Monday, April 9, 2012

MEK and the Hypocrisy of the Anti-Terrorism War-Mongers

by Nomad

John Bolton
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, writing for the New Yorker, has uncovered evidence that suggests that the United States military trained the People's Mujahedin of Iran or also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) in the deserts of Nevada in 2005.

Bush Hypocrisy

The Hersh article, Our Men in Iran? is, by any definition, an eye-opener and reveals the full extent of Bush administration’s hypocrisy of its so-called war on terror. 
According to Hersh,  the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site about 65 miles outside of Las Vegas, was used as a clandestine training base for a terrorist group.
It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K.
The M.E.K. had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens. It was initially part of the broad-based revolution that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But, within a few years, the group was waging a bloody internal war with the ruling clerics, and, in 1997, it was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. [emphasis mine]

America’s assistance to the MEK appears to be a repeat performance of the Afghan scenario in which the Reagan administration supported the Afghan mujahideen. At the time, they weren’t called terrorists then but “freedom fighters. The project was aimed at putting pressure on the Soviets to withdraw. We all know how that turned out. Success in the short term, disaster in the long term. 
The final chapter of that story was written in the dust of 9/11.

One major problem with this arming-the-rebels strategy is that the MEK -- along with 49 other groups including al-Qaeda and Hezbollah -- is officially listed on the State Department's roster of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This distinction means that providing "material support or resources" or accepting donations or contributions for it is illegal.

However, perhaps the real question is who exactly authorized this training program? Did the Department of Energy know? Its facility was used.

Surely Stanley Allen McChrystal must have known. He commanded the Joint Special Operations Command from February 2006 to August 2008. (After making some ungenerous remarks about the vice president, McChrystal was recalled to Washington, D.C., where President Barack Obama accepted the resignation of his commands in Afghanistan.) And according to the Hersh article, the operation closed sometime prior to Obama taking office.

(For a closer look at the behind-the-scenes operations and the oversight process for covert operation funding and review, Hersh investigated the matter back in 2008 in another New Yorker article, Preparing the Battlefield.It makes interesting reading.)

A Closer Look at MEK

It does not take an expert to see that American policy when it comes to the MEK is a mess. 

In order to understand how the MEK got on the State Department's list in the first place requires us to look at the history of the organization. 
Surprisingly, the MEK once upon a time looked very much like the enemy. That is, the same people that Americans were rallying against in the 1980s. Global gives us this history.
MEK was founded in the 1960s by a group of college-educated Iranian leftists opposed to the country's pro-Western ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Although the group took part in the 1979 Islamic revolution that replaced the shah with a Shiite Islamist regime, MEK's ideology, a blend of Marxism and Islamism, put it at odds with the post-revolutionary government.

In 1981, the group was driven from its bases on the Iran-Iraq border and resettled in Paris, where it began supporting Iraq in its eight-year war against Khomeini's Iran. In 1986, MEK moved its headquarters to Iraq where it received its primary support to attack the regime in Iran. During the 2003 Iraq war, U.S. forces cracked down on MEK's bases in Iraq, and in June 2003 French authorities raided an MEK compound outside Paris and arrested 160 people, including Maryam Rajavi.
And according to authorities, the MEK has American blood on its hands. 
In the early 1970s, angered by U.S. support for the pro-Western shah, MEK members killed several U.S. soldiers and civilians working on defense projects in Iran. Some experts say the attack may have been the work of a Maoist splinter faction operating beyond the Rajavi leadership's control. MEK members also supported the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.
Since that time, the organization has been thought to be responsible for continuing attacks inside the Iranian Republic. 
Incidents linked to the group include:
  • The series of mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids during 2000 and 2001 against Iranian government buildings; one of these killed Iran's chief of staff
  • The 2000 mortar attack on President Mohammad Khatami's palace in Tehran
  • The February 2000 "Operation Great Bahman," during which MEK launched 12 attacks against Iran
  • The 1999 assassination of the deputy chief of Iran's armed forces general staff, Ali Sayyad Shirazi
  • The 1998 assassination of the director of Iran's prison system, Asadollah Lajevardi
  • The 1992 near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and institutions in 13 countries Assistance to Saddam Hussein's suppression of the 1991 Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish uprisings
  • The 1981 bombing of the offices of the Islamic Republic Party and of Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar, which killed some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei and Bahonar Support for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Iranian revolutionaries
  • The 1970s killings of U.S. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran
However, since 2001, MEK has professed to have overhauled its organization. Despite her arrest by French authorities in 2003, Maryam Rajavi, is the President-elect of National Council of Resistance of Iran. This organization is "a political umbrella coalition of five Iranian opposition political organizations, the largest organization being the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK)."
Having a woman as its president certainly presents a palatable image for the West.
As one source claims, MEK has pulled out all stops in order to have its name removed from the State Department's terror organization list. 
High-priced public relations and lobbying firms are hard at work trying to whitewash the MEK’s violent and disturbing record.
As recently as 2007, The State Department report said: 
“MEK’s leadership and members across the world maintain the capacity and will to commit terrorist acts in Europe, the Middle East, the United States, Canada and beyond.”
 And yet only two years earlier, if Hersh's information is accurate, that very same organization was being trained in Nevada.

