As time is running out for US State Department to respond to a July 2010 D.C. Appeals Court order on why it has continued to keep the most vocal Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK) on its list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTO), its unnamed officials have started to show their teeth in a futile attempt to maintain the designation on non-statutory grounds.
Last week, the MEK legal team won another victory when the Court accepted their writ of mandamus, granting expedited consideration for their motion and ordered the government to respond to the petition by March 26.
Short of proof, the State Department has used bureaucracy and time killing tactics to avoid making a decision for over 550 days. That has now come to an end.
Sources with knowledge of the dossier, point to Vice President Joe Biden, who holds the Iran-Iraq file in the White House and the US Ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, as main obstacles. Biden has reportedly prevented Secretary Hillary Clinton from making a favourable decision in spite of the Court rulings and repeated calls from Congress.
Just as the mandamus writ was introduced, Secretary Clinton had to read out a text during a congress hearing, stating that the MEK's cooperation in abandoning Camp Ashraf, their home to the north of Baghdad for three decades, would be a "key factor" in dropping the terrorist label.
Her statement, more than anything, is an unequivocal confirmation that the State Department has no evidence backing the designation. The MEK cooperation or lack thereof, in relocating its members, is by no means statutory criteria for being on the FTO list.
Earlier this year, unnamed senior US officials told the media that the MEK were involved in recent assassinations of Iranian scientists in Tehran; a claim rejected by the organisation as a disgraceful lie that was never affirmed by anyone with a name beyond Iranian officials.
Last week, just after the D.C. Court had approved the MEK's new petition, articles flooded the web targeting the former US officials who had publicly advocated justice to be done and had kept reminding the State Department to honour its obligation to protect the Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf. In 2003, Ashraf inhabitants had voluntarily disarmed in good faith in return for US forces' written assurances to protect them.
There is no doubt that the US has failed to uphold that commitment. At least 47 residents of Ashraf including 8 women were murdered in cold blood by the Iraqi army over the past couple of years, with US troops just standing by, watching the carnage.
With the delisting campaign well underway over the past two years, the timing of these sudden defamatory articles bears a clear mark of the State Department's invisible hand trying to manipulate public opinion.
They have resorted to an immoral defamation campaign against this group and its powerful bipartisan backers.
One article is again quoting an unnamed US Official - who some have hinted to be Daniel Fried, Hillary Clinton's special adviser on Camp Ashraf - using slander and insults to target the MEK leadership in Paris and its heavyweight American supporters accusing them of obstructing the peaceful resolution for Camp Ashraf!
Ambassador Fried, who is also in charge of the Guantanamo Bay Prison project, has complicated the situation by apparently advising Secretary Clinton to condition the MEK's delisting on non-legal arguments such as evacuating Camp Ashraf. That leaves little trust for those whom he needs to convince when he resorts to bullying tactics. One Polish politician remembers Fried from the time he was US Ambassador to Warsaw and considered him to be "haughty" with a "superpower mentality."
The Administration even went so far to ask the Treasury to probe the group's American supporters for accepting speakers' fees; a move warmly applauded and praised by the Iranian regime's media.
The United States have known that the MEK is not a terrorist organization from day one. Louis Freeh who headed FBI when the Clinton administration put the MEK on the FTO list in 1997, recently said that the organisation had not posed a threat to U.S. interests, but was listed as "part of a fruitless political ploy to encourage dialogue with Tehran."
"There was no credible evidence then, nor has there been since, that the group posed any threat to the United States," Freeh wrote in the New York Times in October.
Back in 2004, the New York Times had reported that a 16-month thorough investigation and "Screening" - matching finger prints, DNA tests etc. - by US security bodies had cleared all members in Camp Ashraf from links with terrorism. The individual agreements signed thereafter with every resident of Camp Ashraf committing the US to protect them was done with full knowledge of their MEK membership - something the US would never have done with real terrorists.
The State Department's hysterical animosity towards the MEK reminds many Iranians of the story of the late Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh who nationalised Iran's oil industry only to be toppled by a US-led coup in 1953. At that time, the CIA sponsored coup was seen by Iranians as an unjustified US intervention to keep Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi in power, in spite of public detestation of his regime. Six decades later, Barack Obama's administration appears to the Iranian younger generation much on the same wave-length: trying to consolidate rulers detested by their own people, through discrediting their principal opponents.
In this perspective, the smear campaign orchestrated by Foggy Bottom's unnamed officials would rather discredit the US in the eyes of the Iranian public, while helping the MEK win hearts and minds of more Iranians back home.
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