The U.S. federal appeals court in the District of Columbia Friday said the State Department had erred in classifying Iran's main opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), as a terrorist organization. The ruling by the three-judge panel said the State Department had violated the group's due process protections by not giving it a chance to rebut unclassified information used to justify the designation, and it called for the status to be reviewed.
The ruling was a plus point for judicial independence in the U.S., and it affords the Obama administration the opportunity to correct a huge mistake of previous governments.
The PMOI was blacklisted by the Clinton administration in 1997 in what officials described at the time as a "goodwill gesture" to reach out to supposed "moderates" in the Tehran regime, which fears the group more than anyone else. The PMOI and the broader coalition which it subscribes to, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), have long challenged the designation, saying it upsets the balance in the Iranian people's struggle against their clerical dictators.
Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, who heads the NCRI, said: "The legal and logical conclusion of this judgment requires the Secretary of State to revoke the terrorist designation of the PMOI and remove all its adverse consequences without any delay. This designation has been from the very start an abuse of power and an attempt to assist the Iranian regime's machinery of execution and torture".
The EU last year removed the PMOI from its blacklist after a string of rulings in the group's favour at the European Court of Justice. Britain lifted its ban on the group in 2008 after the courts there found that charges of the PMOI's involvement in terrorism were "perverse". In the last days of the Bush administration, when the review of the PMOI's designation was due in January 2009 even the State Department's top counterterrorism official at the time, Dell L. Dailey, recommended the US lift the group's designation, but he was overruled by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for political considerations.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are currently circulating a bill in Congress to press for the PMOI's de-listing, arguing that the U.S. should instead be supporting the forces of democratic change in Iran. They were supported in their call last month by former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton who told a gathering of tens of thousands of Iranians in Paris that without proof to justify the group's designation, the Obama administration should lift the ban.
From a moral perspective, the ban should be annulled since the West should not be taking the side of the mullahs who justify the execution of political prisoners by claiming they have killed people regarded as terrorists by the West. The mirage of finding "moderates" in the Iranian regime is long gone, so should be its dire consequences.
From a legal standpoint, the appeals court ruling made clear that based on all the evidence the PMOI's designation needed to be revoked.
Politically, lifting the ban is the right thing to do at a time when millions in Iran are demanding regime change. (What message does maintaining the PMOI on the blacklist send to the Iranian people and to the mullahs?) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have the backing of Congress were she to amend the group's status.
No excuses now, Madam Secretary. Please deliver on your promised policy of change.
Lord King of West Bromwich, a Member of the United Kingdom's House of Lords from the Labour Party, is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom