Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week pressed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her failure to remove the Iranian resistance from the U.S. list of terrorist groups.
They warned that the lives of more than 3,000 dissidents living in a camp in Iraq are in danger because of the State Department's refusal to take them off the list. The Iraqi government has even used the list as an excuse to attack the unarmed dissidents, one committee member said.
Rep. Ted Poe told Mrs. Clinton that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last year cited the U.S. terrorist designation as a reason to refuse to allow a congressional delegation to visit the rebels of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) in Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad.
Mr. Poe, Texas Republican, recalled that Mr. Maliki said his government treats the people there as a terrorist group because the United States lists them as such.
"So he dumped it back on our designation as the reason he was treating them the way he was treating them," he said.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher warned Mrs. Clinton that the rebels are "in grave danger."
"There are 3,000 Iranian exiles who have been residing in Iraq ... because they are enemies of the Iranian mullah dictatorship," the California Republican said.
Mrs. Clinton defended her department's handling of the group's nearly 4-year-old request for removal from the list. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the request from Camp Ashraf in 2008, but a federal appeals court two years later ordered the State Department review the request.
"We are deeply concerned about the security and safety of these residents of Camp Ashraf," Mrs. Clinton said. "We continue to work on our review of the [PMOI] designation."
Attorneys for the PMOI this week increased pressure on the State Department by filing a request that the federal appeals court in Washington order Mrs. Clinton to remove the group from the terrorist list.
Viet Dinh, a former top Justice Department lawyer now representing the resistance, noted that Mrs. Clinton has recognized the group's reunuciation of violence and is "legally bound to delist their organization."
"She cannot pocket veto PMOI's application for revocation of its terrorist status," he said.
The group operated as an armed resistance against the Iranian regime from the Iraqi base as a guest of dictator Saddam Hussein, a bitter enemy of Iran's.
The rebels surrendered their weapons to U.S. forces who toppled Saddam in 2003. The U.S. later declared them protected persons under international law, but Washington turned them over to Iraq on Jan. 1, 2009.
The resistance has been on the terrorist list since 1997, when President Bill Clinton declared them a terrorist group in an attempt to improve relations with Iran.
Mr. Dinh on Tuesday filed a writ of mandamus, a legal maneuver that asks a judge to order a public agency to fulfill a statutory duty. He said the PMOI's lawyers want the federal court to "order the secretary of state to delist the group as a foreign terrorist organization."
Mr. Dinh drew immediate support from many former U.S. national security officials who joined a legal brief filed by Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor and one of the top U.S. defense attorneys.
Mr. Dershowitz said the former national security officials and retired generals who joined him in his brief all had access to intelligence on the PMOI or had first-hand dealings with the resistance.
They believe "there is no evidence that PMOI has the capability or intent to engage in terrorism or terrorist activities," Mr. Dershowitz said.
He also complained that the State Department's "foot-dragging" is "powerful evidence" it cannot justify keeping the PMOI on the list.
Others who joined Mr. Dershowitz in the brief include: former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey; former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani; and retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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