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Reality Check: The MEK and the Guardian's Credibility Gap

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An article published on January 9, by The Guardian on the principal Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), by Matthew Partridge, a graduate student and freelance journalist, is jam-packed with first-grade logical blunders, permeated with The Guardian's embarrassingly lopsided journalism on the issue, and topped with dubious historical analogies.

The author's main claim is that when it comes to the MEK, there is a "credibility" gap between the organization's rhetoric and actions. His piece makes him liable to the same charge.

Although he self-assuredly seeks to enlighten two world powers -- US and UK -- with rather elaborate insight, making the bold claim that supporting the MEK would not only be wrong, but "morally and strategically" wrong, surprisingly less than a quarter (only two short paragraphs) of it is dedicated to libelous charges against the MEK meant to support its claim. Even worse, only one reference is used.

The mandatory reluctance to rehash more allegations, as The Guardian used to relish in the past, is the outcome of eight court rulings which struck down such slurs against the MEK in the UK, EU, and the US over the past decade. Printing more hollow accusations would have put The Guardian visibly in the frivolous ranks of state-run propaganda sources in Iran, which collectively spew out lies about the organization every time it makes political inroads.

Most of the article is a showcase of the author's inexplicable fidelity for inapt historical examples. In a 510-word article, he mentions everything from Hitler's Operation Barbarossa to Churchill's perceptions of Stalin to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait to the Taliban and Afghanistan. It is little wonder that after this exhausting marathon, the author seems too drained to steer clear of the hurdles of elementary logic.

There is no question, of course, that the West has erred in its strategic calculations when it comes to the Middle East. But one of them, incidentally, is precisely the support it has lent to the ruthless clerical regime in Iran by labeling the MEK a "terrorist" entity. That example, along with many others (Iran-Contra anyone?), which are more pertinent to this particular case, somehow failed to make the cut for the article. They would have shown the extent to which the West has erred "strategically and morally" in helping and enabling the Iranian regime to survive and further suppress dissent by relying on the terror label against the MEK, which Tehran views as an existential threat.

Former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said in an interview with BBC Radio on February 1, 2006, that that he proscribed the MEK at the behest of the mullahs (the MEK was de-listed in the UK in 2008 after a court ruling ordering the government to do so). Former US officials in successive administrations have admitted as much. The MEK's designation was meant as a "goodwill gesture" to Tehran in a bid to open dialogue with the Iranian people's murderers. (See Reality Check: Understanding the Politics Behind the MEK's Terrorist Designation).

Why Partridge deliberately omits such more recent and much more apt examples is for the reader to figure out.

Partridge is similarly disinclined to refer to US governments' quid-pro-quo (in collusion with the UK) with the mullahs to bomb MEK camps in Iraq in return for the latter's agreement not to interfere in a post-war Iraq. The Wall Street Journal (April 17, 2003) reported that the bombing was carried out after a "secret meeting" with Iranian regime officials as well as a former Revolutionary Guard commander's call on American forces to attack MEK camps.

The author opines "sometimes" it is "necessary" to support "odious governments, or coalitions that contain abhorrent individuals." Indeed, when it comes to the Iranian regime, the West has fallen head over heels to appease the mullahs. What explains his ignorance about this?

He adds that the MEK shouldn't be supported. Yet it is unclear how he has come to the conclusion that the MEK is not even worthy of being seen as a "coalition that contains abhorrent individuals" who, he says, "sometimes" merit support!

He also fails to explain how he deduces from a few past occurrences, a self-proclaimed definite conclusion relating to the unforeseen future, essentially saying that the MEK will become another Stalin (even Churchill was more humble: "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma"). This becomes all the more perplexing when he admits "On the surface, MEK's goals ... are laudable and should clearly be supported."

We are invited to believe, however, that under this "laudable" exterior, there is a sinister interior. But, if he indeed sees something "under the surface" that the keen and experienced political senses of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, among others, not to mention the thousands of parliamentarians across the world, and never mind Europe' most senior judges, have somehow failed to notice, he should at least explain what that thing is; and he should do it by relying on objective and factual evidence.

Unsurprisingly, of course, there is not much to be seen behind the veil of bias.

For his short-lived "eureka!" moment, the author points to the MEK's presence in Iraq since 1986 to unearth a "credibility" gap between the group's rhetoric and actions. Yet the MEK's presence in Iraq, investigated by multiple US and international agencies, was from the very beginning conditional on its complete independence, including in the political, economic, organizational and military realms. The Iraqi government at the time agreed not to interfere in the MEK's affairs while the MEK reciprocated by pledging not to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs.

