Iran Opposition Group To Stay On State Dept's Terror List?

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice failed on Jan. 12, 2009, to accord due process to the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI) when she rejected its petition to be removed from the State Department’s foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) list, an appeals court ruled on July 16.

PMOI, a.k.a., the Mujahedeen–e Kalq (MEK), is a long-time opponent of the current Iranian regime and has been recognized for providing evidence of Iran’s nuclear program, but it has been on the FTO list in since 1997.  About 3,400 of its members are confined to Camp Ashraf, an hour north of Baghdad near the Iranian border.

“Due process requires that the PMOI be notified of the unclassified material on which the secretary proposes to rely and an opportunity to respond to that material before its redesignation,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling said. 

The United Kingdom, finding no credible reason to continue to list PMOI as a terrorist organization, removed PMOI from its list of proscribed organization on June 24, 2008.  The European Union followed suit Jan. 26, 2009, two weeks after then-Secretary Rice denied PMOI’s petition.  The New York Times reported that she made the decision over the objections of her department’s senior counter-terrorism advisor.

PMOI “stopped any violent activities nine years ago and disarmed seven years ago,” Andrew L. Frey, PMOI’s lead attorney in the appeals case, told HUMAN EVENTS.  “There is no basis for keeping them on the [FTO] list.”

“Everything we want Iran to be, these people favor,” Frey said.  Keeping them on the FTO list “prevents them from working toward those goals, and we hope…Secretary [Clinton] will see it that way.”

Bipartisan Support

Among the five amicus (friend of the court) briefs filed on behalf of PMOI was one by four members of the House Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus—Bob Filner (D.-Calif.), Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D.-Tex.), and Ted Poe (R.-Tex.) on Sept. 23, 2009. 

“Just as a defendant may not be sanctioned for speech that neither aims at nor is likely to result in terrorism, a group may not be designated as an FTO if it has no present intent or capability,” the leading lawmakers said in their 31-page brief calling for the court to grant PMOI’s petition.  “Mere advocacy, decoupled from actual terrorist acts, cannot be the basis of an FTO designation,” they said.

Growing congressional support includes the 23 cosponsors of House Resolution 1431, which “calls for an end to a selective approach to Iranian opponents who struggle for democracy and human rights, and invites the secretary of State, in coalition with British and European allies, to remove [PMOI] from the State Department’s [FTO] list, thereby denying the regime the pretext to crack down on dissidents inside Iran and the justification to murder, forcibly displace, and impose a blockade on opposition members based in Camp Ashraf.” 

The resolution written by Filner was filed on June 10.

Remanding of the case back to the State Department, affords PMOI “an opportunity to review and rebut the unclassified portions of the record,” the court says.

Considering the Evidence

“It’s tough enough that we don’t get to see the classified information, but the previous time, we didn’t even get to see this other stuff that she [Secretary Rice] was relying on that’s not classified—until after she made her decision when it was too late,” Frey said.  “She has a lot of discretion. The court’s review is deferential, not non-existent, but the court doesn’t substitute its judgment for the secretary’s.  It asks whether the secretary’s decision is one reasonable official could make.   We don’t think it was a wise decision.”

Among the strongest accusations against PMOI in the declassified material was an accusation that the group trained women at Camp Ashraf “to perform suicide attacks in Karbala,” an Iraqi city 60 miles southwest of Baghdad.

“It is unbelievable that she [Secretary Rice] could have relied on that,” Frey said.  “I mean the U.S. military was occupying Camp Ashraft during this whole period.  People couldn’t leave the camp without military permission.  The Army had free access to the camp.  The idea that we would be training suicide bombers under the noses of the Army is preposterous.  … The Karbala bombing had nothing to do with Iran.”

“That’s the kind of thing, had the secretary given us the chance to address it, we could readily have demonstrated how preposterous it is,” Frey said.  “The secretary could not in good faith have relied on [the State Department’s sources] once she understood the deficiencies in that rumor, which doubtless was spread by the regime in Iran, which has actively been engaged in spreading disinformation about PMOI.”

The State Department says that while it is studying the opinion, the United States government continues to view the PMOI as a terrorist organization.

Despite that statement, Frey said he doesn’t think the State Department means the secretary is “prejudging the next round of decision-making on this subject.”

Next Steps

The court did find a small opening for PMOI’s possible non-FTO future in Secretary Rice’s 2009 FTO designation filing.  “In light of the evidence submitted by the MEK that it has renounced terrorism and the uncertainty surrounding the MEK presence in Iraq, the continued designation of the MEK should be re-examined by the secretary of State in the next two years even if the MEK does not file a petition for revocation,” she noted.

What PMOI expects from the State Department is “a fresh look” at the evidence. 

“The next step is for us to basically have a dialog with the State Department in which they tell us what they’re thinking about that’s not classified, that’s adverse stuff, so that we get a chance to make a submission to them and explain it and argue why it’s not reliable, why it wouldn’t justify the terrorist designation,” Frey said.  “I don’t know that [Secretary Clinton] has given it much thought until now.  The whole time she has been in office, the case has been in the court.” 

“If the secretary makes a good-faith, honest decision that’s not guided by some ulterior political motive, [PMOI] ought to be taken off the list,” Frey said.   “At least we’re given the chance to make the case to her, and it’s a strong case.”