WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Members of Congress, prominent scholars and former U.S. officials called for a speedy and peaceful end to the standoff over the fate of 3,400 pro-democracy Iranian dissidents at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, amid warnings that a failure to quickly and safely relocate them would endanger their lives.
“There is a looming genocide that could occur if a number of different things don’t go right in the next weeks and months,” warned former FBI Director Louis Freeh. “Our goal here is to make sure that genocide does not occur.”
“This issue is simple, and at this critical time, the U.S. position must be clear and steadfast,” added Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “International humanitarian standards must be upheld, human rights must be respected – these are universal obligations, and the residents of Camp Ashraf deserve no less.”
The event, held in the Cannon Caucus Room, was sponsored by the House Foreign Affairs Committee member Ted Poe (R-TX). Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Dan Lungren (R-CA) and Trent Franks, (R-AZ) also spoke.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, also spoke in support of those at Camp Ashraf, as did Marc Ginsberg, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Morocco during the Clinton administration.
The residents of Camp Ashraf are members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Speakers also called for the State Department to remove the group from its list of terrorist organizations, a move that would speed their relocation, a view shared by renowned lawyer Alan Dershowitz and former New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato.
The group, which was placed on the list in 1997, renounced violence in 2001. When the U.S. military took control of the camp in 2003, it conducted detailed research and analysis on each of the residents there – all of whom voluntarily disarmed – and found no evidence of terrorist activity or association. Parallel investigations by other U.S. and international law enforcement organizations reached the same conclusion.
“A thorough individual background investigation… produced no evidence of wrongdoing, no evidence of criminal acts, and absolutely no evidence of terrorism by these people,” said retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Phillips, who was the camp’s commander. “I didn’t read or get my information second and third hand. I lived it. I experienced it. I know it.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government took over control of Camp Ashraf from the U.S. military in 2009, has claimed that the Iranian dissidents’ presence in Iraq “raises problems with Iran.” In 2009 and 2011, the camp was attacked by Iraqi forces, resulting in 47 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. Maliki had sought to close the camp at the end of 2011, but bowed to international pressure and allowed it to stay open until the end of April.
At issue is the fate of the dissidents; whose return to Iran would be tantamount to a death sentence. The MEK, other Iranian dissident groups and human rights organizations argue that those living in Camp Ashraf should be safely relocated to other nations by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. And while the Camp residents have already been granted “protected persons” status under the 4th Geneva Convention, Iraq has practically blocked the resettlement efforts by not allowing the UNHCR to start its process even though the UN body declared its readiness to do so in September.
The residents’ supporters are also wary of the Iraqi government’s desire to move them to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base near Baghdad International Airport, citing the lack of access to the camp by family members and lawyers, the lack of freedom of movement, the absence of UN inspectors inside the camp, the belief that those housed there would be denied adequate medical care, and the fear that they would be mistreated or brutalized by Iraqi forces.
“The way Camp Liberty has been pre-designed and controlled by the Iraqi regime, clearly at the behest of the Iranian regime, it is now a prison camp, not a refugee camp,” Freeh said.