What is an organization deemed by the US State Department to be dedicated to terrorism -- an FTO, or Foreign Terrorist Organization -- supposed to do when it believes the charge is spurious? Clearly, the consequences of such a determination are enormous because under federal law anyone providing as much as a nickel in support to an organization on the FTO list is subject to criminal penalties for aiding and abetting terrorism. So naturally, such an organization will try to do whatever it can to exercise its legitimate rights to correct the record, refute erroneous charges and seek de-listing.
This burden to act is especially acute if an organization placed on the FTO list happens to have thousands of its members situated in a foreign country where they stand to be forcibly removed to a truly terrorist regime where the fate of those "repatriated" will likely be death by firing squad or the hangman's noose. And, where the US State Department FTO listing is manipulated as justification for random acts of violence against members of that particular organization coupled with continued threats of forced deportation, the compulsion to use all legitimate means to remove the unwarranted terrorist label is overwhelming.
This is precisely the situation the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) finds itself in today. The surprise is that it would be vilified for its efforts in a recent article in the Huffington Post by Christina Wilkie ("Mujahideen-e Khalq: Former U.S. Officials Make Millions Advocating For Terrorist Organization", 8/8/11). There, Ms. Wilkie makes the sensational charge that the MEK is indeed a terrorist organization and that former top US national security officials are willing to prostitute themselves by saying the opposite. To illustrate her point, The Huffington Post chose to bunch photographs of these officials in a sort of rogues gallery captioned as "Terror Lobby".
It is mindboggling to believe that one could imply that these prominent individuals are villains when they, more than most Americans, understand that Iran is the world's most active supporter of terrorism and the MEK is dedicated to unhinging Iran's repressive regime through free elections in which it can participate. Presumably, Ms. Wilkie realizes that the ruling mullahs of Iran would like nothing more than to have its new emerging satellite, the government of Iraq, repatriate the 3,400 MEK dissidents located in Iraq to face "justice" in Iran.
The hangmen in Iran have already executed thousands of MEK members over the course of the last three decades. In further delegitimizing the MEK and its supporters, Ms. Wilkie's article in fact aids and abets terror -- terror not only against the MEK members, but against American troops and Iran's own citizens who are the key victims of the terrorist policy practiced by Teheran's regime.
Ostensibly, Ms. Wilkie's concern is that the MEK remains a terrorist organization that dupes top-tier former US national security officials, including the former Attorney General of the United States, to jettison their US national security concerns in favor of a quick buck. Thus, the article begins with the old canard that the MEK is a Marxist organization. Never mind that the MEK itself denies that it has a Marxist bent. But, let us say that it is Marxist -- whatever that means -- in orientation. What difference should that make in being subjected to the terrorist organization label?
Similarly, Ms. Wilkie's pronouncement that the MEK is a "cult" is meaningless, and dangerous. Even assuming the charge to be true, the fact remains that no US law allows placement of an organization on any terrorism list, or validates ignoring an impending humanitarian disaster, because it has "cult"-like qualities. Indeed, the very phrase gives license to irresponsible journalists or government officials to go after whomever they happen to dislike under the banner of the cult flavor of the month.
The only incident -- and not evidence -- Ms. Wilkie presents on the MEK's terrorist inclinations is the accusation of its involvement in attacks on Americans more than three decades ago. But conspicuously absent is any mention of the fact that the MEK denied any role in those attacks, which were undertaken by a splinter group not affiliated with the MEK, which coincidently murdered MEK leaders as well.
Only on the second page of her article do we learn that the EU's highest court has recently taken the MEK off its terrorism list because it found not a shred of evidence to indicate that it has engaged in any act of terrorism. Nor is any reference made in the article to the standards in international and US law about renunciation of terrorism as justifying terminating the terrorist label.
It is telling that the article does not even allude to the fact that three years ago, the highest court in Britain rebuked its own Foreign Office for ever having listed the MEK on its terrorism list, as no credible evidence formed a basis for such a designation.
And in May 2011, the French Judiciary dropped all terrorism and terrorism financing charges against the individuals affiliated with the MEK. The judgment concluded that "The dossier does not contain any evidence indicating an armed activity that would intentionally target civilians," and that the MEK struggle amounted to "resistance against tyranny."
Finally, there is no reference to the reasons that the US Congress -- unless she deems them all duped as well -- have by overwhelming majority asked the State Department to review the MEK listing as being inconsistent with the evidence at hand. 94 Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, including Chairmen of the Select Intelligence, Armed Services and Government Oversight committees, cosponsored H.Res.60, which urges the Secretary of State "to remove the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran from the Department of State's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations."
Perhaps most ominously, Ms. Wilkie's article fails to tell readers what the ex-US government national security officials actually said. Attorney General Michael Mukasey provided a scholarly and thorough analysis as to why the MEK should be delisted based on the governing law and pertinent facts. Director Louis Freeh explained the political environment in which the MEK was designated in 1997, when the White House had blocked Freeh's efforts to indict Iranian regime's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, who had planned the bombing of the Khobar Towers, killing 19 American service members.
General Wesley Clark elaborated that he was familiar with the MEK for many years and that based on his own experience in the Balkans, the recent atrocities by the soldiers of Iraq against the MEK dissidents housed in Iraq was tantamount to a war crime and should be investigated. Secretary Ridge remarked that in none of the White House meetings dealing with threats to the United States was the MEK ever mentioned. And the State Department's coordinator of counterterrorism until April 2010, Ambassador Dell Dailey, said he had found no evidence of MEK involvement in terrorism and had pushed to get the group off the list.
Ms. Wilkie contends, or at least strongly suggests, that because these former national security officials were the recipients of money from Iranian American communities sympathetic to the MEK, the voicing of their opinions puts them in the category of those aiding and abetting terrorism. Of course, the US Justice Department has never made such a slanted interpretation of US law. Indeed, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in July of this year found that it was not convinced that there is any sound basis for classifying the MEK as an FTO and asked the State Department to produce further evidence as to why such a listing was appropriate. For months, however, the State Department has dragged its feet, neither agreeing to delist the MEK, nor forthrightly stating facts that support such a listing.
Journalists considering a story accusing an organization of being a terrorist entity can hardly afford to turn a blind eye on the consequences of what they write, especially when the lives of thousands of individuals may be endangered.
Allan Gerson is the Chairman of AG International Law in Washington D.C. He is presently involved with other attorneys in representing the PMOI/MEK in its efforts to be removed from the State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.