U.S. Court Sides with Iranian Opposition Group vs. U.S. State Department
by RYAN MAURO
March 12, 2012
The Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group, has taken a step forward in its legal fight to get delisted as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with the MEK, giving the State Department until March 26 to complete its review of the designation and present justification for its continuance. If the MEK is vindicated, then the Iranian regime will tremble and many Iranians will celebrate and get to work trying to free their country.
The MEK was first delisted in the United Kingdom in June 2009 after going to court. Earlier, the European Union Court of First Instance ruled that the evidence justifying the MEK’s label as a terrorist group is “manifestly insufficient.” In 2009, after a protracted legal battle, the European Union was forced by court order to delist the MEK, finding the allegations against it to be baseless.
The U.S. still lists the MEK as a terrorist group, a designation it has held since 1997 when the Clinton Administration sought to extend an olive branch to the Iranian regime and its new president, Mohammad Khatami. On July 16, 2009 the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the State Department to review this designation and concluded that the MEK’s rights were violated because it was not shown the confidential evidence against it and given an opportunity to respond. The State Department reacted by indefinitely “reviewing” while the MEK had to sit and wait.
Meanwhile, over 3,000 MEK members in Iraq at Camp Ashraf were isolated, attacked, intimidated and subjected to other forms of mistreatment. The Iraqi government is deporting them all by May and they have nowhere to go because of this designation.
On February 27, the MEK filed a petition to demand that the State Department finally present its case. The court sided with the group and the State Department must delist the MEK or reaffirm its designation by March 26 with supporting proof. On March 1, the Justice Department’s Douglas Letter told the court that the government’s hand should not be forced. He said that more time is needed to assess “highly classified information, expert analyses of the material in the administration record, delicate foreign relations concerns and complex national security determinations.”
The latter two reasons simply mean that delisting the MEK does not fit the U.S. government’s policy towards Iran. The first two can easily be addressed.
It is very difficult to get Democratic and Republican experts and officials to come together on anything, but the MEK’s case has done exactly that. Among those calling for the MEK’s designation to be lifted are: Former FBI director Louis Freeh; former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge; former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Generals Peter Pace and Hugh Shelton; President Obama’s former National Security Advisor James Jones; Middle East scholar Dr. Daniel Pipes and former CIA directors James Woolsey, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden.
Republicans like former Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Michele Bachmann and John Bolton as well as Democrats like Howard Dean, Bill Richardson, General Wesley Clark, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, former N.J. Senator Robert Torricelli and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy have joined hands on this issue.
To be fair, there are respected opponents of the MEK who favor regime change in Iran like Michael Ledeen, Ken Timmerman, Michael Rubin and Iranian dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar. I outline the arguments of both sides here.
The Justice Department relies on the excuse that there is “highly classified information” justifying the MEK’s label. The European Union courts reviewed all the evidence against MEK and dismissed the allegations. Surely, if the U.S. had some sort of secret proof of the MEK’s evil, it would have passed it along to its European government allies.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) says, “I have seen the classified evidence and it is unconvincing.” In the 2009 ruling favoring the MEK, the court said that some of these classified reports “on their face express reservations about the accuracy of the information contained therein.”
The MEK is accused of killing six Americans in Iran in the 1970s. Whether that is true or not, it is now 2012 and the group has not engaged in terrorism within the past two years, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization designation requires. The MEK renounced violence in 2001 and when U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003, it voluntarily disarmed. Every member held in Iraq was reviewed for prosecution as terrorists and no charges were brought. General David Phillips, who oversaw Iraq’s Camp Ashraf where the MEK members are held, has since become a forceful advocate for the group.
It may be true that the Iranian population does not look kindly upon the MEK, but that does not justify the terrorist label. If the Iranian people want to reject the MEK, they can do so in a free election after the regime falls. In the meantime, enemies of the regime can benefit from the MEK’s impressive intelligence-gathering and incredible ability to organize and fundraise.
Let’s stop shooting ourselves in the foot and delist the MEK.
Ryan Mauro is Family Security Matters’ national security analyst. He is a fellow with RadicalIslam.org, the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Mauro is Family Security Matters' national security analyst. He is a fellow with RadicalIslam.org, the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at email@example.com.