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A tragic death at Iraq's Camp Liberty as MEK supporters face intimidation

Bardia-Amir-Mostofian-.jpg

Bardia Amir-MostofianCourtesy of the authors

On the eve of the Persian New Year, Nowrouz, on March 20, Bardia Amir-Mostofian, a 44 year-old engineer, was praying in preparation for the celebrations, when he died of cardiac arrest in the abandoned, former US military base in Iraq known as Camp Liberty.

Baradia died after 48 excruciating hours of repeated "inspections" by Iraqi troops, during his transfer -- together with several hundred other members of the Iranian opposition movement, Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK)-- from Camp Ashraf, where they lived for the last 26 years, to Camp Liberty. It seems that Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki's close relations with Iran's Mullahs, who consider MEK an existential threat to the regime, is behind his decision to close the camp.

MEK, including the 3,400 detainees at Camp Ashraf, was put on the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) in 1997. According to prominent former US government officials, including Louis Freeh, FBI Director at the time the designation was made, and Martin Indyk, then Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, the designation was part of a failed political ploy by the Clinton administration that yielded to the regime's hostility to the MEK, in the hope it would encourage Tehran's moderation. The United Kingdom and the European Union followed suit and added MEK to their terrorist list. However, they removed the group from their lists in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

In June 2004, Bardia and his fellow detainees at Camp Ashraf had been given "protected persons" status by the US under Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions. 

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed a memorandum to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B. Myers, approving the designation and explicitly stating that, "I understand that making such determination will assist in expediting the efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the disposition of these individuals in accordance with applicable international law." 

Rumsfeld signed this memorandum only after all Camp Ashraf residents--who had given up their arms to the American military in 2003--underwent an exhaustive vetting process by different US agencies. No evidence was found of their involvement in terrorism against the United States since the early 1980s. According to Brig. Gen. David Phillips (ret.), who initiated and supervised the investigation, "A few had unpaid parking tickets, but nothing else." Gen. Phillips issued Ashraf residents promissory letters on ID cards in English and Arabic stating that they were under the protection of the United States.

After several raids on Camp Ashraf by Iraqi armed forces, in which 47 residents were killed and more than 1,000 wounded, scores of former U.S. public officials, both Democrats and Republicans, military officers and Congressmen, publicly protested the abuse and demanded that the Obama administration rescue the defenseless residents of Ashraf before more lost their lives.

On March 9, the Washington Times broke the story that former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell's speakers' bureau was being investigated by the Treasury Department for allegedly doing business with terrorists. 

Other media outlets, some quoting several unidentified State Department officials, were all too happy to spread the word about the trumped-up scandal. 

And what exactly was the business in question? Accepting fees for speaking out in support of humane treatment for unarmed members of MEK detained by the Iraqis, as well urging their de-listing from the FTO so that they could be safely relocate outside Iraq. 

Rendell is in good company. Prominent former U.S. officials, military and intelligence officers -- all with vast experience in fighting terrorism--have been doing the same. These include: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former National Security Adviser James Jones, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Brig. General Phillips, former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, General Hugh Shelton, and R. James Woolsey. They are joined by eminent Democrats such as Howard Dean, Bill Richardson, and Patrick Kennedy

Treasury is probing the speaking fees and speakers' bureaus of some of these individuals as well. Curiously, some of those subpoeaned were previously asked by the State Department and the White House to help persuade Camp Ashraf residents to move to Camp Liberty. 

Intriguingly, the Treasury subpoenas were delivered soon after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the State Department to respond to MEK's petition requesting its removal from the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list, unless the secretary could show cause why de-listing is unwarranted. The above-mentioned dignitaries, along with fourteen others, submitted an amicus brief in support of the MEk's petition. (Secretary Clinton must respond by March 26, 2012.)

The website for Foreign Policy and other publications imply that these eminent MEK supporters are misguided mercenaries who are illegally associating with terrorists. 

To substantiate such outrageous claims, Foreign Policy cited unnamed State Department officials and quoted‹unchallenged--tendentious statements from Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), seen by many as a mouthpiece for Tehran, saying that, "U.S. officials . . . speak in support of the MEK while pretending that the money is not coming from the MEK." Unnamed State Department officials, he claimed, gave this information to him privately.

On March 20, on Al Jazeera, another member of the NIAC, Reza Marashi, claims that MeK "got off the list in Europe on a technicality." That "technicality" however, is the 2008 decision of the Court of First Instance of the European Communities, annulling for the third time the European Council's decision to list the MEK on the EU's terror list.

It is hardly a secret that pandering to Iran has given the regime more time to pursue its belligerent agenda. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems willing to keep pandering. 

Despite evidence that Ashraf resident have not been engaged in terrorism against Americans for more than two decades, and were fully vetted and promised protection by the US military, Clinton still seems unwilling to remove that group from the FTO list.

Media stories have focused on the propriety of former public officials speaking out and being reimbursed by American relatives and supporters of Ashara residents. But the real story here is how this administration has abdicated a repeated U.S. commitment to their safety. 

At a Congressional hearing on February 29 Secretary Clinton responded to a question by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), saying that, "The US will help insure the safety and security of the Camp's residents as they are moved to another site inside Iraq." 

Baradia's tragic death tells a different story. Also ignored by the media is the disturbing story of how the Obama administration is using intimidation tactics to muzzle its critics-- and silence free speech in the process.

Rachel Ehrenfeld, is Director of the American Center for Democracy  and author of "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed -- and How To Stop It." K.D.M. Jensen is Associate Director of ACD.