There is an old Farsi proverb, the English equivalent of which reads, "A clear conscience doesn't fear a false accusation." This aptly grounds a response to Jacob Laksin's inaccurate characterization of the principal Iranian opposition, the Mujahdin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), in "Terrorists as Freedom Fighters," (FrontPageMagazine.com, June 25, 2009). His piece suffers from one major deficiency: Not a single one of its mischaracterizations is backed up by a shred of credible evidence.
To his credit, Laksin condemns the Iranian regime's human rights abuses and support for terrorism. As the world watches this brutal theocracy's crimes being committed on Iran's streets, taking a firm stance against the ruling mullahs is an imperative. Nonetheless, the author strangely claims that, "Everything that can be said of the Iranian regime ... is equally true of the MEK." In other words, the regime and the MEK are two sides of the same coin, and therefore, since there is no real opposition in Iran, advocating change for Iran is imprudent. The party that benefits most from this conclusion is, of course, the Iranian regime.
The article already seems to engender the conviction that the MEK is "terrorist," bearing the title "Terrorists as Freedom Fighters," But, that flies in the face of seven recent court rulings in Europe. On November 30, 2007, a specialized branch of the High Court in the United Kingdom, the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (POAC), annulled the British government's decision to proscribe the MEK. POAC scrutinized piles of testimony and evidence about the MEK, including classified evidence submitted by the British government. After months of investigation, it ruled that the proscription of the MEK was not only "unlawful" but "perverse."1
The government was not even allowed leave to appeal by the English Court of Appeal,2 and as a result, the MEK was officially taken off the UK terror list in June 2008.
In December 2008, the Court of First Instance of the European Communities also ordered the EU Council of Ministers to delist the MEK. The EU finally complied in January this year, rendering the MEK the first entity ever taken off the list after legal recourse. So, what makes the author so sure about a label that cannot hold water in various independent courts of law?
His apparent certainty about the truth of the terror label is especially wanting since US officials have admitted that it was affixed at the behest of, and a "goodwill gesture" to, the Iranian regime. A day after the MEK was officially listed as a terrorist organization in the US in October 1997, the Los Angeles Times reported, "One senior Clinton administration official said inclusion of the People's Moujahedeen was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran and its newly elected moderate president, Mohammad Khatami."3
That same official told Newsweek five years later, "... [There] was White House interest in opening up a dialogue with the Iranian government. At the time, President Khatami had recently been elected and was seen as a moderate. Top Administration officials saw cracking down on the [PMOI/MEK], which the Iranians had made clear they saw as a menace, as one way to do so."4
Other charges in the article are equally devoid of substance, like the attempt to taint the MEK as an "anti-American" and anti-Western organization. Laksin claims that the MEK killed American military personnel nearly 35 years ago; that it has Marxist tendencies; and that it supported the US embassy takeover in Tehran three decades ago.
To preface a response, the MEK has never denied its opposition to the unconditional support given by the US to the Shah's corrupt dictatorship, which among other things included the toppling in 1953 of Iran's only legitimate, elected government of the late Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, through a CIA-British engineered coup d'état. A short while ago, President Obama apologized for this action, rather ironically, to the ruthless Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his crony Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The MEK had nothing to do with the assassination of US military personnel and defense contractors in Iran. In fact, those attacks occurred after the arrest of the entire leadership and 90 percent of the MEK members by the Shah's notorious - and CIA-trained - secret police (SAVAK) in August-September 1971. MEK's founders were executed in May 1972 as a red carpet welcome to President Nixon when he arrived in Tehran.
In 1971, a communist current took advantage of the absence of MEK leaders and carried out a coup within the organization. It purged 70 percent of the Muslim members and murdered the few Muslim leaders who had escaped SAVAK's wrath. To justify misappropriating the MEK name and credibility, and to consolidate its position, it carried out the assassinations of the Americans. The MEK cannot be held responsible for actions in which it played no part.
While in prison, Massoud Rajavi, the sole surviving member of MEK's legitimate Muslim leadership, wrote that the killing of the Americans was an attempt to bolster the coup plotters' credibility.5 More recently, in a 2005 report, the State Department itself attributed the killings to "a Marxist element."6 The Council of Foreign Relations also wrote in summer 2002, that according to some experts, the attack may have been the work of a "splinter faction operating beyond the Rajavi leadership's control."7 As an example, the May 22, 1975 statement issued by the assassins of Col. Schaffer and Lt. Col. Turner (murders referred to by the author) lacks the traditional Quranic verse at the top of the MEK emblem, clearly indicating that it was the work of the splinter faction.
