Iran, Mujahedin-e Khalq, and the US State Department

In a Press Briefing Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in of Iran on Tuesday 22 October 2019, published a report that stresses concern about the continuing of executions of juveniles and other human rights violations. (PMOI / MEK Iran) and (NCRI):

Hamid Yazdanpanah:

At the end of June, the world watched as Iran test-fired 14 medium range missiles capable of reaching US and Israeli bases in the Middle East.  According to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Iran has also been carrying out covert missile tests, “including testing of missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload.” In Syria, the Islamic Republic exercises its influence by assisting the worn-down Assad regime in brutally suppressing the Syrian people.  And in Iraq, we continue to see the hand of the Iranian regime in the ongoing violent insurgency, as well as in Maliki’s government.

Tehran’s growing influence indicates a failure of Western policy towards the Islamic Republic. The policy of the United States and the European Union towards Iran has consistently been timid, often reminiscent of Europe’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler with the Munich Pact. The history of Western relations with Iran since the Revolution of 1979 shows continuous attempts by the West to reach out to the mullah’s regime with the hope of finding some favorability, only to see the mullahs rebuff those overtures. And what has consistently been a go-to practice in appeasing Tehran? The harassment and terrorist listing of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK).


After being forced into exile, the MEK has continued its struggle for democracy. Some 3,400 members of its members are based at Camp Ashraf in northeastern Iraq. The group also remains on the US State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list. However, evidence suggests the terrorist designation of the MEK arose purely out of appeasement of the Iranian regime. A day after the FTO list was released in 1997, the Los Angeles Times reported:  “One senior Clinton administration official said inclusion of the People’s Moujahedeen was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran and its newly elected moderate president, Mohammad Khatami.”   The United Kingdom and the European Union both followed the United States’ lead in designating the MEK as terrorists, but in recent years, after respective court cases which showed the designation to be faulty, the MEK was removed from both lists in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

But what has been the effect of this terrorist designation of the MEK? If the US and the EU were attempting to appease Tehran, did they succeed in containing and taming the mullahs as they set out to do? The answer is a resounding “no”. The only thing which the terrorist designation of the MEK has achieved is the restriction and harassment of the residents of Camp Ashraf. Most recently, the world stood by and watched on April 8, 2011 as Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, clearly under instruction from Tehran, ordered a brutal attack on the residents of Camp Ashraf, ultimately resulting in 36 deaths and hundreds of injuries. One of those killed was Asiyeh Rakhshani, my 29-year-old adopted sister, who grew up in our family and went to Ashraf to join the campaign for democracy in Iran.

By designating the MEK as a terrorist organization, the US is complicit in these horrid crimes. A recently leaked cable from the US Embassy in Iraq shows that after a US diplomat questioned Maliki as to the conditions in Camp Ashraf, “The PM then expressed some frustration and questioned why the [Government of Iraq] had to act so responsibly towards an organization determined to be a terrorist group by both Iraq and the U.S.” So long as the US upholds the MEK’s fabricated terrorist label, Maliki’s government will continue to feel justified in committing these atrocities.

Numerous prominent and diverse American politicians have come out in support of the MEK, from Tom Ridge and Rudy Giuliani on the right, to Howard Dean and Patrick Kennedy on the left. Additionally, 84 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, have sponsored H.Res. 60, urging the Secretary of State to remove the MEK from the Department’s terrorist list. Furthermore, on July 7, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on the recent massacre in Camp Ashraf. During the hearing, two former military commanders, as well as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, condemned the attacks on Ashraf and called upon the State Department to delist the MEK.

It would be not only ludicrous, but also impossible for an organization which was engaged in terrorist activity to garner such tremendous support in Washington.

However, as the movement to delist the MEK gains widespread support among former senior U.S. government officials, the Iranian regime has reacted desperately by embarking on a misinformation campaign to prevent what is evitable. To this end, it has employed the services of the discredited National Iranian American Council (NIAC), perceived by many observers of the Iranian scene to act as a “lobby” for the Iranian regime. Indeed, an investigative report revealed that NIAC and its president Trita Parsi had skirted lobby laws in promoting rapprochement with the regime in Tehran.

In July 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling ordering the State Department to review the terrorist designation of the MEK, strongly suggesting the designation be revoked.   The State Department must make a decision soon; we cannot afford to wait for another brutal attack on the people of Camp Ashraf.

There are those who fear that if the US were to take a harder stance on Iran, military conflict would ensue. These fears are not baseless. If the past decade has taught us anything, it is that military intervention can be ineffective, counterproductive, and above all, tragic. However, there is a fine line between engaging in military intervention and no longer pursuing failed diplomacy. The terrorist designation of the MEK has not only failed to appease the Iranian regime, it has resulted in severe harm and restriction for an organization devoted to the liberation of the Iranian people. The State Department has a moral and legal obligation to undo this grave error and delist the MEK.