In 1998, UNSCOM reported to then-UN Secretary General on weapons inspections in Iraq, by saying that the MEK's camps were "not under the authority of Iraq."

The author's complete apathy regarding the authenticity of the claim that the MEK was involved in the suppression of Shiites and Kurds in Iraq in 1991 belies his bias and ill intentions. There is absolutely no physical evidence to substantiate the allegation, which was first propagated by none other than the Iranian regime.

In a 1999 letter to a court in the Netherlands, Iraq's present Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, who was at the time the foreign policy spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP), wrote, "(We) can confirm that the Mujahedeen (sic) were not involved in suppressing the Kurdish people neither during the uprising nor in its aftermath. We have not come across any evidence to suggest that the Mujahedeen have exercised any hostility towards the people of Iraqi Kurdistan."

Official United Nations documents (submitted by the International Educational Development) have also found the allegation to be false after investigating it, saying, "From our independent investigation and discussion with parties involved, we find these allegations false."

Senior Shiite leaders, such as Ayatollah Iyad Jamal ad-Din, and the leader of the Intifidiya Movement of Sha'baniya, Sami Ghazi al-Assadi, have also said that they have not found "a single page of evidence, or a photograph or a document that would show that this organization had participated in the suppression of Iraqis."

After a 16-month exhaustive investigation by nine U.S. security and intelligence agencies, including the FBI, the CIA and the State Department, the United States concluded, according to the New York Times, that it "found no basis to charge members of an Iranian opposition group in Iraq with violations of American law."

What evidence does the author have that trumps all this? Certainly, these and other allegations supported by the UK government failed to hold up in court.

And, with regards to the 1979 hostage crisis, suffice it to say that the regime's own notorious hostage takers, such as Abbas Soroush and Ayatollah Mohammad Moussavi Khoiniha have confirmed that "political groups, especially the MEK, played no role whatsoever in the occupation of the embassy," and that "in their first statement, the MEK described the occupation of the embassy as reactionary and unpopular."

The worn-out charges against the MEK would have been flavorful for Tehran apologists perhaps years ago in the heyday of appeasement. But they no longer are after being officially and definitively discredited by Europe's highest judicial authorities. In 2008 and 2009, both the UK and the EU were forced to drop the terror label against the MEK. In July 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit examined these and other accusations against the MEK and, according to the Washington Post, "cast doubt" on the evidence, "strongly suggesting" that the MEK's designation should be revoked.

So, Partridge's examples on western mistakes in supporting odious governments can more fittingly be applied as lessons as far as the West's dealings with the mullahs is concerned, not with the MEK, which has been unjustly stigmatized by the US State Department to curry favor with the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Instead of blindly taking the State Department's accusations at face value, a serious journalist should at least subject them to closer scrutiny.

The US, the author says, should "support for genuine pro-democracy groups in Iran" without explicitly saying who they are. "On the surface," his suggestion is "laudable and should clearly be supported."

He should also note that the MEK's supporters, such as Ali Saremi, 64, on December 28, 2010, Jafar Kazemi, 47, and Mohammad Ali Haj-Aghaie, 62, on January 24, 2011, and many others, according to the British Foreign Office and Amnesty International, are being tortured or executed (or on death row) for merely visiting their loved ones in Camp Ashraf.

In June 2010, tens of thousands of Iranians rallied in support of the organization just outside Paris, according to the New York Times. A majority of European legislators and dozens of US members of Congress have persistently voiced support for the organization, not on the simple logic of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," but on the sober and strategic realization that the MEK's struggle for democracy is the only real solution for Iran.

Indeed, the West has made a terrible moral and strategic mistake by placating the mullahs at the expense of the Iranian people and their democratic opposition in the form of the MEK. The author ignores this, and instead, even in light of the facts above, makes the astoundingly authoritarian suggestion that the MEK should not even be "tolerated."

To deliberately cover up the West's appeasement of the mullahs in the form of labeling the MEK "terrorist," and to say that this organization should not even be "tolerated" while carbon-copying absurd allegations against it in the face of overwhelming and publicly available evidence to the contrary, is in effect indicative of a disgraceful "credibility gap" that -- even while being aware of The Guardian's less than perfect standards for reporting on the MEK -- deserves particular contempt.