Opinion: U.S. Congress, Timothy McVeigh and Mojahedin-e Khalq
As the date of Timothy McVeigh’s execution approaches, and in light of the Secretary of State’s recent testimony on counterterrorism before the Senate, I am drawn to note the lack of unity in Congress in recognizing and dealing with this dilemma. Timothy McVeigh is being executed because of his role in the murderous and deadly attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Paradoxically, and through a twisted sense of rights and logic, the Mojahedin-e Khalq/National Council of Resistance (MEK/NCR) and their supporters claim similar cause to detonate bombs and execute mortar attacks and other violence against Iranian government and civil structures frequently resulting in death and injury to civilians and bystanders. Although the MEK/NCR has long been rightly identified and designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, and in spite of the fact that the FBI has made numerous arrests and broken up immigration fraud and bogus charity front rings operating in support and on behalf of the MEK/NCR, nevertheless this has not prevented a handful of members of Congress from endorsing the MEK/NCR and circulating letters of support amongst their colleagues.
One might reasonably be astonished that members of the U.S. Congress could even think to support a terrorist organization, particularly one with American blood on its hands, but it is a sad fact that such letters have been sponsored over the years by Robert Torricelli, Gary Ackerman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, amongst others. A longer list of congressmembers have appeared at MEK/NCR press conferences and their photographs and kind words have graced the pages of the MEK newspaper, Mojahed, alongside their machine gun logo, no less. But it does not stop there. Gary Ackerman and Ros-Lehtinen have publicly claimed over 200 House members’ signatures on their letters, thus abusing the good name of our representatives and the sanctity of the U.S. Congress to provide aid and comfort to violent terrorists. While this has pleased the MEK/NCR and confounded our efforts to gain international cooperation on terrorism and to convince certain countries such as Iran of our sincerity, Ackerman and Ros-Lehtinen steadfastly refuse to divulge the names of the alleged cosigners. When prodded with the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act, for example, Jonathan Berger of Ackerman’s office cynically replied to the author that the FOIA "does not apply to Congress".
We have a serious problem in this country when a few members of Congress can claim in the name of a majority of their colleagues endorsement of a violent foreign terrorist organization and then deny basic information on such claims to the very citizens that they have been elected to represent.
It is particularly disturbing because the MEK/NCR have become an important point of contention between Iran and the U.S. The State Department has regularly expressed its concerns about terrorism and its desire to discuss this subject with the Iranian government but such actions by members of the U.S. Congress have hampered efforts to address terrorism as a global problem of concern to all. How can we expect the Iranian government to take us seriously when our own representatives encourage terrorist violence on their soil?
In May of 1998, for example, Ros-Lehtinen and Ackerman claimed to have 220 House members’ signatures on a letter supportive of the MEK. Days later, emboldened by this support, the group detonated a series of bombs in Tehran killing civilians. These and similar acts have brought condemnation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
And while MEK/NCR members are being portrayed as some kind of "freedom fighters" by their friends in Congress, developments in the U.S. indicate that they will do and say anything to further their cause in contravention of U.S. laws. In 1992, MEK members stormed the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York and took hostages at knife point. In 1999, the FBI arrested dozens in an immigration fraud ring linked to the smuggling of MEK members into the U.S. Just this year the FBI made arrests in the case of a false charity allegedly collecting donations for refugees and then funneling the money to the organization to purchase weapons. Alarmingly, the "charity" had been granted non-profit status in the State of California and had been given license to solicit door-to-door in some communities.
McVeigh’s judgement comes because we Americans find murder and violence an abhorrent and intolerable form of political expression. Terrorism is fundamentally at odds with democracy and human rights. There are no good terrorists. Ackerman and Ros-Lehtinen owe the American people an explanation for their activities. At the very least, our elected officials have a responsibility to discuss these matters publicly and not through "secret" letters for the benefit of terrorists.
About the author: I am a research engineer (B.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering) and also a personal activist that believes that open civic dialog and trust in one’s representatives are fundamental to the enjoyment of the full fruits of democracy. My interest in the MEK was sparked by a recognition that important basic information about Iran and Iranians was being conveyed by an extremist few and that widespread mainstream Iranian-American participation in U.S. politics was sorely lacking. I also believe that this distorted perspective has hindered U.S. efforts at formulating effective policy in resolving the differences between our nations. Bradley J. Hernlem, Ph.D