Death no longer stalks the White House gates. The hunger strike of more than two dozen Iranian-Americans (as part of a vigil of hundreds of concerned people) came to a close Thursday with the news that 36 Iranian dissidents forcibly taken by Iraqi forces had been allowed to return - most in emaciated condition - to their enclave at Camp Ashraf, 60 miles north of Baghdad.
For more than 70 days, the hunger strike and vigil continued with the demand for the release of the hostages and protection for the 3,400 members of Iran's main opposition group, the mujahedeen (MEK), stationed at Camp Ashraf.
But it would be a mistake of enormous proportions to believe that the problem of Camp Ashraf and the specter of forced repatriation of its members to Iran or forced displacement inside Iraq (where the dissidents would be exposed to terrorist attacks by Tehran's operatives) are no longer a matter of grave humanitarian and national security concern. We should not be lulled into a false sense of safety that the problem has gone away.
At stake are the lives thousands of MEK members who are dedicated to the overthrow of Iran's mullah regime and its replacement by a democratic pluralistic government.
On July 28 and 29, Iraqi forces - undoubtedly heeding the call of Iran, which wants nothing as much as the eradication of the camp and the repatriation of its residents to Iran - forcibly entered the enclave. The operation against the unarmed and defenseless residents left 11 dead, hundreds wounded and 36 arrested.
The State Department maintains that sovereignty over all of Iraq, including Camp Ashraf, belongs to the government of Iraq and brushes off serious concern by pointing out that in any event, the MEK remains on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
But Iraqi sovereignty does not entitle neglect of the U.S. promise to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf. This concerns a solemn pledge made by U.S. forces early in 2004, when they entered the enclave and signed written agreements stipulating that the residents would be granted protected-persons status under the Geneva Conventions until their final disposition.
The MEK terrorist designation, as concerns Americans, revolves around its purported role in the death of six American service members and military contractors 35 years ago.
As corroborated by former Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk, the designation in 1997 came about largely as a result of President Clinton's efforts to induce Iran's then-president, Mohammed Khatami, to adopt a more moderate posture. (It didn't work.)
In this context, it appeared on an internal State Department determination, which held that terrorism against our foes (even if directed against judges issuing death sentences without recourse to legal process) should be of as much concern to the United States as terrorism directed against American citizens.