In July 2004, following a 16-month investigation of the MEK in Iraq (Camp Ashraf, where several thousand MEK members reside), all of its members and their activities, the US confirmed the investigation "had not come up with any basis to bring charges against any members of the group," and that no MEK member "had violated American law."8
Secondly, the familiar slur that the MEK is an "Islamic-Marxist" movement is an attempt to undercut its legitimacy. Syracuse University professor Mehrzad Boroujerdi, points out that the MEK remained skeptical of Marxism's philosophical postulates and rejected the latter's cardinal doctrine of historical materialism. It held firm to the beliefs in the existence of God, revelation, the afterlife, the spirit, salvation, destiny, and the people's commitment to these intangible principles.9 Here is what Rajavi had to say about the "Islamic Marxist" label 28 years ago: "Every high school student knows that believing in God, Jesus Christ and Muhammad is incompatible with the philosophy of Marxism. Everyone knows that, even Khomeini. But for dictators like Khomeini, 'Marxist Islamic' is a very profitable phrase to use against any opposition. If Jesus Christ and Muhammad were alive and protesting against Khomeini, he would call them Marxists, too."10 The MEK is a Muslim organization dedicated to a tolerant and modern interpretation of Islam, which serves as the most potent antidote to the venom of Islamic fundamentalism promoted primarily by the Iranian regime.
As for the MEK's alleged support for the Iranian regime's takeover of the US embassy in 1979, ironically, the main objective of the act was to undercut the rising standing of the group by creating a frenzied and hysteric "anti-imperialist" environment. The Iranian regime's officials have acknowledged this.11
Ervand Abrahamian, no admirer of the MEK himself, says in one of his books that the MEK's criticisms of the mullahs' regime at the time included "engineering the American hostage crisis to impose on the nation the 'medieval' concept of the velayat-e faqih." He then adds, "To support the last accusation they published articles revealing how the student hostage-takers were linked to the IRP [Islamic Republic Party]."12
Laksin also alleges that the MEK had a role in the killing of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites in the 1990s. This is just simply false. In a 1999 letter to a court in the Netherlands, Iraq's present Foreign Minister, wrote on behalf of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq, "(We) can confirm that the Mujahedeen (sic) were not involved in suppressing the Kurdish people neither during the uprising nor in its aftermath. We have not come across any evidence to suggest that the Mujahedeen have exercised any hostility towards the people of Iraqi Kurdistan."13
An official United Nations document also refuted these accusations. "From our independent investigation and discussion with parties involved, we find these allegations false," wrote International Educational Development, a non-governmental organization with consultative status with the United Nations, on August 22, 1995.14 The same NGO registered another document with the United Nations in 2001, which corroborated its earlier findings that Iranian intelligence services had been the source of these allegations.15
Neither did the MEK have any role in events related to the Shiite uprising in southern Iraq. In a letter to the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, the Secretary General of the prominent Iraqi Shiite movement, Intifidiyah Movement of Sha'baniya, Sami Ghazi al-Assadi, wrote, "The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran had no participation in suppressing the Shiite movement against the previous government in 1991 and there is no evidence to that; rather it is the invidious claims and rumors by the Iranian regime's agents against them."16
In light of the extensive amount of evidence to the contrary, it is astonishing that Laksin has chosen to cite these allegations as facts. In June 2008, some 3,000,000 Shiites from southern Iraq voiced their support for the MEK and rejected the claims about MEK's involvement in suppressing the Shiites in Iraq.17
The article quotes Jalal Talabani to support the accusation of suppressing Iraqi Kurds. Indeed, other officials of Mr. Talabani's Patriotic Union of Iraqi Kurdistan (PUK) have rejected the allegation of MEK's involvement in the suppression of Iraqi Kurds. In a November 2006 letter to former US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, Mr. Muhammed Mehdi Hachem, a senior PUK official reiterated the amicable relationship that existed between the people of Iraq and the MEK.18 He wrote that MEK members have been law-abiding residents in Iraq for over 20 years. In a separate statement on December 2, 2006, Mr. Hachem emphasized that the "MEK has never acted against the Kurdish people in Iraq, and has not been involved in any suppressive action against them. The rumors spread by the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran are all false and a conspiracy."19
As for the widely discredited report by Human Rights Watch, suffice it to say that a 2005 investigative report published by a delegation of European Parliamentarians, who visited Camp Ashraf in autumn 2005, refuted all of its claims, even describing the HRW's allegations as "bogus."20 The delegation had "randomly talked to over one hundred residents" and "was provided unrestricted access to all residents and locations" in Ashraf City. After conducting an exhaustive investigation, the parliamentary delegation "reached the conclusion that the HRW report contained serious flaws," both in terms of its methodology which relied on merely 12 hours of phone interviews with individuals tied to the Iranian regime's intelligence ministry without granting the MEK an opportunity to respond, and also in terms of its substance, which contained allegations which were "completely bogus."
