Thursday, December 09, 2004

Sam Dealey on National Council of Resistance of Iran & People's Mujahedin of Iran on National Review Online

Sam Dealey on National Council of Resistance of Iran & People's Mujahedin of Iran on National Review Online: "“A Very, Very Bad Bunch”
An Iranian group and its surprising American friends.

By Sam Dealey, a writer in Washington, D.C.
From the March 25, 2002, issue of National Review

n a Senate speech after the September 11 attacks, New Jersey Democrat Robert Torricelli suggested ways in which Congress might help the federal government fight terrorism. The first change he proposed was to abolish the five-year statute of limitations on prosecution of terrorists. "The nation has no statute of limitations for treason or for murder," he said. "Terrorism is every [bit] as insidious, and the statute of limitations should be lifted."
But even as he spoke, Torricelli continued his active support for the National Council of Resistance of Iran — an organization the State Department classifies as a front group for the People's Mujahedin of Iran, a terrorist group supported by Saddam Hussein. From its inception over 35 years ago, the Mujahedin has consistently engaged in attacks on American interests overseas. It has killed U.S. servicemen and civilians, and bombed U.S. business offices; it participated in the 1979 seizure of the American embassy in Tehran. Despite its inclusion on the State Department's select list of global terrorist organizations for the last six years, a spokeswoman for Torricelli claims the senator still fully supports the group.

Nor is Torricelli alone. Other members of Congress have also been strong advocates of the People's Mujahedin. Indeed, at least two congressmen — James Traficant, an Ohio Democrat, and William "Lacy" Clay, a Missouri Democrat — wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell on the group's behalf after September 11.

How has a terrorist group managed to win the support of mainstream U.S. politicians? Simple: Its political representatives in the U.S. have worked hard to repackage the group as a legitimate dissident organization fighting for democracy in Iran — whitewashing its record and duping our leaders.

In its early years, the People's Mujahedin was devoted to reading Marx, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara, and adapting their principles to a Shiite society. Trained in terror tactics by the PLO, the group was devoted to the violent overthrow of the shah, whom it perceived as a CIA puppet. But soon after Ayatollah Khomeini deposed the shah, the People's Mujahedin found itself on the outside of Iran's new power structure. The group had always been more Marxist than Muslim, and the clerical forces in the new regime turned against their former comrades.

In 1981, the Mujahedin's leaders fled to Paris and threw their support behind Iraq's Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran and the ayatollah. In 1986, they moved to Baghdad — where, with Saddam's assistance, they started another military wing known as the National Liberation Army. A 1994 State Department report indicates that the Mujahedin has trained and fought alongside Iraqi troops on a number of occasions, and that "Saddam Hussein has been one of [its] primary financiers, providing weapons and cash totaling an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars."

"They're a very, very bad bunch," says an official with the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress. "They take direct orders from Saddam, and they've hoodwinked people on Capitol Hill." A spokesman for Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the former shah who advocates Iranian democracy, offers a more diplomatic assessment. "We do consider that the democratic movement in Iran should be all inclusive," he says. "However, we cannot accept those groups that resort to violence and terrorism as a means of bringing democracy to Iran."

Despite its violent history, the People's Mujahedin would like to gain international legitimacy as Iran's "government in exile." Its immediate goal is to get its name off the State Department's list of terrorist organizations; to that end, it now purports to support a host of democratic ideals, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to freedom of religion and the free market. It has even abandoned its revolutionary flag — composed of a Koran verse, a sickle, and a Kalashnikov assault rifle — for that of the former shah, whom they worked to depose.

But there's little evidence of real change. The group's leaders are the same ones who led it during its anti-shah days, and the U.S. front group's website openly admits its affiliation with the Iraq-based Mujahedin military force.

The Mujahedin's Washington spokesman, Alireza Jafarzadeh, attempts — unconvincingly — to distance the group from its past. He says, for example, that the group assassinated Americans in the 1970s because it had been taken over by radicals; in fact, U.S. intelligence indicates that Massoud Rajavi, the group's leader, was in firm control at the time. Jafarzadeh also claims that the 1979 U.S.-embassy takeover was a Khomeini scheme to test his supporters, and that the Mujahedin had to either "endorse [it] entirely" or take a vague and "very calculated" decision to sign on; Jafarzadeh claims the group took the latter.

But in fact, on the day of the takeover, the Mujahedin issued a statement: "After the shah, it's America's turn." And when the hostages were released, the group boasted that it was "the first force who rose unequivocally to the support of the occupation of the American spy center."

Still, the group continues to find naïve supporters like Congressman Edolphus Towns, Democrat of New York. He says, "I think they could replace [Iran's mullahs], I really do." Experts on Iran scoff at this claim.

Congressman Gary Ackerman, also a New York Democrat, acknowledges that the Mujahedin's ties with Iraq are "disturbing," but he brushes them off as an acceptable tradeoff: "I think it would help if people understand that when you're trying to get rid of a terrorist regime, you use who you can." According to Iran Brief, an independent watchdog publication, Ackerman received more than $32,000 from People's Mujahedin sympathizers in his 1998 race.

But the Mujahedin's strongest congressional ally is Torricelli, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Iran Brief says he has received more than $140,000 in Mujahedin-related contributions. Over the past decade, Torricelli has written a slew of letters to administration officials and participated in several of the U.S. front group's events. In his most recent letter, dated August 27, 2001, he urged the State Department not to redesignate the People's Mujahedin as a terrorist group. On October 5, the group was again listed among State's 28 targeted organizations. "Our position remains the same," a Torricelli spokeswoman says, "and that is that the [group] is a political organization advocating democracy in Iran."

The spokeswoman claims that "more than 200" members of Congress support the Mujahedin; but this is seriously misleading. While a lengthy "Dear Colleague" letter decrying the Iranian regime — distributed in October 2000 by Ackerman and Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — did garner 228 signatures, mention of this group was buried at the bottom of the back of the page. Had it been more prominent in the letter, support could well have been considerably lower. Indiana Republican Dan Burton signed the letter, but his spokesman now says that the Mujahedin "are not exactly the kind of people we want to associate with. Most members will sign on to the generic anti-Iran stuff, but they stay away from these guys." Burton supported the Mujahedin until 1995, when evidence presented by the State Department convinced him to withdraw his backing.

Burton has it right: There are growing signs that young Iranians are displeased with their regime, and they certainly deserve our support. But anti-American terrorists, just as clearly, do not."