The Canadian and Australian governments have also designated the MEK as a terrorist organization. The Canadian government just reaffirmed its designation in December. The UK and France, on the other hand, have been more willing to forgive and forget, especially when it came to political expediency.

EU courts removed the MEK from its list of terrorist organizations, but only due to procedural reasons. According to a spokesperson for the Council of the European Union, the EU court “did not enter into the question of defining or not the [MEK] as a terrorist organization.”

Material Support and The Patriot Act

The Patriot Act, a product of the Bush administration and its war on terror, makes it very clear that any support whatsoever of terrorist organizations is illegal- not merely unethical. 
As Glenn Greenwald in a Salon article notes:
If this report is true, it means the U.S. Government actively trained a group that the U.S. Government itself legally categorizes as a “foreign terrorist organization,” a clear felony under U.S. law:
Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
That alone compels serious DOJ and Congressional investigations into these claims. Worse, this reportedly happened at the very same time that the U.S. aggressively prosecuted and imprisoned numerous Muslims for providing material support for groups on that list even though many of those prosecuted provided support that was far, far less than what the U.S. Government itself was providing to MEK.
What does "material support" actually mean? According the the Patriot Act:
(1) the term “material support or resources” means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials;

(2) the term “training” means instruction or teaching designed to impart a specific skill, as opposed to general knowledge; and

(3) the term “expert advice or assistance” means advice or assistance derived from scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge.
And the Patriot Act prohibitions do not stop there.

Rudy’s Delegation and the Supreme Court

Despite this prohibition, it hasn’t stopped some famous names openly advocating increased support for the terrorist group. For example, according to the International Business Times:
[Former New York Mayor Rudolph] Giuliani -- along with former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy -- spoke at a conference in Paris on Monday, where he suggested that the United States should use the People's Mujahedin to militarily attack Iran's nuclear program.
Giuliani  and Maryam Rajavi  
of National Council of Resistance of Iran      
Giuliani who appeared at the Paris conference by the French Committee for a Democratic Iran, doesn’t come cheap either He reportedly charges as much as $100,000 per speaking engagement. A Mother Jones article tells us:
According to a March report by NBC's Michael Isikoff, pro-MEK speakers can earn up to "$30,000 or more per talk and first-class flights to European capitals."
The real question, therefore, is where is this money coming from? And that’s precisely what the Obama officials at the Treasury Department are starting to wonder.
Isikoff's report last month quoted an Obama administration official explaining the reasoning behind the investigation: "This is about finding out where the money is coming from. This has been a source of enormous concern for a long time now. You have to ask the question, whether this is a prima facie case of material support for terrorism."
Israel? Iranian exiles? Even from the Iranian government itself. After all, two can play at covert operations. 
In any case, the Patriot Act is clear about this kind of involvement, even when it does not involve direct funding or training. 

A criminal indictment against this illegal delegation and other supporters of the MEK would, (at least in theory) have the full support of the Supreme Court. In a 6-to-3 decision, the high court said that, according to the laws found in the act, the act of teaching members of a foreign terrorist group how to use peaceful means to pursue political goals is illegal. 

Furthermore, they found that this provision was constitutional and did not violate the right of free speech. So the MEK supporters really don’t have free speech (which was not free or even inexpensive) cannot provide an “out.” (The Supreme Court has never been big on free speech unless it involved corporations.)

