Washington, DC – Efforts in the House of Representatives to press the Obama Administration to remove the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) from the United States list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations have accelerated in the past week.
The State Department describes the MEK as a “cult-like” terrorist organization that “uses propaganda and terrorism to achieve its objectives.” Human Rights Watch has reported that MEK leadership has engaged in human rights violations against its membership at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
But last Tuesday, six Members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging that the State Department remove the Marxist Islamist group from the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
The letter highlights a House resolution, H.Res. 1431, calling for the group’s removal from the terrorist list, introduced by California Democratic Representative Bob Filner, one of the MEK’s staunchest supporters in Congress. The MEK, which is known by numerous aliases, including MKO, the People’s Mojahadeen of Iran (PMOI) and the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), has an active presence on Capitol Hill, and the Filner resolution has garnered over 100 cosponsors.
“Removing the MEK from the FTO [Foreign Terrorist Organizations] list is not only the right thing to do, but it also sends the right message to Tehran,” reads the letter, which was signed by Representatives Filner, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Ted Poe (R-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), and Mike Coffman (R-CO).
According to the State Department, the MEK has “staged terrorist attacks inside Iran and killed several US military personnel and civilians,” and until 2003 received Oil-for-Food program subsidies from Saddam Hussein to plan and execute future terrorist attacks. The MEK’s “leadership and members across the world maintain the capacity and will to commit terrorist acts in Europe, the Middle East, the United State, Canada, and beyond,” reads the State Department terrorist designation of the group. Additionally, the State Department says the MEK has “cult-like characteristics”:
"Upon entry into the group, new members are indoctrinated in MEK ideology and revisionist Iranian history. Members are also required to undertake a vow of "eternal divorce" and participate in weekly "ideological cleansings." Additionally, children are reportedly separated from parents at a young age. MEK leader Maryam Rajavi has established a "cult of personality." She claims to emulate the Prophet Muhammad and is viewed by members as the "Iranian President in exile."
The MEK asserts that it no longer engages in terror tactics. But a 2007 Rand report (pdf) describes the MEK as “skilled manipulators of public opinion.” The report, commissioned on behalf of the US Department of Defense, says, “During the more than four decades since its founding, the MEK has become increasingly adept at crafting and promoting its image as a democratic organization that seeks to bring down Iranian tyrants, both secular and religious.”
The group’s supporters in Congress call the MEK the “main opposition in Iran,” although top Green Movement leaders have denounced the group. […]Iranians widely oppose the MEK because of the terrorist attacks carried out by the group in Iran, as well as its allegiance with Saddam Hussein, who utilized the group to carry out attacks during the Iran-Iraq war and to suppress the Kurdish population in Iraq.[…]
Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat from California, said last week that his Subcommittee on Terrorism “should take that bill seriously,” and blamed the State Department for not providing necessary briefings on the matter. Sherman, who has previously stated that sanctions should punish the Iranian people, said that he has a briefing request from intelligence officials pending on the MEK designation. Sherman has argued that the US should not designate groups like MEK as terrorists because they are “not enemies of the United States but are enemies of the enemies of the United States.”
That formulation was repeated last week at the House Foreign Affairs Committee by Rep. Rohrabacher, who told Administration officials that the MEK, “are currently allied with us in the war against radical Islam, especially against the regime in Iran,” and “should not be taken for granted.” The hearing, on the topic of the US transition to a civilian role in Iraq, provided a platform for Congressional MEK supporters, including the Committee’s incoming chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen, to press Administration officials about Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
MEK supporters in Congress have frequently cited the human rights conditions at Camp Ashraf, which is now under jurisdiction of an Iraqi government that is viewed as hostile towards the group, as a justification for removing the group’s terrorist designation. However, Human Rights Watch filed a report on behalf of the UN Refugee Agency asserting that MEK leadership committed human rights abuses against its own members. The 2005 report (No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the Mojahedin Khalq Camp) notes that abuses “ranged from prolonged incommunicado and solitary confinement to beatings, verbal and psychological abuse, coerced confessions, threats of execution, and torture that in two cases led to death.”