There has been a lot of talk lately about what losing the AAA credit rating means for America. But America's failure to keep its promise to the people of Camp Ashraf in Iraq also threatens to diminish our great country. Currently there are 3,400 Iranian opposition members known as the MEK who live in Iraq at Camp Ashraf, many of whom had family members imprisoned, tortured and executed by the Iranian Mullahs.
Despite the fact that the MEK has renounced violence since 2001, some believe and promote the idea that the MEK is a terrorist organization. There are key facts, which have been obscured, omitted or ignored in recent articles written about these 3,400 unarmed people. First, a lot has changed since the MEK was classified as a terrorist organization in 1997. Second, in July 2010, the U.S. Appeals Court in Washington DC ruled that the group was actually not given due process in 1997 and ordered the State Dept. to reevaluate the terrorist designation. Notably the governments of France, Britain and the EU have already ruled that the MEK is not a terrorist organization. Currently the only two nations that remain in agreement on what is now a discredited classification are America and Iran. Third, In 2003 the U.S. military peacefully disarmed the inhabitants of Camp Ashraf. American FBI agents visited Ashraf and questioned all of the 3,400 residents. None were found to be associated with terrorists or terrorism. The US military made a promise in writing that each resident would be protected against outside threats. Fourth, in 2009, and again in 2011, American troops were ordered to leave the vicinity of Ashraf by the Iraqi Government -- then led by Prime Minister Maliki. Iraqi troops went into Ashraf and killed 47 unarmed civilians in cold blood. Most of the hundreds who were wounded were denied medical care as American troops stood idly by just a few miles away. Fifth, while the residents of Ashraf are currently asking to be re-located to other countries, the plan currently being pushed by Lawrence Butler from the US State would instead relocate them to another area in Iraq and "guarantee" their safety. Yet neither the American or Iraqi governments have thus far kept their word to the residents of Ashraf. Some are suggesting that a distinguished group of bipartisan and knowledgeable counter-terrorism American experts, including former Directors of the CIA, NSA, NSC, FBI, an Attorney General, Secretary of Homeland Security, Chiefs of the Joint Staff, Marine Corps Commandant, NATO Commander, CENTCOM Commander, DOS Asst Sec for Counter-Terrorism, governors, ambassadors, generals, and many others, are being paid for their support of the residents of Ashraf.
This is simply not true. America gave its word to the MEK that we would protect them. We believe that allowing 3,400 people to be murdered in cold blood and breaking that promise is wrong. We believe that in the end this debate is about America, not the people in Ashraf. America is a country that values freedom and the rule of law. We must keep our word and help the people of Ashraf get out of Iraq. We must support those who peacefully and through democratic means fight for their freedom. If we fail and again stand by as 3,400 unarmed men, women and children, in Ashraf are murdered by the Iranian Government or its Iraqi proxies, we diminish ourselves as a great nation. Its time for America to keep its word to the people in Ashraf.
This post has been revised from a previous version.
Howard Dean, MD is former Governor of Vermont. While he has delivered paid speeches for Iranian-American communities through the Harry Walker agency, he was not paid for this column and any opinions represented are his own based on the humanitarian issues involved.