The Christian Science Monitor reports the details:
The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, says that Congress intentionally wrote the statute with a broad sweep to outlaw material support to terror groups in any form, including assistance or expertise that might help nudge the group toward nonviolence.

Chief Justice Roberts quoted a congressional finding in support of his broad reading of the statute: “[F]oreign organizations that engage in terrorist activity are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct.
Under that decision, Giuliani and his group could, therefore, be charged with the high crime of aiding and supporting a terrorist organization under the Patriot Act. And given the MEK's anti-American history, there could be a case for outright treason. 
According to the CSM article, the MEK ‘s courting various American politicians has been raising eyebrows.
Three top-rank former U.S. officials are currently being investigated by the Treasury Department for accepting speaking fees from the MEK. Former Pennsylvania Gov., Philadelphia Mayor and Democratic National Chairman Ed Rendell was the first to face federal scrutiny for accepting speaking fees from the MEK, and earlier this month ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, were also subpoenaed.
(To put it in perspective, in the UK a man has been held in prison without a trial for seven years for hosting a web site which gave as much support as the Guiliani delegation and far less as the Bush administration.)

Romney’s MEK Hypocrisy

Mitchell Reiss
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney claimed last December that he had never heard of MEK despite the embarrassing fact that, according to Mother Jones,
“Mitchell Reiss, his foreign policy adviser and a known Mujahedin-e-Khalq supporter, had spoken at a MEK rally just the previous weekend.”
Unfazed, Reiss scoffs at suggestions of improper (or illegal) activity. Talking Points Memo’s Ryan J. Reill gives us this:
Reiss, a former State Department official, appeared alongside other former U.S. officials like former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. to support removing the People’s Muhajedin Organization of Iran, or MEK, from the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations.
Reiss, who served as moderator of the panel, opened his remarks with a joke about the ongoing Treasury Department investigation into the speaking fees paid to officials like him who have appeared at previous events.
“Up here on the dais this morning, we have some of America’s most distinguished public servants, most decorated military officers, and most respected diplomats — a true collection of outstanding American leaders,” Reiss said. “Or, as the Treasury Department would prefer to call us for our supporting the delisting of the MEK, potential criminals.”
(Yet, keep in mind, Reiss' very speech would be, according to the Supreme Court, a violation of the Patriot Act.)

Perhaps, as Reiss tells us, these are all respected citizens and yet all of them are in violation of the Patriot Act- the very laws they presumably supported. All of them are possibly outstanding Americans and yet all of them are deeply hypocritical when it comes to dealing with terrorist organizations. 

As far as Mitt Romney’s foreign policy advisor, the question is simple. Do American voters need any clearer evidence of the kind of presidency that can be expected under Mitt Romney? Even before it has begun, the key member of his staff is not only breaking the laws, but frivolously making jokes about it.

Of course, we could cynically dismiss these less than ethical activities as par for the course when it comes to Republican conservatives. Just another case of "paling around with terrorists." However, it is important to understand the consequences. 

In order to avoid outright military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, the Obama administration has been attempting to conduct some kind of dialogue with the Iranian leaders. It hasn't been easy. There is a long history of mistrust between the two nations.

Update: According to Think Progress, Americans are solidly behind efforts at diplomacy. 
The new Post/ABC News poll results also match up with other recent polls on this issue. A poll released last month by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the University of Maryland showed Americans exhibiting strong support for the U.S. and its partners “continuing to pursue negotiations with Iran” while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on March 5 found that Americans prefer diplomacy over military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Consequently, those efforts are deliberately being undermined by the criminal support of an organization the State Department has itself considered in the same category as the very people that launched attacks on 911. 
It is, in effect, two contradictory foreign policies, one is president's policy of engagement and dialogue (mandated by the voters) and the other of unapproved, illegal covert support for terrorism.

Hopefully, people like Reiss and Romney will keep in mind these important words spoken to United Nations General Assembly in a Special Session on Terrorism, October 2001. 
The best long-term deterrent and approach to terrorism, obviously, is the spread of the principles of freedom and democracy and the rule of law and respect for human life. The more that spreads around the globe, the safer we will all be.
Respect for human life and the rule of law cannot be reconciled with the illegal support of a terrorist organization. Such hypocrisy is merely the first step in creating an unjust and unsafe world.
Oh and who was the speaker of that very noble quote? 

Rudy Giuliani.