences, the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran had the very direct and immediate endorsement of the party rising to power: Ayatollah Khomeini. But other players were involved, too, and one of them just popped into the headlines again recently.
The Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the exile opposition group that just came off the official U.S. terrorist list, fought—with guns and bombs—at the vanguard of the revolution against the Shah. That included involvement in taking American hostages. In it’s report on foreign terror organizations, the State Department alleges that the MEK “supported the takeover in 1979 of the US Embassy in Tehran.” As with just about any criticism, historical or not, the MEK denies having anything to do with the takeover (the group broke with the clerics atop the Islamic Revolution soon thereafter). But attacking embassies was kind of the MEK’s thing: they launched coordinated attacks against Islamic Republic embassies in 13 countries in 1992.
Massoud Radjavi and his wife Maryam, leaders of the Iranian opposition movement the People’s Mujahedeen (MEK), review militants celebrating their wedding 19 June 1985. (Dominique Faget / AFP / Getty Images)
That’s not, however, where this particular 1979 comparison ends. For that we need to examine the roots of the embassy takeover and what drove the MEK (which held Marxist-inspired anti-imperial views), students and clerics leading the revolt to take the U.S. embassy in the first place. The spark was U.S. acceptance of the then-recently-deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi onto American soil. The revolutionaries, in their somewhat paranoid Iranian way, thought the U.S. was on the verge of using the embassy as a staging ground to launch another counter-coup to re-instate the Shah (not unjustified: it happened in 1953). It never occurred to Jimmy Carter, who was only letting the Shah in for medical care, just how badly the Iranians would react. Sound familiar?
By taking the MEK off the list, the U.S. opened the door to overt MEK activities in the U.S. That certainly means (even more) robust interactions with Congress and, I think, probably funding or some other deeper ties. While the Iranians, obviously, aren’t about to seize the U.S. embassy in Tehran (since there isn’t one), just how this plays out Iran might yet surprise—and dissapoint. We can already expect the regime to use alleged or real MEK-U.S. ties to justify their crackdown on opposition, rights and democracy activists.
“The White House believes this is just another twist of the noose on the sanctions/diplomatic track, a way to get the MEK out of Iraq and settled and off our hands… and all-in-all a nice tidy decision,” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Ret.) a longtime aide to General and later Secretary of State Colin Powell, said in an e-mail. He recalled David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger’s push to convince Zbigniew Brzezinski and Carter that allowing the Shah in was harmless, and compared that to the MEK decision. ‘We thought the same way with the Shah’s admission; only the Iranians felt very, very differently about it. More sadly, today the situation we are exacerbating with our dull stupidity, is far more serious.”
What’s more serious than a year-plus long hostage crisis, and more than three decades of a cold war against the Islamic Republic of Iran with its requisite flare-ups?
Well: open war against Iran and the regional conflagration that could follow.
› The Hypocrisy and Looming Danger of De-Listing MEK
The Obama administration’s decision to remove the Iranian cult Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from the State Department’s list of officially designated terrorist groups was a long time coming. But no single act by the administration so crystalizes the hypocrisy and recklessness of US postures towards Iran.
The MEK has a long history of terrorist activity going back to the 1970s and has the goal of overthrowing the Iranian government. Because of this goal, there has been a big money push by many influential people in Washington to get the group de-listed, presumably to make it eligible for US funding to act against the Iranian regime.
Please ignore the fact that these political elites that received payments from the MEK in order to advocate on their behalf appear to be in violation of laws prohibiting material support for “terrorists.” Also ignore the fact that George W. Bush included Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorists like MEK in his propaganda justifying the invasion of Iraq in 2003. “Iraq shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization,” reads a document in the archives of the White House’s website, “which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several US military personnel and US civilians.” As recently as 2007, a State Department report warned that the MEK, retains “the capacity and will” to attack “Europe, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, and beyond.”
As Glenn Greenwald pointed out yesterday, whether the MEK is still an officially designated “terrorist” group has exactly zero to do with whether or not they carry out terrorism:
The history of the US list of designated terrorist organizations, and its close cousin list of state sponsors of terrorism, is simple: a country or group goes on the list when they use violence to impede US interests, and they are then taken off the list when they start to use exactly the same violence to advance US interests. The terrorist list is not a list of terrorists; it’s a list of states and groups which use their power to defy US dictates rather than adhere to them.
This was also exemplified earlier this month when the Obama administration decided to officially designate the Haqqani network a terrorist organization. The Haqqanis are a branch of the Taliban that launches attacks on occupying forces in Afghanistan. The Reagan administration funneled money and weapons to Islamic fighters in Afghanistan against the Soviets in 1980s. Back then, the Haqqani network were freedom fighters. Now the US says they’re officially terrorists.
