In recent weeks, a number of national U.S. news outlets have documented a strange phenomenon. Dozens of retired U.S. government officials, spanning the liberal-to-conservative political spectrum and some paid tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees, have joined a well-orchestrated lobbying campaign to remove a controversial Iranian exile group from the list of terrorist organizations maintained by the U.S. State Department.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to make a decision on the group’s status within weeks. She should take a close look at the history of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) before making a decision.
The MEK is a cult-like organization run by Iranian exiles Maryam Rajavi and her husband Massoud. Ms. Rajavi lives in Paris and leads the National Council of Resistance in Iran, a group that claims exile-government status. According to the FBI, it is a front group for the Mujahedeen-e Khalq.
Also known as the Warriors of God, MEK has a history of anti-American rhetoric and unsavory associations over the past four decades under the leadership of the Rajavis. It was initially aligned with the leaders of the Iranian Islamic revolution and later with Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein after the group was expelled from Iran. It is accused of dozens of assassinations and bombings, including one which killed six American advisers in Iran, and murdering Kurdish refugees in Iraq at Hussein’s behest. It is currently based at a camp in Iraq protected by the U.S. military but facing expulsion by the Iraqi government. A clash between Iraqi forces and camp members resulted in 34 deaths in April.
Despite the MEK’s ugly history, a power-packed roster of speakers has appeared at forums in the U.S. and Europe to endorse its drive to get off the terrorist list. Among the luminaries are former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former Energy Secretary and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former FBI director Louis Freeh. Some of the high-profile speakers admit they knew little about the group beyond their briefing by MEK advocates.
According to a study by the Rand Corporation in 2009, the MEK has deceptively retooled its image to that of a democratic, nonviolent organization dedicated to bringing down the Iranian government. As such, the group is cultivating prominent Americans looking for a plausible alternative to Iran’s current leadership.
The MEK doesn’t seem to fit that bill. The Rand study reported that up to 70 percent of the 3,500 people at MEK’s Iraqi camp were deceptively recruited and are held against their will. Even prodemocracy groups inside Iran have denounced the MEK as a totalitarian cult group dedicated to the Rajavis.
An investigation by the Christian Science Monitor reported that millions of dollars provided by MEK have paid those high-profile speakers’ fees and hotel costs for the events. Although U.S. law prohibits Americans from providing direct assistance to or taking payments from terrorist groups, the connection is disguised by running the funds through third parties, usually Iranian exile groups in the U.S.
Prominent Americans should not be accepting payments and supporting a group that has shed American blood in the past and has no viable support inside Iran. We urge Secretary Clinton to keep the MEK on the terrorist roster.