Home » Mujahedin Khalq Organization as a terrorist group » Court Order Doesn’t Mean MKOs Removal from U.S. FTO List

Court Order Doesn’t Mean MKOs Removal from U.S. FTO List

The Mujahedin-eh Kalq Organization (MKO/MEK) since 1997 has been listed by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The designation was reaffirmed in January 2009 by then-secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The MKO has had a long history of Court Order Doesn’t Mean MKOs Removal from U.S. FTO Listterror and violence and has recently and eagerly tried to clean up its image—hoping the effort will help remove them from the FTO list. The MKO believes that if they are removed from the FTO list, they will have more credibility as an organization, and therefore gain more support from Western nations. The MKO currently argues that it had ceased its military campaign against the Iranian government in 2001, voluntarily handed over its arms to U.S. forces in 2003 and provided a flood of information to U.S. intelligence about Iran’s nuclear programs. [1] The MKO’s ultimate goal in this plan is to replace the Iranian government with their own, and they are seeking support from Western nations, never mind the fact that neither of the MKO leaders nor many members of this cult have stepped foot inside Iran for more than three decades. The MKO is out of touch with the pulse of the nation and the more they press for being removed from the FTO list, the more wary regular Iranians become—as it signifies that the MKO is becoming tighter with the very nations which impeded Iran’s natural political progress; Iranian citizens do not want a U.S. supported MKO—they simply see it as treacherous liaison, which if nurtured, will make an already tense relationship with Iran even worse.

The MKO believes they have made an advancement because now, by way of a heavy handed legal battle, they are celebrating a federal appeals court decision—argued January 12, 2010 and recently decided July 16, 2010—which orders the State Department to review its FTO designation of the MKO on the grounds that the MKO was not privy to classified information, and therefore could not establish an argument and rebuttal which they believe would generate a stronger case to get them removed from the list. The final order was not about lifting the MKO off the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, but about due process for the group. The court stated that the purpose of the remand was to afford the MKO “an opportunity to review and rebut the unclassified portions of the record.” [2] The court also stated in the order that the Secretary of State’s “denial of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran’s petition for revocation of its 2003 designation as a foreign terrorist organization is remanded to the Secretary for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” [3] What this means, is that the petition will end up back on the Secretary’s desk and the Secretary will look at it again. The judge who preceded over the case made a note in the order which states that “none of the AEDPA (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996) cases decides whether an administrative decision relying critically on undisclosed classified material would comport with due process because in none was the classified record essential to uphold an FTO designation.[4] This is an unfavorable comment—although the Secretary is obligated to reconsider, she is unlikely to lift the MKO from the FTO list.

Standard procedure for the MKO in a situation like this is to celebrate as if it was a huge victory. The celebration is meant to bolster morale among members and augment interest from anyone from the media who will listen and report on the MKO’s plight. In essence they have used this ruling to exaggerate the issue and create a positive hype. In celebrating, they also hope to reinforce support from agenda-pushing neoconservative politicians who believe that Iran cannot handle its own domestic affairs. In France, in Auver Sur d-Oise where Maryam Rajavi, the self-imposed leader of the MKO, who feels entitled to speak on behalf of Iranian citizens despite, as previously mentioned, not having set foot in Iran for more than three decades, spoke to her sympathizers after the ruling; her response to the court order was that "sanctions against this regime are necessary and very important, but not enough. A regime change materializes in the resistance of a nation. International peace and security can only be guaranteed when ruling religious fascism is gone. So barriers to change must be removed. The chains tying the hands of the organized resistance of people must be removed." [5]. The chains she speaks of is the designation of the MKO as an FTO, and the bottom line here is that the MKO has not been de-listed from the Foreign Terrorist List—a statement she wishes to twirl into a bondage metaphor.

Rajavi claims that the FTO designation of her cult is a barrier to gain international peace and security. This is fine to claim, but the logic is fuzzy because the information gleaned from the court proceedings suggests nothing about moving Iran towards peace and security. According to Glen Kessler’s report from the Washington Post, “During the court proceedings, some of that information was declassified. State asserted that the group has not ended its military operations, still intends to use violence to achieve its political goals, has trained females to be suicide bombers and that much of the information it has provided on Iran’s nuclear program has been wrong. But the court cast doubt on some of these assertions and said the group now must be given the opportunity to rebut these charges.” [6] Kessler asserts that the State Department said it would study the opinion ‘carefully’ and noted it continues to view the group as a terrorist organization.” [7] It’s clear that promptly, the court cast doubt not because they thought the MKO was really a peaceful and non-violent group, but because the MKO was denied access to classified information and therefore could not rebut.

It is important for Iranians to know that the people in the West are aware of the use of violence by the MKO against Iranian authorities and civilians. In fact, MKO terrorist activities are always mentioned in the United States’ description of the group. The following excerpt regarding the MKO’s activities is from the State Department’s “Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003”:

The group’s worldwide campaign against the Iranian Government stresses propaganda and occasionally uses terrorism. During the 1970s, the MEK killed U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilians working on defense projects in Tehran and supported the takeover in 1979 of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. In 1981, the MEK detonated bombs in the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Premier’s office, killing some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. Near the end of the 1980-1988 war with Iran, Baghdad armed the MEK with military equipment and sent it into action against Iranian forces. In 1991, the MEK reportedly assisted the Government of Iraq in suppressing the Shia uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north. In April 1992, the MEK conducted near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and installations in 13 countries, demonstrating the group’s ability to mount large-scale operations overseas. In April 1999, the MEK targeted key military officers and assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff. In April 2000, the MEK attempted to assassinate the commander of the Nasr Headquarters, Tehran’s interagency board responsible for coordinating policies on Iraq. The normal pace of anti-Iranian operations increased during "Operation Great Bahman" in February 2000, when the group launched a dozen attacks against Iran. One of those attacks included a mortar attack against the leadership complex in Tehran that housed the offices of the Supreme Leader and the President. In 2000 and 2001, the MEK was involved regularly in mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids on Iranian military and law enforcement units and government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border, although MEK terrorism in Iran declined toward the end of 2001. The MEK leadership ordered its members not to resist Coalition forces at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and they surrendered their arms to Coalition forces in May 2003. [8]