It is noteworthy that the author fails to mention a well-known May 2005 letter by COL David Phillips, the commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade of the US Army responsible for the security of Camp Ashraf in 2004, to the executive director of HRW responding to the organization's allegations. In it, then-Col. (now Brig. Gen) Phillips wrote:
"... I directed my subordinate units to investigate each allegation. ... At no time over the 12 month period did we ever discover any credible evidence supporting the allegations raised in your recent report. ... Each report of torture, kidnapping and psychological depravation turned out to be unsubstantiated. ... To my knowledge, as the senior officer responsible for safeguarding and securing Camp Ashraf throughout 2004, there was never a single substantiated incident as outlined in your report."21
There are also numerous other reports undermining the HRW's preposterous claims (which were obtained by 12 hours of interviews) about a camp monitored 24/7 by US and Iraqi forces and visited on numerous occasions by European parliamentarians, Iranian families, Iraqi authorities and citizens, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Moreover, all but one of the so-called witnesses had left Ashraf in the early and mid-1990s and found their way to Europe through Tehran.
In the end, Laksin says, "But the MEK's appearance on the [US terror] list is no mistake, and a change of U.S. policy to support the group would constitute not only a strategic error but also a betrayal of the very values that the free world wishes to triumph in Iran."
At issue is not whether the US should or should not support the MEK. After all, the MEK is perfectly capable of carrying forward the mantle it took up 45 years ago to bring democracy in Iran. But, the terrorist designation and the subsequent limitations placed on the group, including the unprovoked bombing of MEK camps during Operation Iraqi Freedom, were God-sent gifts to the bloodthirsty tyrants of Iran.
To echo European courts and thousands of elected representatives of the people in Europe and the US, the unwarranted terror tag must be removed. This is a view shared by, among others, General Raymond Odierno, the current commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, who said as far back as 2003, "I would say that any organization that has given up their equipment to the coalition clearly is cooperating with us, and I believe that should lead to a review of whether they are still a terrorist organization or not."22
Lieutenant Colonel Julie S. Norman, the Joint Inter Agency Task Force commander at Camp Ashraf from September 2005 to August 2006, also wrote in an August 2004 letter,
"The PMOI has been encouraging peaceful methods in its surrounding community for the establishment and democratic Iraq and has respected the laws of Iraq. ... The Iraqis who have talked to our forces have expressed positive and sympathetic opinion about residents of Ashraf. The PMOI has always warned against the Iranian regime's meddling and played a positive and effective role in exposing the threats and dangers of such interventions; their intelligence has been very helpful in this regard an in some cases has helped save the lives of soldiers."23
The MEK is also acknowledged to be responsible for exposing the Iranian regime's clandestine nuclear weapons program. In light of all this, which of the following two paths would lead to a greater strategic error and betrayal of the very values that the free world wishes to triumph in Iran: Delisting an organization that has sacrificed 120,000 people to achieve freedom? Or, serving the survival of the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism by weakening its strongest opponent?
On June 20, 2009, Reuters reported, "Tens of thousands of supporters of an exiled Iranian opposition group [MEK] rallied outside Paris." The keynote speaker in the gathering, which was also attended by 14 European parliamentary committees, was Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a broad coalition of opposition movements which has the MEK as its largest member organization.
Mrs. Rajavi dedicated a part of her speech to the results of the sham presidential elections in Iran. She reminded, "For three decades, we have been demanding the holding of free elections under United Nations supervision based on people's sovereignty." Then, she welcomed calls within Iran for annulling the presidential election results, adding, "I want to recall that we fully agree with annulling the results of the election masquerade, which we had called on people to boycott from the very beginning." Instead she has urged the international community to support a "free UN-supervised elections based on popular sovereignty."
Indeed, this is not the hallmark of a terrorist movement. It was because of this clear conscience that it was taken off the EU and British terrorist lists in the face of a multitude of false accusations. And, that is why it should be taken off the US list of terrorist organizations, a listing that was motivated at the behest of the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world.
