February 19, 2018

Think Tanks

No Good Options for Iranian Dissidents in Iraq
PolicyWatch #1797
By Patrick Clawson
April 19, 2011
In an April 8 confrontation at Camp Ashraf, Iraq — home to some 3,400 members of the Iranian dissident organization Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) — Iraqi army forces killed at least thirty-four people, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. The clash highlighted an ongoing problem: what to do about the presence of several thousand people the Iraqi government badly wants to be rid of, when no other country to which they are willing to go will accept them. Distasteful as the current situation is, the status quo may be best.
The Confrontation

When Iraqi forces entered Camp Ashraf on April 8, Baghdad initially claimed that no shots had been fired. The government later changed its story, however, stating that three people had been killed in clashes between rock-throwing residents and security forces had simply been redeploying. On the day of the attack, the U.S. State Department announced, “Although we do not know what exactly transpired early this morning at Ashraf, this crisis and the loss of life was initiated by the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi military… 

Settlement in a third country. If safe return to Iran proves impossible, camp leaders have stated that their second preference is to go to a European Union member country or the United States. But none of these countries is willing to take them. The State Department’s continued designation of the MEK as a terrorist entity makes resettling group members in the United States impossible. It also considerably weakens Washington’s leverage in urging other countries to accept them instead. The issue of whether the MEK actually belongs on the terrorism list was discussed in PolicyWatches 1366 and 1643. Here, it is appropriate to point out that the designation poses an important complication in resolving the diplomatic quandary over Ashraf… Read More


 What is the Purpose of the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations List?

PolicyWatch #1643
By Patrick Clawson
March 18, 2010

The United States maintains a range of “terrorist lists,” of which the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list is one of the better known. But in two recent court cases, the U.S. government has offered arguments that raise questions about the purpose of the list.

FTO List vs. State Sponsors List

Another list is that of state sponsors of terrorism. The act of naming a foreign government as a terrorism sponsor is one instrument among many to affect the general foreign policy stance of the country concerned. Yet in practice, the state sponsors category has become a list of governments Washington simply does not like, often with little connection to terrorism; witness the continued presence of Cuba and the longtime presence North Korea. By contrast, governments that actually do sponsor terrorism but that Washington does not wish to single out are omitted from the list. A case in point is Lebanon, whose governing coalition includes Hizballah, the terrorist activities of which are protected and defended by the Lebanese government…

The People’s Mujahedin of Iran Case

The People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), aka Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), has been on the FTO list since the list was started in 1997. More than thirty years ago, a faction arising from PMOI engaged in terrorism against Americans. Yet if the criterion for being on the FTO list is whether a group has ever engaged in terrorism, then many organizations with which the U.S. government has important dealings, such as the PLO, belong on the list. Every two years after 1997, the FTO listing of PMOI was reviewed and retained, until 2004, when the time period for mandatory review was increased to five years. The decision by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2009 to maintain the FTO listing of PMOI did not set forth detailed reasons or criteria, other than stating that “the circumstances that were the basis for the 2003 redesignation…have not changed in such a manner as to warrant revocation.”… Read More


A Roadmap for the Foreign Terrorist Organizations List
PolicyWatch #1366
By Patrick Clawson
April 25, 2008

Although the Foreign Terrorist Organizationslist has a set of criteria for designating groups, there is little clarity in practice about the process for revocation. Even after organizations have renounced terrorism for many years, their designations persist without a clear explanation, and are based on the assumption that historical violence indicates future potential.

A November 2007 court ruling by the UK’s Proscribed Organizations Appeals Commission (POAC) ordered the British government to remove the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran — known to the U.S. government as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) — from its terrorist organizations list. This decision, along with a similar decision by the European Court of First Instance (a level below the European Court of Justice), and the mandatory review of the group’s designation by the U.S. State Department in October 2008, provides an opportunity to evaluate how terrorist designation is assessed. According to the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act, if no designation review is conducted during a five-year period, the U.S. secretary of state must determine whether a revocation is appropriate.

The Role of Non-Terrorist Criteria

Any designation review should be based only on terrorism issues, not on the general U.S. government view of the organization in question. If the decision to designate a group is made on foreign policy considerations rather than evidence, then the list will be branded as a political instrument, thus reducing its utility as a means for encouraging other governments to take action against certain terrorist organizations. This is what happened to the list of terrorism-sponsoring states, which simply looks like a set of countries the U.S. government does not like. 

In the MEK’s case, its designation should not be based on the group’s political stance or worries about U.S.-Iranian relations, nor should it be a reward for its reports on Iran’s nuclear activities. Over the past three years, the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism have cited no alleged MEK terrorist activity since 2001, yet have increased allegations pertaining the group’s non-terrorist activities. The 2007 edition of the Reports, due out by the end of April 2008, is bound to continue this trend… Read More