Don’t Remove the MEK From the Terrorist List

Since 1997, the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), an Iranian opposition group, has been listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization. The European Union followed suit and also listed the MEK as such, but as a result of intense lobbying and a deceptive campaign by the supporters of the MEK, the EU recently removed the organization from its list of terrorist entities. 

The same tactics are being used by the MEK in the United States. It has been spending millions of dollars on lobbyists, public relations agents, and communications firms in an attempt to pressure the State Department to remove the organization from the terrorist list. The MEK’s argument is that it renounced violence and terrorism in 2001. This is a lie. FBI documents indicate that as late as 2004 the MEK was involved in planning terrorist operations. Removing the MEK from the terrorist list as a result of its lobbying is akin to allowing al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e Taiba to hire lobbyists, spend millions, and make campaign contributions to members of Congress (as MEK supporters have done) in order to gain “legitimacy” as an organizations. 

The MEK was founded in 1965 by three Islamic leftists with the goal of toppling the U.S.-supported regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In the 1970s it undertook a campaign of assassinating U.S. advisers and bombing U.S. corporations in Iran. It supported the 1979 Revolution in Iran, but in 1981 it turned its guns against the Tehran government and began a campaign of assassinations and terrorist operations that resulted in the death of thousands of Iranians, including the executions of its own supporters by government officials, soldiers, police officers, and ordinary people. It then moved its headquarters to Iraq, made a pact with the regime of Saddam Hussein, which was fighting a ferocious war with Iran. The MEK spied on Iranian troops for Iraq, attacked Iran at the end of Iran-Iraq war with Hussein’s support, and helped Hussein put down the uprisings by the Iraqi Kurds in the north and Shi’ites in the south after the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. The MEK is despised by the vast majority of Iranians for what they consider to be treason committed against their homeland. 

Since the 1980s, Masoud Rajavi, the MEK’s ideological leader, and his wife, Maryam Rajavi, the “president-elect of the resistance,” have turned the MEK into a Stalinist-style cult. The MEK has its own calendar filled with special occasions in its history, dress codes for its members, and a censorship index. All orders to the members come from the top. Its power structure is exactlylike that of the Islamic Republic of Iran: It has a supreme leader who cannot be questioned and a “president-elect” who must be obedient to the supreme leader. Maryam Rajavi has never won any election; she was handpicked by her husband. A simple search on the Internet turns up horror stories told by former members who wanted to leave the organization before theU.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 but were arrested by MEK guards and jailed. They were tortured, beaten, kept in solitary confinement, “reeducated ideologically,” and, if nothing else worked, turned over to Saddam Hussein’s Special Security Organization as Iranian “spies.” For more information, see this report by Human Rights Watch.  

In its campaign in the United States, the MEK has made an alliance with the neoconservatives and the Israel lobby. Taking advantage of the atrocities committed by the Iranian government in the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential elections, the neoconservatives and their allies have sponsored six conferences over the past several months in Europe and the U.S. to prop up the MEK as the leading alternative to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such infamous figures as John Bolton and former CIA director R. James Woolsey support the MEK. Bolton has said repeatedly that the U.S. must bomb Iran and support the MEK. The neocons also channel their support for MEK through conservative groups such as the Iran Policy Committee (IPC). An investigation published by Jim Lobe’s Lobelog in September 2010 revealed that the IPC has shared an address, accountants, and some staff with multiple organizations that either fronted for or had direct ties to Iraqi con man Ahmed Chalabi‘s Iraqi National Congress —  the same organization that fabricated much of the bogus intelligence that neocons used to garner support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

The MEK has also set up several front organizations. The National Council of Resistance (NCR), its political arm, is not listed as a terrorist organization. Near East Policy Research and Strategic Policy Consulting, two “consulting companies” headed by longtime MEK members and spokesmen, lobby for the MEK. The Council for Democratic Change in Iran provides cover for political figures to support the MEK without being directly associated with it. It invites politicians to speak at its gatherings without telling them that they are an MEK front group, and it pays the speakers honoraria so large that it’s difficult for them to resist. Conservative academic Raymond Tanter, who founded the IPC, is an example. In a speech to the CDCI, Tanter said, “To say that the only route in Iran is the nonviolent route of Gandhi and King is to misunderstand the nature of the theocratic regime in Tehran.” Former CIA operative and IPC staff member Clare M. Lopez is another MEK supporter.

The MEK lobbying campaign has also made inroads among mainstream figures who probably know nothing about its past. Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is one. President Obama’s former National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones is another. Others include Bill Richardson, former energy secretary and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Michael Mukasey, attorney general under President George W. Bush; Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and homeland security secretary under Bush; Gens. Peter Pace and Hugh Shelton, former vice chair and chairman, respectively, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Louis Freeh, former FBI director; Lee Hamilton, former Democratic congressman; Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA; Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of the Central Command; Frances Townsend, homeland security adviser in the Bush White House; and Brad Sherman and Dana Rohrabacher of the House of Representatives.  

Such people are not approached by the MEK directly, but by the NCR, the CDCI, or another affiliated group. The lobbyists introduce themselves as representatives of Iran’s Green Movement, as “members of Iran’s parliament in exile“(there is no such parliament), or as Fox News analysts, claiming that they have vast support among the Iranian people who will rise up in support of the MEK if only the U.S. supports the group. But the claims are bogus, and if the MEK ever comes to power, the resulting bloodbath will dwarf anything that has happened in Iran under the ayatollahs.  

If the MEK is removed from the terrorist list, there is no reason to believe it will not use its lobbying apparatus to obtain U.S. funding and to promote war with Iran. If it succeeds, the MEK cult will try to silent the voices of the Iranian-American community, represent itself as the voice of Iran’s true opposition, and take the U.S. down the path of another illegal war, all in the name of Iran’s nonviolent Green Movement. It will be Ahmed Chalabi all over again.

Worst of all, striking the MEK from the terrorist list will surely give Iran’s hardliners another justification for intensifying their repression and discrediting the peaceful Green Movement by claiming that it is linked to the widely despised MEK. The U.S. antiwar community must, therefore, do all it can to oppose the MEK and provide moral support to the Green Movement.

Author: Muhammad Sahimi

Muhammad Sahimi, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and the NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California, is co-founder and editor of the website, Iran News & Middle East Reports.