On Thursday, April 8th, I received a phone call a little before midnight D.C. time. The voice on the other end franticly told me to turn on the Iranian satellite channel, Iran NTV, adding that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's forces had stormed Camp Ashraf just hours before. As my friend on the phone continued speaking, all I could think about was my brother Hanif and our mutual friend Elham. Hanif and Elham Zanjani, both 29, are residents of Camp Ashraf located in the Diyala province, north of Baghdad in Iraq. The camp is home to 3,400 unarmed Iranian refugees, members of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the primary opposition group to the tyrannical mullahs in Iran. Surely acting at the behest of Tehran, the Iraqi Prime Minister ordered the deadly assault.
As I watched the scenes of carnage unfold that day, I recognized the familiar face of my dear Elham. Her body, badly injured by a hand grenade thrown by Iraqi forces, was lying on a medic stretcher. Overwhelmed with a sense of anger and disbelief, I realized that my loved ones were paying the price of their legal protector's broken promises, with their blood.
In 2004, Ashraf residents were granted "Protected Persons" status under the 4th Geneva Convention by the United States, and the U.S. pledged to uphold the protection of these individuals until their final disposition. In 2009, under U.S. security agreements with Iraq, protection of the camp, despite extensive prior warnings of an imminent bloodshed, was handed over to the Iraqis.
All concerned parties, including Ashraf residents' family members and their representatives, were repeatedly told that there was no cause for concern, and that the Iraqi government had provided the U.S. with written assurances that camp members would be treated humanely. However, only a few months later, on July 28, 2009, Maliki's forces raided the camp, killing 11 and wounding 500. My brother was among the wounded.
Both in 2009 and again in 2011, U.S. military personnel had prior knowledge of these planned attacks, even standing by and videotaping the Iraqi attack in July 2009. Yet the U.S. chose to turn its back on its moral and legal obligations at the cost of human lives and in violation of international human rights laws.
I recently attended a symposium in D.C. entitled "Tide of Democracy in the Middle East: Emerging Iran-Iraq Relationship and the Attacks on Camp Ashraf," where one of the panelists, retired General and 2004 presidential candidate, Wesley Clark, among several other high officials such as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, spoke on this issue. General Clark said:
How can we hope to help those inside Iran who are seeking a more open and liberated government if we can't help those in Camp Ashraf who are simply asking for protection and an opportunity to live their lives in peace. Surely, the United States of America can do that and we must.
There are several steps that must be taken immediately as the specter of another attack is hanging over Camp Ashraf. First, the Obama Administration must ensure that all of those who were injured during the April 8th attacks have access to urgent medical care, particularly those like my friend Elham, whose critical injuries if left untreated will turn fatal. The Iraqi government has severely restricted the residents' access to medical treatment, placing the lives of those injured, in great peril.
Second, the Obama Administration must launch a fully independent and transparent investigation into the events which occurred on the April 8, 2011, and must make the results of this investigation public. As the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations John Kerry has said: "The investigation must hold accountable the responsible parties and ensure that there will be no sequel to these horrific events."
Finally, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must lift the unjust and baseless designation of the PMOI/MEK from the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). The Iranian regime and Maliki's administration hide behind this designation while continuing to commit pernicious crimes against humanity. According to Congressman Brad Sherman, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, in a recent House Foreign Affairs hearing, "I think the Iraqi government has been clear, they killed the people at Camp Ashraf to make Tehran happy and they knew they could get away with it because the MEK is still on the US list and the U.S. would not interfere and our keeping them on the list gives them the political cover. That's why there are 35 people dead at Camp Ashraf."
Furthermore, a Court of Appeals ruling in Washington D.C. ordered Secretary Clinton last July to re-evaluate the listing, citing lack of evidence for the group's involvement in any acts that could even remotely be considered terrorism.
As the clock continues to tick, and our loved ones continue to suffer, I once again look to my government to uphold their promise to the residents of Ashraf. Our family members' lives are at stake. The U.S. must act now.