Three years ago, FrontPageMagazine posted a similar piece about the MEK, (but used a more expressive term that terrorists: "monsters"). In my response ("Missing the Mark on Iran," FrontPageMagazine.com, January 27, 2006), I noted that denigrating the support that the MEK has enjoyed for more than two decades in Congress and in parliaments in Europe, is not only an insult to lawmakers, but is also too shallow to merit a response. There, I quoted from an Op-Ed piece written 28 years ago by former Undersecretary of State George Ball: "The sloppy press habit of dismissing the Mujahedeen as 'leftists' badly confuses the problem. Masud [Massoud] Rajavi... is the leader of the movement. Its intention is to replace the current backward Islamic regime with a modernized Shiite Islam drawing its egalitarian principles from Koranic sources rather than Marx."24
To explain away the MEK's vital role in Iranian politics and the support it has received internationally, Mr. Laksin draws on an amusing Platonic distinction in reference to appearances and reality, saying in effect that those who support the MEK are fooled by its appearance while the hidden reality is quite different. Is Mr. Laskin really suggesting that the likes of George Ball, Daniel Pipes and the thousands of leading figures in the US, Europe, Iraq and elsewhere have all been duped, while he is exclusively in touch with an intangible reality somehow screened by a public relations campaign? Or, is he trying to make up his own reality?
1 Clare Dyer, "Government ordered to end 'perverse' terror listing of Iran opposition," The Guardian, December 1, 2007.
2 John F. Burns, "Iranian Exiles Aren't Terrorist Group, British Court Says," The New York Times, May 8, 2008.
3 Norman Kempster, "US Designates 30 Groups as Terrorists," The Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1997.
4 Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, interview with Newsweek Magazine, September 26, 2002.
5 Massoud Rajavi, writings in prison in 1976, first published as "Tahlil-e Amouzeshi-ye Bayaniye Apportunist-haye Chapnama," (Educational Analysis of the Statement of the pseudo-Leftist Opportunists), People's Mujahedeen of Iran, spring 1979, pp. 237-239.
6 The Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism of the US State Department, "Country Reports on Terrorism," April 28, 2006.
7 Council on Foreign Relations, summer 2002.
8 Douglas Jehl, "U.S. Sees No Basis to Prosecute Iranian Opposition 'Terror' Group Being Held in Iraq," The New York Times, July 27, 2004.
9 Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism. Syracuse (cited originally in Iran Policy Committee, White Paper, Sept. 13, 2005, p. 42. http://www.iranpolicycommittee.org).
10 Massoud Rajavi, interview, "We Are on the Offensive," Time Magazine, September 14, 1981.
11 For example, on November 4, 1984, on the fifth anniversary of the embassy takeover, then Chief Justice Ayatollah Abdol Karim Moussavi-Ardebili said on Tehran Radio: "[The embassy takeover] brought about the fall of the Provisional Government, the isolation of the liberals and the confusion of left wing groups and the Monafeqin [the derogatory term used by the regime to refer to the MEK] and exposed their real faces. As Imam Khomeini said, this revolutionary move was greater than the first revolution." See Jonathan Randall, "Iranian Leftists Emerge From Isolation," The Washington Post, December 3, 1979.
12 Ervand Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedin, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, pp. 208-209.
13 Jonathan Wright, "U.S. Says Iraq-based Iran Opposition Aids Iraq Government," Reuters, May 22, 2002.
14 Implications of Humanitarian Activities for The Enjoyment of Human Rights, written statement submitted by International Educational Development, United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Forty-seventh session, Agenda item 19, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1995/NGO/55, August 22, 1995.
15 Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Any Part of the World, written statement submitted by International Educational Development, United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, Fifty-seventh session, Agenda item 9, E/CN.4/2001/NGO/51, January 23, 2001.
16 The Political Bureau of Intifadiya Movement of Shaabaniya, letter to the European Union's Foreign Policy Chief, Javier Solana, November 18, 2006.
17 As-Sharq Al-Awsat (Saudi daily), June 15, 2008.
18 Muhammed Mehdi Hachem, letter to Amb. Zalmay Khlailzad, November 2006.
19 Muhammed Mehdi Hachem, statement, December 22, 2006.
20 André Brie, Paulo Casaca (members of the European Parliament), Azadeh Zabeti, Esq., L'Harmattan, "The People's Mujahedeen of Iran," Mission Report by Friends of A Free Iran, Paris: 2005.
21 COL David Phillips (89th Military Police Brigade), letter to Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, May 27, 2005.
22 "US Says Iran Opposition in Iraq Agrees to Disarm," AFP, May 10, 2003.
23 Julie S. Norman, Memorandum for Record, August 24, 2006.
24 George W. Ball, Op-Ed, "Iran's Bleak Future," The Washington Post, August 19, 1981.
Ali Safavi, of the Iranian National Council of Resistance, is president of Near East Policy Research, a policy analysis firm in Washington, DC. His website is: http://www.nearastpolicy.com