After its extensive lobbying campaign in Washington, Hillary Clinton is going to de-list the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, from the State Department's terror list in the next few days, reports CNN's Elise Labott. The article cites a U.S. official saying "the decision is merited based on the record of facts that we have," but what the article doesn't cite is some of the more serious allegations lodged against the group, which every discussion about de-listing this group should include.
For instance, did you know that in February NBC News reported that the MEK has been murdering Iranian nuclear scientists in broad daylight? The report by Richard Engel and Robert Windrem cited U.S. officials who said MEK members teamed up with Israelis to attach small magnetic bombs to the exterior of scientists' cars before detonating them. All told, five nuclear scientists since 2007 have been killed. But apparently the State Department doesn't buy that report, as they now tell The Washington Post that the group has "renounced violence and turned over its weapons to U.S. forces." Ok, then! What else do we know about this group?
Its origins. The MEK played a significant role in overthrowing Iran's shah in the late '70s by assisting Islamic clerics. Then it turned against the new Iranian regime in the '80s and allied itself with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war.
So how'd they become a terror group? It was placed on State's terror list in 1997 after the deaths of six Americans in Iran in the '70s and an "attempted attack against the Iranian mission to the United Nations in 1992." But since then it has publicly renounced violence, given up its arms and camped out in its long-time hangout in Iraq, a former military base called Camp Ashraf, which is near the border of Iran.
So how did they swoon the U.S. government? In short: a massive lobbying campaign and a big promise. We'll start with the lobbying. In November, The New York Times' Scott Shane reported with great amazement that at a time of partisan gridlock, the one actor that was making things happen in Congress was this obscure Iranian exile group. He ticked off a laundry list of its American supporters. "The extraordinary lobbying effort to reverse the terrorist designation of the group ... has won the support of two former C.I.A. directors, R. James Woolsey and Porter J. Goss; a former F.B.I. director, Louis J. Freeh; a former attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey; President George W. Bush’s first homeland security chief, Tom Ridge; President Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones; big-name Republicans like the former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Democrats like the former Vermont governor Howard Dean; and even the former top counterterrorism official of the State Department, Dell L. Dailey, who argued unsuccessfully for ending the terrorist label while in office," wrote Shane. Those advocates were paid top dollar through speaking fees of $10,000 to $50,000 paid by the MEK and some were flown around to Paris, Berlin and Brussels for events. The above officials say they aren't motivated by money but humanitarian interests.
Then there's the big promise. As The Washington Post reports, the MEK's hangout at Camp Ashraf in Iraq was becoming a problem both for the Iraqis and the U.S. "The decision ... hinged in part on the MEK’s decision to leave its long-time home in Iraq, a former military base known as Camp Ashraf near the border with Iran," reports Joby Warrick. "Iraq had insisted on closing the base — by force, if necessary — and in recent years Iraqi police had clashed repeatedly with MEK members at the facility, killing dozens of them." So a deal of sorts surfaced that if the MEK left the camp, they could be de-listed from the terror list. But for months, the MEK dragged its feet until last week, when the U.S. warned it was blowing its chances at getting taken off the list. “Friday and Saturday were all-nighters for a lot of our people as well as the U.N. folks,” an official told The Post. In the end, an agreement was made between the U.S., Iraq and the MEK, which "effectively means the end of Camp Ashraf." And voila! that's the story of how a shady dissident group goes from being terrorists to pacifists.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.