MeK, Iran and the War for Washington

The truth about Iran's prominent dissident organization (and why some people don't want you to know it).

Note: The author has not received any compensation whatsoever from the MeK or related groups.

There is an escalating war for influence over U.S. policy toward Iran: It is a dispute among university scholars, think-tank analysts and former American officials. Reverberations of this war are not confined to the Washington beltway but have profound significance for the Middle East. As Arab republics like Egypt and Tunisia fall from popular protests, internally inspired regime-change scenarios abound. While largely peaceful protests brought down regimes in Cairo and Tunis, state suppression resulted in violent pushback in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Although Arab republics are the immediate targets of their populations, Arab kingdoms like Bahrain, and to a much lesser degree Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are feeling the heat of popular unrest. Because there is generally a lack of consensus on how to transfer power in Arab republics, they are less stable than kingdoms. “The king is dead; long live the (new) king,” does not easily translate into “The president of the republic is dead; long live his son.”

Just as conflicts over succession occur among the Arab republics, so a succession crisis is likely to arise in the Islamic Republic of Iran. We should use the lens of such a conflict in Iran when viewing the war in Washington about an Iranian dissident organization—the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK). Saddam Hussein’s takedown by foreign militaries highlights the need for a homegrown antidote to Iranian rulers because external regime change is off the table in the aftermath of the Iraq War.

Secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton is poised to announce the MeK designation in fall 2011, a decision long overdue. Nothing is likely to be more decisive in reducing the strategic threat from Tehran than having a vigorous democratic opposition in Iran; it is critical to have a coalition of prodemocracy dissidents working together to weaken the regime from within and replace it; the MeK can play an enhanced role in the prodemocracy movement if it is removed from the State Department terrorist list. But above and beyond the potential international benefit of facilitating internal regime change for Iran, the MeK simply deserves to be delisted on the basis of facts and law alone.

A search of U.S. government and private electronic and media sources by scholars in the Iran Policy Committee reveals an absence of evidence to support the inference that the MeK engages in terrorist activities or terrorism or has the capability and intent to do so. The databases are: the U.S. Worldwide Incident Tracking System; Department of Homeland Security-sponsored Global Terrorism Database; and U.S. government-supported RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents. In these major databases, there are no confirmed associations of the MeK with any military action after 2001.

Given the absence of unclassified evidence of MeK involvement in terrorist activities during the course of nine years (2001-2010), any countervailing evidence in the classified record should be viewed with skepticism and subject to scrutiny for credibility. An assumption here is that terrorist incidents are too public not to appear in databases or in newspapers of record.

On 4 December 2008, the Court of First Instance of the European Communities issued a judgment annulling the MeK designation, and the European Union cleared the MeK of terrorist conduct in January 2009. The United Kingdom removed the group from its list of proscribed organizations in June 2008. In addition, the French judiciary dismissed all terrorism and terrorism-financing charges against the group in May 2011.

Two issues before the American court have been whether the State Department provided due process of law to the MeK and credibility of evidence in support of allegations against it. In a July 2010 ruling regarding a MeK appeal of its continued designation in January 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC circuit faulted the decisionmaking process of the secretary of state.

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