In May 2005, Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball wrote an article about the hullabaloo of the MKO. They state that the MKO has long been controversial because of its history of violent attacks in Iran, its relationship with Saddam’s regime and its background as a quasi-religious, quasi-Marxist radical resistance group founded in the era of the late Iranian shah. They mention that in 1997, the Clinton administration put MKO on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups. They also put forward that the MKOs U.S. supporters, among whom at one point numbered dozens of members of Congress, charged that the Clinton administration only labeled MKO as a terrorist group as part of an ill-conceived attempt to improve relations with the ayatollahs who currently run Iran. They relate that the Bush administration added two alleged MKO front organizations to the State Department’s terrorist list in 2003. [9] Isikoff and Hosenball state that “despite the group’s notoriety, Bush himself cited purported intelligence gathered by [MKO] as evidence of the Iranian regime’s rapidly accelerating nuclear ambitions. At a March 16 press conference, Bush said Iran’s hidden nuclear program had been discovered not because of international inspections but ‘because a dissident group pointed it out to the world.’ White House aides acknowledged later that the dissident group cited by the president is the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), one of the [MKO] front groups added to the State Department list two years ago.”[10] Finally the Newsweek article reveals that “in an appearance before a House International Relations Subcommittee a year ago, John Bolton, the controversial State Department undersecretary who Bush has nominated to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was questioned by a Congressman sympathetic to [MKO] about whether it was appropriate for the U.S. government to pay attention to allegations about Iran supplied by the group. Bolton said he believed that [MKO] ‘qualifies as a terrorist organization according to our criteria.’ But he added that he did not think the official label had ‘prohibited us from getting information from them. And I certainly don’t have any inhibition about getting information about what’s going on in Iran from whatever source we can find that we deem reliable.’” [11]

Regardless of John Bolton’s—or any other official’s ambition for Iran, and regardless of the MKOs position or non-position on the FTO list, the MKO simply can not and should not be a trusted device. Following the 2005 report of Human Rights Watch on MKO atrocities against its own members titled "No Exit," various cases of human rights violations by the MKO was revealed through testimonies made by the group’s former members. Joe Stork, a Human Rights Watch expert on the Middle East, in a UN Refugee Agency report stated that “it would be a mistake to promote an opposition group that is responsible for serious human rights abuses". [12]

U.S. officials, especially those of the State Department should research and reflect deeply before making any decision about a group that owns all the criteria of a destructive terrorist cult. Western politicians should realize that their support for the MKO will never improve their standing among Iranians inside or outside the country and the reason why is articulated by Trita Parsi, an author who founded the National Iranian American Council (NIAC):

[The MKOs] involvement in terrorism is undisputed. It assassinated several Americans in Iran in the 1970s. It supported the taking of the U.S. Embassy in Iran and blasted Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini for releasing the American diplomats in 1981, arguing instead that the hostages should have been executed. It made a pact with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and fought alongside his army against their Iranian countrymen. Later in the 1990s, they became Saddam’s most trusted henchmen, tasked with quelling Kurdish and Shiite uprisings against the Iraqi dictator.

According to defectors, Mujahedin members in Camp Ashraf celebrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In 2003, French authorities descended upon the Mujahedin headquarters in France, arresting the leader of the cult, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. Immediately, zealous Mojahedin members staged hunger strikes and several set themselves ablaze. Hardly the behavior of a democratically oriented opposition group. [13]

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose reputation would be tarnished should she allow a change of status for the MKO after the current court ordered remand, would be making an insouciant error. The removal of the MKO from the FTO list is a Pandora’s Box and both the U.S. and Iran would face a political nightmare over the next several years. In order to be fair, the U.S. should afford the MKO the right to a democratic process in which they can review the charges against them, but they should also be acutely conscious as to why they are on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list in the first place, and why they need to remain there.

[1] United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. Argued January 12, 2010. Decided July 16, 2010 No. 09-1059. PMOI v. Hillary Clinton. http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/common/opinions/201007/09-1059-1255582.pdf
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid
[5] Policy prevents this author from citing this source, which is readily available on the web.
[6]Kessler, Glenn. "Court tells State Dept. to reconsider terrorist label for Iran opposition group." Washington Post 17 July 2010, Print.
[7] Ibid
[8] http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2005/65275.htm
[9] Isikoff Michael & Hosenball Mark. "Consider the Source: The State Department says MEK is a terror group. Human Rights Watch says it’s a cult. For the White House,
MEK is a source of intelligence on Iran.
”MSNBC.com 20 May 2005: Web. 10 Aug 2010. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7902719/site/newsweek/>.
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[12] Human Rights Watch, No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the Mojahedin Khalq Camps, 18 May 2005. Web. 10 August 2010 http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/45d085002.html
[13] Parsi, Trita. "Deciding the Fate of the Mojahedin Khalq Organisation." Iran Press Service 10 October 2008: Web. 10 Aug 2010.

By Mazda Parsi

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