The Iranian resistance won another victory in a U.S. federal court this week, when a three-judge panel ruled the group has a right to a speedy hearing on its petition to be removed from the U.S. terrorist list - after nearly two years of delay by the State Department.
The judges gave the federal government until March 26 to respond to the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), which was added to the list by President Bill Clinton when he was trying to open talks with the theocratic Iranian regime in 1997.
"It's certainly a favorable development," said Ali Safavi, president of Near East Policy Research in Northern Virginia and a supporter of the PMOI.
Mr. Safavi said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recognized that 3,300 members and supporters of the PMOI face a life-threatening situation in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where they have been based since the 1980s.
The Iraqi government has ordered the Iranians expelled from the country by the end of April, but no other nation will accept them as refugees because the PMOI is on the U.S. terror list. Iraqi security forces have attacked the unarmed camp residents twice, killing 11 in July 2009 and 34 in April 2011.
The Justice Department, representing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, argued that the court should deny the PMOI's request for a writ of mandamus, a legal maneuver that asks a court to enforce an earlier order.
In 2010, the court ruled that the State Department had violated the PMOI's constitutional right to due process two years earlier when then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refused a request from the group to be removed from the list.
The court gave the Obama administration 180 days to review the status of the PMOI, which renounced its armed struggle against Iran in 2003, when U.S. forces disarmed the rebels after the invasion of Iraq.
Nearly two years later, the government is still arguing it needs more time to consider whether the resistance meets the standards to remain listed as a terrorist group.
Justice Department attorney Douglas N. Letter, in his response to the PMOI case, said the State Department must review "highly classified information, expert analyses of the material in the administration record, delicate foreign relations concerns and complex national security determinations."
He argued that a decision on the PMOI's status would have to be made by high-level officials at the State, Treasury and Justice departments.
PMOI attorney Viet Dinh, a former Justice Department lawyer, complained about the "unwarranted and unreasonable" delay by the State Department.
"While the secretary [of state] dithers on PMOI's request to revoke its [terrorist] designation, Ashraf residents face a continuing threat of deadly violence from Iraqi forces, and other countries are reluctant to accept them for resettlement as long as PMOI remains on the list," Mr. Dinh said.
Earlier this week, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee pressed Mrs. Clinton to take the PMOI off the terrorist list.
"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."
'TROUBLING' POLICE RESPONSE
The U.S. ambassador in Russia criticized Moscow police for cracking down on demonstrators protesting Vladimir Putin's victory in Sunday's presidential election.
"Troubling to watch arrests of peaceful demonstrators in Pushkin Square," Ambassador Michael McFaul wrote in a Twitter message, referring to protests in downtown Moscow.
"Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are universal values," he added.
The Russian Foreign Ministry defended the police arrests of hundreds of protesters.
"The police on Pushkin were several times more humane that what we saw in the breakup of Occupy Wall Street protests," the ministry said.
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