One of the most important elements of the War on Terror is deciding which groups should be placed on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). The designation of a group by the US Secretary of State must be in accordance with the legal criteria, ensuring not only the legitimacy of the FTO list but also that it conforms with the rule of law, a trademark of American democracy.
In cases where a designation is made, due process is vital so that groups can seek a judicial review to correct a possible misjudgement by the State Department. A case in point is the status of Iran’s main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin (MEK).
Hoping to resurrect diplomatic relations with Iran, in 1997 the Clinton administration tracked an opportunistic political approach, better known as the “policy of appeasement”. One of the direct consequences of this policy was the decision to include the MEK on the FTO list. Senior administration officials said at the time that this was intended as a “goodwill gesture to the newly-elected moderate President Mohammad Khatami”.
The MEK was kept on the list by successor administrations for political, rather than legal, reasons as the US attempted to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The US Court of Appeals in July 2010 rejected the State Department’s legal arguments for blacklisting the group and it ordered Secretary Clinton to review the designation.
The evidence presented by the State Department’s lawyers to justify the ban was a virtual copy of the Iranian regime’s misinformation against the group. Virtually all of these allegations were once introduced as evidence by various European governments to justify their blacklisting of the MEK but were subsequently dismissed as Iranian state-propaganda by the courts, and the MEK was delisted in the UK and Europe. There is currently immense pressure on the State Department to delist the group. In the US House of Representatives some 100 bi-partisan Congressmen have signed a motion pressing the Secretary of State to do so.
One of the devastating results driven from the policy of appeasement and the blacklisting of the MEK is that it provided the Iranian mullahs with an unprecedented opportunity to claim the moral high ground as a ‘victim of terrorism’, whereas in reality the fundamentalist regime itself uses terror to silence its people and is – as the most recent State Department annual report on terrorism acknowledged last week – the most active state sponsor of terrorism. An emboldened Iranian theocracy is now attempting to expand its influence in the region, and it is by far the most serious and imminent threat to the positive changes sweeping the Arab world today.
Beyond political considerations, the delisting of the MEK is necessary as a matter of law. The high courts in the UK, US and EU have each spent months evaluating all the evidence and found the PMOI is not involved in terrorism and does not have the ‘capability and intent’ to do so. Thus it does not meet the legal requirements to be on the list. This has prompted a wave of former American administrative, military and state officials, including a former Attorney General, FBI director, Homeland Security Secretary, two CIA directors, three former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former NATO commander, two former US envoys to the UN, President Obama’s ex-National Security Advisor, and political heavyweights Howard Dean, Rudi Giuliani, and Patrick Kennedy to support the call for the de-listing of the MEK.
Iran’s lobby in the West, including some so-called Iran experts, have been making frivolous public calls for Secretary Clinton to maintain the group on the blacklist. Unable to give a legal reason for their demand, they simply claim that delisting the MEK would give Iran an excuse to further suppress other domestic opposition movements. That argument simply doesn’t wash; you cannot label someone a terrorist only to appease a dictatorial tyrant. Besides, Iran is already suppressing its people brutally anyway.
Secretary Clinton must now revoke the terrorist designation of the MEK. If we have learnt one lesson from the events in Libya, it is that we must back the brave opponents of the region’s dictators to establish democracy and freedom in their homelands.
David Amess, a Conservative Member of the British Parliament, is a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.
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