And as Greenwald explains, “Saddam was put on it when he allied with the Soviets in the early 1980s, then was taken off when the US wanted to arm and fund him against Iran in the mid-1980s, then he was put back on in the early 1990s when the US wanted to attack him.”
Aside from the clear-as-day hypocrisy of this list, the decision to de-list MEK will have deleterious effects for US policy towards Iran. The Obama administration has stubbornly refused to reciprocate to Iranian concessions in the international negotiations over their nuclear program and has imposed harsh economic sanctions. The two things the administration had going for it was the fact that it was pretty clear to the world that they were blocking an immediate Israeli strike and also that negotiations are continuing, probably in an attempt to deal with it more freely after the US presidential elections. But now that the US has de-listed MEK and opened up the potential for more direct support of the group, which argues for the overthrow of the Iranian regime, how can the administration claim its policy is one of engagement and negotiations as opposed to subversion and aggression?
The US government did not even pretend that terrorism had anything to do with its decision as to whether MEK should be de-listed. Instead, they used the carrot of de-listing, and the threat of remaining on the list, to pressure MEK leaders to adhere to US demands to abandon their camp in Iraq. But what does adhering to this US demand have to do with terrorism? Nothing. This list has nothing to do with terrorism. It is simply a way the US rewards those who comply with its dictates and punishes those who refuse. Terrorism, at least in its applied sense, means little other than: violence used by enemies of the US and its allies. Violence used by the US and its allies (including stateless groups) can never be terrorism, no matter how heinous and criminal.
Glenn Greenwald, Five lessons from the de-listing of MEK as a terrorist group
› More Posturing on Iran | Paul Pillar
Two actions at the end of last week, involving two different branches of the U.S. government, continued a pattern of unthinking support for anything that gets perceived as opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
One such action was passage by the U.S. Senate in the middle of the night of a resolution that declares that the United States and other countries have a “vital interest” in working “to prevent the Government of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.” The resolution “rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.” Never mind that this resolution buys into Benjamin Netanyahu’s “red line” game of talking about “nuclear weapons capability,” which by some measures Iran already has now, rather than possession of a nuclear weapon, which Tehran consistently disavows. The most disturbing thing about the resolution is its categorical rejection—in the wee hours of the morning, no less, as Congress was rushing into its pre-election recess—of an entire category of policy options with no consideration whatsoever of the alternatives or any weighing of advantages and disadvantages in comparison with the alternatives. All we get to accompany the rejection is a string of “whereas” clauses that repeat a familiar litany of things people don’t like about Iran.
Evidently some members who might otherwise have had reservations about this resolution were reassured by a clause stating that “nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war.” The resolution passed 90-1, with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) casting the only vote against. But if the P5+1 continue refusing to offer any significant sanctions relief in return for major restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities and as a result the negotiations with Tehran go nowhere, we will inevitably hear voices loudly proclaiming that military force is the only way to abide by the policy objectives that this resolution declares.
Congressional statements such as this midnight resolution have a parallel from prior to the Iraq War: the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Although most of the members who voted for that legislation and the president (Bill Clinton) who signed it may have had no intention of facilitating a war, it became a benchmark that promoters of the war repeatedly referred to as a bipartisan statement that regime change in Iraq was the policy of the United States.
The other piece of anti-Iran posturing last week was the decision by the Obama administration to remove the Iranian cult-cum-terrorist group, the Mujahedin e-Khalq or MEK, from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. Adding groups to that list or removing groups from it is supposed to be a dull process of administrative and legal review, and usually it is. But the MEK’s case became the subject of an lavishly funded public relations campaign, unlike anything seen with any other group in the fifteen-year history of the list. Prominent figures, including well-known Democrats as well as Republicans, reportedly received five-figure fees to speak on behalf of delisting the group. Many members of Congress and others, even if they did not prostitute themselves through such arrangements, naively believed that anything or anyone opposed to the Iranian regime must be worth supporting.
No good will come out of this subversion of the terrorist group list with regard to conditions in Iran, the behavior or standing of the Iranian regime, the values with which the United States is associated, or anything else. The regime in Tehran will tacitly welcome this move (while publicly denouncing it) because it helps to discredit the political opposition in Iran—a fact not lost on members of the Green Movement, who want nothing to do with the MEK. The MEK certainly is not a credible vehicle for regime change in Iran because it has almost no public support there. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime will read the move as another indication that the United States intends only to use subversion and violence against it rather than reaching any deals with it.
