One exchange of note at NIAC’s Answering the Iranian People’s Call for Human Rights conference on Capitol Hill centered on the terror group Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK.
The MEK is currently ramping up its lobbying efforts in Congress to be taken off the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, which would enable it to raise money in the US and even receive US government assistance. Some have called the MEK an Ahmad Chalabi/Iraqi National Congress-esque group that will similarly be utilized by pro-war interests to push for an Iran war. [Time: Why Are Some U.S. Politicians Trying to Remove an Iranian ‘Cult’ From the Terror List?]
“The Mujahedin-e Khalq are not a serious organization,” said Nader Hashemi of the University of Denver, when asked by a staffer from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to assess the consequences of removing the group from the terror list.
The staffer highlighted “increasingly louder calls in Washington that the MEKs designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization be lifted,” on the basis that some policymakers consider the group a potential US ally because it is the “enemy of our enemy.” But, the staffer said, “reports suggest that their human rights record is not so spotless and they are immensely disliked in Iran.”
Questioning whether to take the group off the terror list, Hashemi responded, “represents the disconnect that exists in the US Congress with the domestic reality in Iran.”
“The Mujahedin-e Khalq are viewed universally in Iran as an appendage of Saddam Hussein’s army. They are a personality cult. They have zero support except maybe a handful of followers who live abroad.”
Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Leah Whitson, who was also on the panel, warned strongly against the US working the group. “It would open the US to ridicule to have any association with MEK, especially because of its utter irrelevancy and bizarreness,” she said. “The fact that a number of former government officials were recently trotting around giving speeches on their behalf and earning money from the MEK is farcical.”
Whitson highlighted a Human Rights Watch’s report on the MEK:
“We did an investigation on MEK’s practices in Camp Ashraf…where the MEK was stationed with a fairly sizable milita for many years, protected by Saddam Hussein’s government. And what we documented was extensive practices of torture, mock executions, a few cases of killings against Mujahedin-e Khalq members who wanted to leave the organization, which I think was correctly characterized as cult-like in its practices of requiring submission by their members…I think it has a real dubious record as possible saviors of the Iranian people.”
Alireza Nader of the RAND Corporation recommended that policymakers read a 2009 RAND report on MEK. The report, commissioned by the Defense Department, also finds that MEK is a cult in which rank and file members are abused by leadership Camp Ashraf.
According to Nader:
“[The MEK’s] objectives are not very clear, what it wants to do with Iran if it could take power. It’s not a democratic movement by any means, even former members have described it as undemocratic. So I don’t think that it would help US interests to remove the MEK from the [terrorist] list. It could actually complicate our policies towards Iran.”
Several resolutions have been introduced in the House, including two this year, calling for the MEK to be removed from the terror list. Some lawmakers have even referred to MEK as “Iran’s main opposition movement” in spite of Green Movement denunciations of the organization.Back to top