THE BLOG

Reality Check: Who Are the Factual Journalists?

In "Who are the Terrorists," Kenneth Timmerman rehashes absurd tabloid allegations against the main Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), in response to the majority of the US Congress calling for the protection of 3,500 of the group's members in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.

The residents of Ashraf, 1,000 of whom are women, have been placed under inhumane pressures by the Iranian regime via its political proxies in Iraq. In July 2009, 11 of them were killed and 500 were injured after Iraqi forces raided their camp at the behest of the Iranian theocracy under a "bilateral agreement" that Iran's religious despot, Ali Khamenei, dictated to his Iraqi allies. In March, 224 members of Congress called on President Obama to guarantee their protection.

Timmerman's mischaracterization of the MEK lacks a shred of evidence. In his hysteric haste to bash the group blindly, as he has for years, he once again fails to verify rudimentary facts.

He says the MEK has been on the US terror list "since its inception in the late 1980s." Oddly enough, the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) did not even exist until 1997.

Let's face it. Timmerman is no Bob Woodward, to borrow Senator Bentsen's "You're no Jack Kennedy" one-liner in his debate with Vice Presidential hopeful Dan Quayle. His ongoing gaffes and awkward confusion about something as simple as the date of the listing are not just indicative of pathetic journalism and shallow understanding of matters related to Iran. They also, cast a heavy shadow of doubt on his supposed knowledge of the MEK and the terror list.

Besides, former Clinton administration officials have conceded that the listing was an attempt to curry favor with the Iranian regime. Martin Indyk, who was Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs at the time, told Newsweek in September 2002 that there "was White House interest in opening up a dialogue with the Iranian government. At the time, President Khatami had recently been elected and was seen as a moderate. Top Administration officials saw cracking down on the [PMOI], which the Iranians had made clear they saw as a menace, as one way to do so."

Timmerman also says that the MEK murdered US servicemen in Iran decades ago under the regime of the Shah. But, throughout the years, evidence including that gathered by US officials has confirmed that the mainstream MEK was not responsible for the killings.

In 2004, after 16 months of investigations and interviews in Camp Ashraf by several US security and intelligence agencies, as well as the Department of State, officials declared that they could not find a single case where the MEK had violated US law.

Against this backdrop, Timmerman claims, "Eyewitnesses tell me that the MEK continued to celebrate the anniversary of those murders in ceremonies and song in their training camps inside Iraq all through the 1980s." There is a Persian expression that goes something like this: "They asked the fox who his witness was, and he replied my tail."

Who are Timmerman's "eyewitnesses" and what is the basis for concealing their identities?

He also cites the degree of women's participation in a movement as an indication of its inclusiveness while claiming that the MEK is "widely discredited among ordinary Iranians." He should know that more than 70 percent of senior officials and the entire leadership council of the MEK are comprised of women. As for the popularity of the MEK, first of all, has Timmerman ever been to Iran and conducted a national poll to assess whether the MEK has any support or not? Just this past June, tens of thousands of its supporters attended a huge rally near Paris. Former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar were among the speakers.

Timmerman is mum on one simple question: If, as he claims, the MEK has no support among Iranians inside and outside Iran, why has the Tehran regime's number-one demand in all diplomatic exchanges with all its foreign interlocutors, including even the US, over the past three decades, has been that they crack down on the group. If the MEK is a loathed, isolated and spent force, why not let it go into oblivion? The fact of the matter, is, as Rep. Brad Sherman, who sits as Chairman of the House Terrorism Subcommittee, said during a Congressional briefing on June 10, that "There is no entity more feared, more hated by the mullahs who rule Iran than the MEK, which is perhaps the finest compliment that could be given to that organization."

In view of this and more, it can hardly be said that Timmerman is engaged in anything remotely resembling professional journalism, let alone divulging expertise on Iran, or even worse, the MEK.

The claim that "more recently, MEK operatives inside Iran have carried out hit-and-run terrorist attacks on regime officials" is a sheer lie, and Timmerman cannot put forth even a single instance of credible information to back up his claim. He is apparently referring to the recent ludicrous allegations by Iran's intelligence minister and government-controlled media that are reminiscent of Hollywood tales like "Where Eagles Dare" where Richard Burton's character was told to say he acted alone as he was preparing to land on a Nazi-held castle.

As for the MEK, it has no weapons, and voluntarily handed over the ones it had kept for self-defense in Ashraf to US forces in 2003. It has also persistently rejected terrorism and violence, something explicitly mentioned in European court rulings and documented in US agreements with Camp Ashraf residents.

This was proven by seven court rulings in recent years in Europe, which struck down similar politically motivated allegations, after which both the EU and British governments removed the MEK from their own terror lists.

And more recently, in a unaminous judgment on July 16, the US Federal Appeals Court ruled that the Department of State had erred in maintaining the MEK on its watchlist. The three-judge panel ordered the Secretary of State to reconsider that decision, citing not only procedural defects and due process violations, but also suspect and flawed evidence in the record.