Although the list of foreign terrorist organizations unfortunately has come to be regarded as a kind of general-purpose way of bestowing condemnation or acceptance on a group, we should remember that delisting changes nothing about the character of the MEK. It is still a cult. It still has near-zero popular support in Iran. It still has a despicably violent history. As for more recent chapters of that history, given how public the delisting issue became with the MEK, it probably would have been appropriate for the Department of State to address publicly the press reports, sourced to U.S. officials, that the MEK has collaborated with Israel on terrorist assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. But that, of course, would have required the politically inconvenient act of publicly addressing Israeli terrorism.
Attention to the issue of moving MEK members from one camp in Iraq to another camp in Iraq, and about threats to the group from within Iraq, appears to have become in the end an excuse for caving in to the public relations campaign. Whether the group resides at Camp Ashraf or Camp Liberty doesn’t determine whether it meets the definition under U.S. law of a foreign terrorist organization. Whatever problem there may have been at Camp Ashraf, it was the MEK itself that was balking at a move, not any Iraqis that threatened the group. If there is an issue of human rights and refugees it is mainly one of permitting rank-and-file members to escape the control of the cult’s leaders.
The MEK story also has a parallel with the Iraq War. A role that the MEK has to some extent assumed for anti-Iran agitators in this country—and that the delisting will only encourage—recalls the prewar role played by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. Each case involved a group of exiles with a slick talent for manipulating public opinion in the United States but a paucity of support in their own countries. A possible difference is that the MEK’s support in Iran is even less than that of the INC in Iraq, given the former’s treasonous behavior (in Iranian eyes) during the Iran-Iraq War.
“The campaign to bury the MEK’s bloody history of bombings and assassinations that killed American businessmen, Iranian politicians and thousands of civilians, and to portray it as a loyal US ally against the Islamic government in Tehran has seen large sums of money directed at three principal targets: members of Congress, Washington lobby groups and influential former officials.” It is none of that. Simply put: MEK has been performing services for the Mossad and the Mossad has been grateful. End of story. See the list of American friends of MEK.
The Guardian missed the point about MEK’s rehabilitation in US
Yep As’ad Abukhalil just answered it. A western designated terrorist group.
› Terror delisting the MEK is a cynical sham | Richard Silverstein
The US delisting of the group is a sham. The Obama administration isn’t even claiming the MEK has renounced terrorism. If it did, it knows that it’s likely such a statement would rebound should the MEK’s activities become exposed. The chief argument offered in defense of the change of heart is that the group has agreed to relocate from Camp Ashraf, where it’s been a thorn in the side of the Iraqi Shi’ite led government, to a US facility, from which the residents would be relocated to foreign countries.
So, we’re removing a terror group from the list not because it’s stopped being a terror group, but because it’s agreed to leave Iraq, where it had been a destabilizing influence. That’s not a principled position. It’s a position based on pure political calculation.
The MEK is useful in the covert war the US and Israel are waging against Iran’s nuclear program. It is our proxy, much as the Cuban rebels involved in the Bay of Pigs operation served our interests in the fight against Fidel Castro; and the Afghan mujahideen fought a dirty war for us against the Soviets.
In fact, Alan Dershowitz has argued that the MEK should be removed from the treasury list not because it has stopped being terrorist, but because it collaborated with US covert activities inside Iran, meaning that it was serving US interests. Or put more simply: the MEK may be terrorists, but they’re our terrorists.
Memo to terror groups: If you want to get off the US terrorism list, make sure you kill the ‘right’ civilians and offer generous speaking fees.
Report: MEK To Be Taken Of US Terror List (via pieceinthepuzzlehumanity)
Shameless SP: I put up a rather long post about this
yesterday 4 mos. ago, Learning to Love the MEK, that no one paid any attention to. Bonus information.
› Clinton to remove Iranian exile group from terror list | CNN
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to notify Congress as early as Friday that she intends to take the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, off a State Department terror list, three senor administration officials told CNN.
The notification will be followed by a formal de-listing from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in the coming days.
MEK was placed on the U.S. terrorism list in 1997 because of the killing of six Americans in Iran in the 1970s and an attempted attack against the Iranian mission to the United Nations in 1992. However, since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf “noncombatants” and “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions.
The group is in its final stages from a refugee camp in Iraq where they’ve lived for more than 25 years is nearing completion under the auspices of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq. They are moving to another location in Iraq before being eventually re-settled in third countries. The US has been working with the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees to re-settle the group.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is under a court order to decide by October 1 whether to remove MEK from the terror list. The secretary has said several times that her decision would be guided, in part, by whether the group moves peacefully from Camp Ashraf.
“We don’t love these people but the Secretary’s decision is merited based on the record of facts that we have,” one US official said. “This was not done casually and it’s the right decision.”
More evidence that the word “terrorist” has no fixed definition until the U.S. State Department defines it to fit particular foreign policy/political/geopolitical goals.
Haqqanis (Pakistan/FATA) on, MeK off. The MeK can be used, the Haqqanis are no longer useful (except as an official enemy to justify permanent clandestine/drone warfare and ongoing violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty).
If you’re unfamiliar with this story, I’ve posted several pieces on the MeK on this blog, here.
Remember, about 5 months ago, Seymour Hersh revealed that U.S. Special Forces had trained and utilized the MeK for clandestine operations in his piece, Our Men in Iran?.
Israel has also been accused of using the MeK for assassinations inside of Iran.
Memo to terror groups: If you want to get off the US terrorism list, make sure you kill the ‘right’ civilians and offer generous speaking fees.
Report: MEK To Be Taken Of US Terror List (via pieceinthepuzzlehumanity)
Shameless SP: I put up a rather long post about this yesterday, Learning to Love the MEK, that no one paid any attention to. Bonus information.
› Likely victory for MeK shills | Glenn Greenwald
Glenn Greenwald responds to the news that the Mujahedin e-Khalq, or MeK, is nearing removal from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations:
This highlights almost every salient fact about how Washington functions with regard to such matters. First, if you pay a sufficiently large and bipartisan group of officials to lobby on your behalf, you will get your way, even when it comes to vaunted National Security and Terrorism decisions; if you pay the likes of Howard Dean, Fran Townsend, Wesley Clark, Ed Rendell, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge and others like them to peddle their political influence for you, you will be able to bend Washington policy and law to your will. As Andrew Exum put itthis morning: “I guess Hizballah and LeT just need to buy off more former administration officials.”
Second, the application of the term “Terrorist” by the U.S. Government has nothing to do with how that term is commonly understood, but is instead exploited solely as a means to punish those who defy U.S. dictates and reward those who advance American interests and those of its allies (especially Israel). Thus, this Terror group is complying with U.S. demands, has been previously trained by the U.S. itself, and is perpetrating its violence on behalf of a key American client state and against a key American enemy, and — presto — it is no longer a “foreign Terrorist organization.”
Third, this yet again underscores who the actual aggressors are in the tensions with Iran. Imagine if multiple, high-level former Iranian officials received large sums of money from a group of Americans dedicated to violently overthrowing the U.S. government and committing acts of violence on American soil, and the Iranian Government then removed it from its list of Terror groups, thus allowing funding and other means of support to flow freely to that group.
Fourth, the rule of law is not even a purported constraint on the conduct of Washington political elites. Here, the behavior of these paid MeK shills is so blatantly illegal that even the Obama administration felt compelled to commence investigations to determine who was paying them and for what. As a strictly legal matter, removing MeK from the Terror list should have no effect on the criminality of their acts: it’s a felony to provide material support to a designated Terror group — which the Obama DOJ, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, has argued, in a full frontal assault on free speech rights, even includes coordinating advocacy with such a group (ironically, some of this Terror group’s paid advocates, such as former Bush Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend, cheered that Supreme Court ruling when they thought it would only restrict the political advocacy of Muslims, not themselves).
The fact that the Terror group is subsequently removed from the list does not render that material support non-criminal. But as a practical matter, it is virtually impossible to envision the Obama DOJ prosecuting any of these elite officials for supporting a group which the Obama administration itself concedes does not belong on the list. The removal of this group — if, as appears highly likely, it happens — will basically have the same effect, by design, as corrupt acts such as retroactive telecom immunity and the shielding of Bush war crimes and Wall Street fraud from any form of investigation: it will once again bolster the prime Washington dictate that D.C. political elites reside above the rule of law even when committing violations of the criminal law for which ordinary citizens are harshly punished.
Read the rest →
The Wall Street Journal reports: (h/t Paul Woodward)
The Obama administration is moving to remove an Iranian opposition group from the State Department’s terrorism list, say officials briefed on the talks, in an action that could further poison Washington’s relations with Tehran at a time of renewed diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.
The exile organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MeK, was originally named as a terrorist entity 15 years ago for its alleged role in assassinating U.S. citizens in the years before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and for allying with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein against Tehran.
The MeK has engaged in an aggressive legal and lobbying campaign in Washington over the past two years to win its removal from the State Department’s list. The terrorism designation, which has been in place since 1997, freezes the MeK’s assets inside the U.S. and prevents the exile group from fundraising.
