- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hears the case of People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran v. United States Department of State. The State Department says the PMOI is a terrorist organization. The PMOI says the United States is falling for Iranian propaganda.

The PMOI was founded in 1963 as a violent anti-Shah movement. It supported the revolution that brought the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power, who returned the favor by executing the group’s leaders. Many members sought refuge in Iraq, and for years Saddam Hussein gave them safe haven to conduct anti-Iranian terror attacks.

The group renounced violence in 2001, and it has not engaged in terrorism since. A U.S. Intelligence Community Terrorist Threat Assessment acknowledged that there “has not been a confirmed terrorist attack by [the PMOI] since the organization surrendered to Coalition forces in 2003.”

The PMOI has assisted the United States in Iraq by warning Coalition troops against planned attacks by Iraqi insurgents. The PMOI also has provided critical information on Iran’s secret nuclear program, such as the first reports of hidden facilities at Qom and Natanz. These revelations were at first viewed skeptically, given the flawed information that Iraqi emigre groups provided about Saddam Hussein’s program to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Frank Pabian, a senior adviser on nuclear nonproliferation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, stated that the PMOI is “right 90 percent of the time.”

Removing the PMOI from the list of foreign terrorist organizations is one of the few issues on which both parties in Congress agree. No doubt, the same type of bureaucratic inertia is at work on this matter as that which kept South African President Nelson Mandela on a terrorist watch list until 2008.

The United Kingdom and European Union have removed the group from their terror lists, which has created a disconnect with America’s allies that complicates policy-making. The political rationale that put the PMOI on the U.S. terror list also has changed. The Clinton administration tagged the PMOI as terrorists in October 1997 as a means of reaching out to Iran’s newly elected moderate leader Mohammad Khatami. Mr. Khatami is now one of the leaders of the reformist Green Movement, and the PMOI’s official status as personae non gratae serves the interests of the hardliners.

Tehran uses the PMOI as an all-purpose scapegoat to discredit reformists, never failing to note in its denunciations that the United States calls them terrorists. The regime blamed the PMOI for murdering Neda Soltan, the young woman shot by pro-regime thugs during demonstrations last summer. In December, the Islamic regime claimed the PMOI killed Seyed Ali Mousavi, nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. The mullahs can accuse any liberal reformer with being in league with the “terrorist” PMOI and use the United States terror list as justification for imposing a death sentence. Ironically, America’s terror list has become an enabler for Iran’s state terrorism.

For the past year, the Obama administration has been trying to reach out to the regime in Tehran and been brusquely rebuffed. It is a good time to send the Islamic regime a new signal. Taking the PMOI off the terror list acknowledges that the group has put violence behind them, creates a credible incentive for other terror groups that might desire to reform their ways, and removes a tool from the hands of a theocratic regime bent on terrorizing its own people.