US policy change on banned Iranian group came after extraordinary fundraising operation to transform its image. Only a few years ago, US authorities were arresting pro-MEK activists. To the US government, the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (MEK) was a terrorist group alongside al-Qaida, Hamas and the Farc in Colombia. The MEK landed on the list in 1997 with American blood on its hands and by allying itself with Saddam Hussein along with a long list of bombings inside Iran.
But the organisation is regarded very differently by a large number of members of Congress, former White House officials and army generals, and even one of the US's most renowned reporters, Carl Bernstein. They see the MEK as a victim of US double dealings with the regime in Tehran and a legitimate alternative to the Iran's Islamic government.
That difference is in no small part the result of a formidable fundraising operation and campaign to transform the MEK's image led by more than 20 Iranian American organisations across the US. These groups and their leaders have spent millions of dollars on donations to members of Congress, paying Washington lobby groups and hiring influential politicians and officials, including two former CIA directors, as speakers.
In a highly sensitive political game, MEK supporters have succeeded in pressing the state department into removing the group from the list of terrorist organisations after winning a court order requiring a decision to be made on the issue before the end of this month. But its supporters were forced to tread a careful path so as not to cross anti-terrorism laws.Only a few years ago, the US authorities were arresting pro-MEK activists and freezing the assets of front groups for "material support for a terrorist organisation". Now members of Congress openly praise the group in apparent contradiction of the anti-terrorism legislation many of them supported. Nearly 100 members of the House of Representatives backed a resolution calling on the US government to drop the MEK from the terrorist list.- Advertisement -
Most of the damning details, however, of what would probably be otherwise considered "material support for terrorism" will probably lie buried and stamped "Top Secret" in Treasury Department files forced closed when the presumptive targets of the investigation turned out to include over three dozen top U.S. officials and even many of the federal investigators' former bosses and cronies: former Attorney General Michael Mukasey; former Assistant Attorney General and Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff; two former CIA Directors; former DOJ Attorney and Homeland Security Advisor to the President Frances Townsend; former U.S. Attorney and NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, etc. Clearly such powerful "political considerations" can trump the law and easily subvert even the U.S. terrorism laws constantly promoted since 9-11 as all-important but now turned on their head. So unless a brave whistleblower or two steps forward, we probably won't know much more about the presumably forced closure of these criminal terrorism investigations for another 20 years or so until a federal judge finally rules in agreement with a FOIA request. Or unless new movie producers can force some leaks out to jazz up the old script.
"Terrorism" Propaganda: How to Play it Up or Play it Down
The last 11 years have seen almost uninterrupted, cynical exaggerating and distorting of the threat of Mid-east "terrorism" by our mainstream media (to scare us into doing dumb things like launching war on countries like Iraq that had no connection to 9-11) so it was strangely out of the norm for the Washington Post article to frame the de-listing of the MEK Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) as humanitarian intervention. Interestingly, the Post reporter also chose the term "label" to minimize the importance of the U.S. government's designation-undesignation of a "FTO" in the case of the MEK.
So it's just a "label" when Michael Mukasey and three dozen other high level political figures flaunted the law in support of a "foreign terrorist organization." But would the Post say mere FTO "labels" justify launching thousands of US government investigations and prosecutions of ordinary, non-powerful, non politically-connected people for "material support"? There are 23 anti-war activists in the Mid-west who are still under Department of Justice investigation two years after their homes were raided by the FBI; and there are thousands of people serving long prison terms or, even worse, on "kill lists" to be summarily executed due, the Government would allege, to even a fleeting or tenuous connection to someone or some group on the US FTO list. Furthermore, no transparency, no judicial process has seemingly existed -- until MEK's big money lobbying campaign came along -- to dispute the accuracy of such FTO "labels."
An article at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee's "Peoples Blog for the Constitution" entitled "Terrorist designation a problem? Befriend a politician" points out this terrible double standard:
The severe ramifications of this law have resulted in solitary confinement and a fifteen year sentence for US citizen Fahad Hashmi, who allowed a suitcase of raincoats at his apartment, and a 17 year sentence for Tarek Mehanna, who translated a text by a Saudi religious scholar. The removal of the MEK from the FTO list demonstrates not only the double-standard for enforcement of material support laws, but also the over-broad and heavy-handed criminalization of constitutionally protected activity.
When the overbroad law resulted in investigations of prominent politicians and former officials, the law was not modified to address First Amendment concerns, but instead maintained, while a specific organization was removed from the terrorist list to accommodate those politicians' activities. The material support law should be changed so that it doesn't criminalize association, expression, or other activity protected by the First Amendment, or efforts aimed to advance humanitarian goals.
Finally, consider how unbelievable and in-congruent for the MEK to have such a powerful lobby that it can reach its tentacles into U.S. political "leadership" like this, spending millions of dollars in exchange for political endorsements and yet be portrayed at the very same time, as the Post and other media does, as a poor group of refugees trapped in Iraq enemy territory in need of humanitarian intervention. Where would this refugee group which (for 15 years) has been designated a "foreign terrorist organization" get the millions it paid to U.S. officials and politicians for their assistance and influence-peddling? News articles do allude to the fact that the payments and the political pressure were in violation of U.S. law, but these articles fail to go into how and why federal investigators were apparently forced to drop their investigation of officials who received huge payments from the MEK.
The big money model for lobbyist success has paved the way for the coalition of MEK front groups to corrupt U.S. Government by funneling millions of dollars from who-knows-where to elected and appointed political figures to turn dark into light. Certainly there will now be other foreign-based front groups following this example in ever more flagrant disregard of what Justice Brandeis long ago warned us, about how government wrongdoing and contempt for (and subversion of) the law functions.
Contrast the portrayal of the need for "humanitarian intervention" on behalf of what was portrayed as defenseless women and children refugees in the MEK Camp in Iraq with the millions of dollars that have gone into PR propaganda firms, corrupt U.S. congresspersons and former high level DOJ, Homeland Security and counter-terrorism officials to essentially re-write the history of a violent terrorist group that worked for Saddam Hussein -- who some of these same officials were, only a decade before, falsely implying was responsible for 9-11. Why did these millions of dollars not go to helping the MEK women and children move from Iraq if they are in such danger instead of going into corrupt U.S. political figures' pockets?