It seems hard to believe that once again we are confronted with this tragedy in Iraq, of an attack either on Camp Ashraf or on Camp Liberty, and seeing these innocent civilians, refugees, being killed, wounded, and kidnapped.
There is, I think, a long history here that we’ve recited so many times it seems hard to believe that the State Department hasn’t figured out at this point that there is a humanitarian problem here that needs to be alleviated.
But let me try to put it in some context, because I think there are reasons why we are seeing this danger occur again and again, and why the MeK is victimized in this tragic way, without our government responding effectively.
I do think it has a political motivation, it’s not a partisan motivation, it’s a political motivation, and it has several aspects to it, let me try and cover that.
First is, I think that the fate of the MeK has been tied in the minds of senior officials at the State Department too long to the issue of the nuclear weapons program by the regime in Iran today. In the view that, somehow or another, the nuclear weapons program can be negotiated out of existence and that the mindset of the ayatollahs in Tehran could be effected if the MeK were treated in a way that suited them, rather than suited the truth.
So we find that in the late 1990s, the State Department adds the MeK to the list of foreign terrorist organizations, without adequate evidence at the time but clearly in an effort to persuade the regime in Tehran, that the administration was open to dialogue on the nuclear weapons issue.
Thinking, the regime would see that when one of their worst enemies was given this designation as a foreign terrorist organization which was obviously intended to cripple its ability to operate in the United States and worldwide, that would soften the mullah’s up and make them more receptive to dealing with the nuclear weapons program.
Now, I think that was a mistake from the outset, the fact is that being designated as a foreign terrorist organization is extraordinarily serious, there are statutory requirements you have to meet to do that.
The State Department did not meet those requirements, the MeK did not satisfy the definition that the statute requires, and yet it was kept on the list even after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Even though the MeK had cooperated with the American and other coalition forces in overthrowing Saddam; even though it was clear that they had renounced violence, given up their weapons, that the United States military, as part of its responsibilities inside Iraq, designated the MeK, and each of its inhabitants at Camp Ashraf as a protected person.
That was not done lightly by the military which views force protection as one of its most important issues; and that there was close cooperation throughout the time of the American military’s involvement in Iraq.
Moreover, there has been a very important role filled by the MeK about the ayatollah’s nuclear weapons program, making it public so people could be aware of just how grave it is; and yet, again, in 2008, Secretary of State Rice, with no new information, with information indeed that had came in the year since the original designation, nonetheless extended it.
As Mark Ginsberg said, there has been an overwhelming and really unprecedented rising of bipartisan support, first to take the MeK off the list of foreign terrorist organizations which Secretary of State Clinton did two years ago.
This was long overdue, it was a courageous act on Secretary Clinton’s part because the State Department was still trying to find some way to negotiate with Iran on the nuclear weapons program, but it reflected.
Finally, Secretary Clinton’s determination that the statutory requirements were not met; that the MeK was certainly not an FTO, it had gone out of its way to cooperate with the United States over the years; and there was something that went along with that, that was a carrying forward of the commitment our military made to the inhabitants of Camp Ashraf back in 2003 that they would find repatriation in other countries.
If they could no longer stay at Ashraf they would move to Liberty, and that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would have a rapid repatriation policy; that people would live in conditions of safety while the UNHCR had gone through the formalities, and that they would find safe new residences outside the region, and that hasn’t happened.
To me, this is the breach of a commitment by the United States government on a bipartisan basis now, over several administrations, which we have not given the inhabitants of Liberty and Ashraf the kind of protection that they need.
This is another embarrassment, stain on the reputation of the United States, you look for what is comparable in history, and I am afraid we have found ourselves in the company with the mistakes the United States made.
For example, in repatriating soviet prisoners back to the Soviet Union against their wishes, and the fate that they met when they returned; the mistake we made in repatriating North Korean prisoners of war after the armistice in Korea; we have hostages, now, taken from Camp Ashraf, at the behest of the Iranians, and I think there is little to no doubt that the Maliki regime has been acting in concert with Iran.
For two months now, the State Department’s inability or unwillingness to talk about what actually happened at this attack on Camp Ashraf, is motivated in large part because of concern about somehow adversely affecting the negotiations with Iran that are going on in Geneva, as we speak today, about the nuclear weapons program.
This is something, this is an entirely self-inflicted wound on the United States on our reputation for honesty and credibility. But the people who are most adversely affected are the ones who were, formerly in Camp Ashraf, and in Liberty today.
This is something that Members of Congress, on a bipartisan basis, should prize the American reputation for humanitarianism, that should prize our belief that the United States has always had a leading role internationally, both through the High Commissioner of Refugees and on our own, in providing assistance and protection to refugees.
These are people that we ourselves designated as protected persons. We didn’t rely on someone else’s designation, and we are the ones letting them down. This is also a massive failure of the United Nations system. I think we have seen, documented over several years now, that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, UNAMI, has been, not an arm of the United Nations, not an arm of the member governments, but effectively under the control of the Maliki regime.
This is utterly inexcusable, and it’s inexcusable, we thought with a change of personnel in UNAMI that things would get better, but its only more of the same, its business as usual. This is something for those who want to see how the UN actually operates, not the gauzy ideals of the framers of the UN, but what the UN actually doesn’t practice, this should be an object lesson that the UN’s ability to function in ways that its member governments direct is very very hard.
It is also a massive failure for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The High Commissioner operates under a treaty obligation to provide protection and assistance for refugees.
It is true that UNAMI is authorized by the UN Security Council, but no Security Council resolution could trump an international treaty that gives the High Commissioner the responsibilities that he has; amply funded and supported for decades by the United States.
We see the High Commissioner unwilling to stand for his mandate, unwilling to take on UNAMI, unwilling to go to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and insist that the Secretary General himself direct UNAMI to do the right thing. This is a circumstance where the High Commissioner for Refugees has jeopardized the credibility of this international organization in ways that will be very very difficult to repair down the road because other countries will see if they are determined enough, when they face an internal refugee situation, they can push UNHCR around and other elements of the UN system will not support.
So I think we’ve got to focus attention here in the United States, we can blame UNAMI, we can blame the High Commissioner, we can blame the Maliki regime, we can blame the regime in Tehran, and there is plenty of blame to go around there. But it should be the responsibility of the United States to help fix this crisis that we helped create; and there are several ways that we could do it.
I hope Congress will get involved to press the administration on this point; one is to grant asylum to the inhabitants of Camp Liberty in the United States right now, bring them to the United States, get them out of this prison that they are in, get them out of this death trap that they are in. So, we can provide here conditions of safety, and then see what their ultimate country of resettlement might be.
We should accompany that with a high commitment to resettle some of the inhabitants of Camp Liberty right here in the United States; and every effort to get the reprocessing accomplished as soon as possible, whether it’s in the United States or some other country who might be willing to serve as a temporary relocation.
We cannot afford to come back here in another few weeks or another few months for another tragedy. More people killed, more people taken hostage, we need to resolve this situation and stop talking about it.
Thank you very much.
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