LONDON ¬– Take a large dollop of Washington influence buying, a portion of hypocrisy and a dash of duplicity. Stir them in the cauldron of a presidential campaign and heat them with national security rhetoric. That’s the recipe that produced what looks like one of the most cynical decisions in current American policy.
No, I do not mean the debate over the US debt. I am talking about a more arcane matter — the removal of an Iranian opposition movement from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO).
A few facts may be helpful, since most Americans know little or nothing about this curious decision. Even the numerous members of Congress and high ranking former US officials who backed it showed an apparent disregard for the facts.
The MEK, or Mujahedeen Khalq, was founded by Iranian students in the 1960s as a radical group that combined some of the worst aspects of Marxism and Islamic fanaticism, plus violent anti-Americanism. After helping to overthrow the Shah, they fought a bloody struggle with the mullahs who seized power and murdered a number of them in terrorist explosions.
Expelled from their country, they eventually accepted the hospitality of Saddam Hussein, Iran’s aggressive neighbor who armed and used them against Iran. Most Iranians saw that as an act of treachery and still despise the MEK even more than they do their own government.
The Mujahadeen ran their camp in Iraq as tightly as a North Korean gulag. Couples were forced to divorce. Children were sent abroad. Sex was forbidden. It was, in effect, an extremist cult, devoted to its leaders
The State Department put the MEK on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list in 1997 because of their involvement in acts of terrorism including hostage taking and killing of several Americans.
In one of the slickest and most effective PR campaigns Washington has seen in years, the MEK has hired high-priced Washington lobbying firms, funnelled money through speech contracts and literally bought its removal from the terrorist list.
The list of supporters they recruited includes former US four-star generals, intelligence chiefs, governors and political heavyweights, according to a special investigation by the Christian Science Monitor.
The Monitor reported: “Many of these high-ranking US officials – who represent the full political spectrum — have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak in support of the MEK.”
They included General Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former US Homeland security chief Tom Ridge. For a more complete list of those who spoke at pro-MEK conferences and rallies, see the full Monitor story. Not all of them took the money, but all of them drank the MEK Kool-Aid in the belief that delisting them was good for America — or in the case of some such as Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, apparently also good for Israel.
The Monitor noted, “They rarely mention the MEK’s violent anti-American past, and portray the group not as terrorists but as freedom fighters with “values just like us,” as democrats-in-waiting ready to serve as a vanguard of regime change in Iran. Some acknowledge that they knew little about the group before they were invited to speak and were coached by MEK supporters.”
The MEK even corralled a few journalists, including Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, who took $12,000 to speak at a Waldorf Astoria meeting of MEK supporters, but explained later to ProPublica, “I was not there as an advocate.” Another prominent journalist who should have known better was syndicated columnist Clarence Page who spoke at a large MEK rally in Paris. After that was reported by ProPublica, he said he would reimburse the $20,000, and was reprimanded by the Chicago Tribune for violating its ethic code.
The concept of the terrorist list is highly political and riddled with hypocrisy. As pointed out by Foreign Policy Magazine, “some groups are designated for the right reasons (terrorism) and others are not labelled, despite clearly meeting the statute’s requirements.
For example, Saddam Hussein was put on the terrorist list when he was allied with Moscow in the 1960s, taken off in the 1980s when Washington wanted to him help him attack Iran, and put back on again later when the US wanted to attack Iraq. And in each instance, this was the same Saddam, a brutal Iraqi leader with a horrible human rights and war crimes record.
The MEK declares that it has been out of the terrorism business for almost a decade, but there is no reason to believe it. NBC News reported in February that the MEK has been assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists in broad daylight. There are numerous reports of collaboration between the MEK and Israel’s secret services. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as the old saying goes.
Although it is a federal felony to give aid, direct or indirect, to an organization on the Foreign Terrorist List, Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker reports that the US Joint Special Operations Command conducted training of members of the MEK in Nevada from 2005 until sometime before President Obama took office. It was done secretly of course.
This would not be the first time the United States has made a mistake in the name of national security. Arming so-called Islamic freedom fighters to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan was a spectacular example of chickens that eventually came home to roost. Helping the MEK is small stuff by comparison. The group has almost no support inside Iran, and not much outside.
That’s a good thing. God only knows what kind of Iran they would create if they could actually take over the country.