Senior U.S. officials said on Monday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to make any final decision on the MeK’s status. But they said the State Department was looking favorably at delisting MeK if it continued cooperating by vacating a former paramilitary base inside Iraq, called Camp Ashraf, which the group had used to stage crossborder strikes into Iran.
The U.S. officials said Mrs. Clinton would make her final decision on the MeK’s status no less than 60 days after the last MeK member is relocated from Camp Ashraf to a new transit facility near Baghdad international airport. The U.S. is working with the United Nations to resettle Camp Ashraf residents in third countries. Roughly 1,200 people remain at the camp from an earlier population of over 3,000.
Iran has regularly accused Western countries of hypocrisy for providing shelter to MeK members while criticizing Tehran’s support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. “We believe that despite the claims that others make about fighting terrorism, they [Western nations] provide the most support for terrorist groups,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said last week. “In Europe, the MeK has already been removed from the list of terrorist organizations and they are completely safe to continue their activities.”
If you’re unfamiliar with this story, I’ve posted several pieces on the MEK in the past, here.
Remember, about a month ago, Seymour Hersh revealed that U.S. Special Forces had trained and utilized the MEK for clandestine operations in his piece, Our Men in Iran?.
Israel has also been accused of using the MEK for assassinations inside of Iran.
So, you know, nothing fishy here.
I’ll just add this find from Glenn Greenwald:
In 2003, when the Bush adminstration was advocating an attack on Iraq, one of the prime reasons it cited was “Saddam Hussein’s Support for International Terrorism.” It circulated a document purporting to prove that claim (h/t Hernlem), and one of the first specific accusations listed was this:
Iraq shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilians.
So the group that was pointed to less than a decade ago as proof of Saddam’s Terrorist Evil is now glorified by both political parties in Washington and — now that it’s fighting for the U.S. and Israel rather than for Saddam — is no longer a Terror group.
And that’s the way it goes.
› For Official Washington, Terrorism Is a Laughing Matter | Scott Horton
[…] Those arguing for the MEK [the Mujahideen-e Khalq, or People’s Mujahideen of Iran] to be delisted as a terrorist group claim that their 1970s assassination spree was the work of a fundamentally different organization. The modern MEK, they argue, is fully aligned with American foreign-policy objectives and is well-positioned to assist the United States in a coming military confrontation with Iran. In particular, they say that the MEK has provided essential intelligence about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which the U.S. intelligence community generally believes was curtailed in 2003.
These claims may all be true, but they don’t convincingly address the MEK’s historic use of terrorist tactics, its pattern of human rights abuses, and its culture of violence. Moreover, the Iraq War should have left Americans wiser about émigré groups who peddle evidence of weapons programs as a rationale for the invasion of their homeland and for their eventual installation as a new and friendly government.
The Obama Administration may be caving in to the political pressure brought by the MEK’s well-compensated Beltway friends. The State Department has reportedly suggested that if the MEK’s leadership accepts resettlement in northern Iraq, this will be counted as another factor in support of delisting. If the MEK succeeds in this goal, America’s posture as an opponent of terrorism will be a laughingstock, and will demonstrate that in Washington today, a little bit of cash, prudently spread, can accomplish almost anything.
Anyone in government, media and think tank circles who routinely and angrily accuse others of being “terrorists” or “supporters of terrorism” without recognizing that the U.S. and its closest allies are plainly and routinely guilty of that is just a rank propagandist. That the U.S., in the midst of its vaunted War on Terror, directly trained a group on its own Terrorist list — while its closest ally and Washington’s venerated former officials continue to provide ample support to that group even as it escalates its violent acts – is about as conclusive a demonstration of that fact as one could have conjured.
Report: U.S. trained terror group | Glenn Greenwald
In reaction to the revelation (in Seymour Hersh’s Our Men in Iran?) that U.S. Special Forces trained and utilized the Iranian group (cult) Mujahideen-e-Khalq or MEK - a group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State dept.
IN determining whether MEK [Mujahedin-e Khalq] belongs on the Terrorist list, what conceivable difference should it make whether MEK is cooperative in moving from Camp Ashraf as the U.S. Government wants? What does their cooperation or lack thereof have to do with whether they are a Terrorist organization? The answer, of course, is that the U.S. list of Terrorist organizations (like its list of state sponsors of Terrorism) has little or nothing to do with who are and are not actually Terrorists; it is, instead, simply an instrument used to reward those who comply with U.S. dictates (you’re no longer a Terrorist) and to punish those who refuse (you are hereby deemed Terrorists).
Glenn Greenwald | MEK and its material supporters in Washington