Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will decide on removing an Iranian dissident group from the U.S. list of foreign terror groups only after all its members have left a camp north of Baghdad, a Justice Department lawyer told a federal court Tuesday.
Robert Loeb, who is representing Mrs. Clinton, offered to provide the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit periodic progress reports on moving the Iranian exiles from their present home at Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base near Baghdad’s international airport.
About 2,000 of Camp Ashraf’s more than 3,000 residents, who belong to the dissident group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), have been transferred so far to Camp Liberty under a deal brokered by the United Nations.
Mrs. Clinton will decide on removing the MEK from the list no later than 60 days after Camp Ashraf has been vacated, and data gathered from the relocation has been studied to verify the group’s claims that it is not a terror group, Mr. Loeb said.
When Judge David Tatel asked how much time the secretary would need to make a decision, Mr. Loeb replied that it was hard to give an exact date.
Viet Dinh, who represented the MEK at the hearing, accused Mrs. Clinton of “indifference and lassitude” toward the group. Every day that the MEK remains on the terror list is a violation of its rights, he said.
“Any decision [by Mrs. Clinton] would be better than the current state of deprivation, even a denial,” he said.
A denial of the MEK’s request would allow the appeals process to move forward.
However, Mr. Loeb said that a denial also could negatively affect the group’s cooperation during the move to Camp Liberty.
In July 2010, the court ordered the State Department to review its 1997 designation of the MEK as a terrorist organization.
“This court’s mandate is being ignored,” said Mr. Dinh.
But Judge Karen Henderson said the court had not set a deadline by which it expects the State Department to act.
“They have said that this is complicated by the move from [Camp Ashraf] … It’s not as if they are just sitting on their hands,” she said.
The MEK, also known as People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, was responsible for terrorist attacks in Iran in the 1970s that killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians, according to the State Department.
Camp Ashraf’s residents surrendered their weapons in 2003 as part of a cease-fire agreement with U.S. forces.
Mr. Loeb said the U.S. government has no way of knowing that the MEK is no longer a terror group since its members have never allowed a thorough inspection of the 15-square-mile Camp Ashraf.
“They say that they have turned over a new leaf, but that has never been verified by the U.S. military,” he said.
The U.N. refugee agency also has started a process of determining refugee status of the dissidents, a necessary first step to resettle them in other countries. But the State Department’s designation of the MEK as a terror group is an obstacle to relocating the dissidents outside Iraq.
U.S. officials say it would require an act of Congress to resettle the dissidents in the U.S.
Britain and the European Union took the MEK off their lists of terrorist groups in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Judge Stephen Williams said the Iraqi government justifies its actions against the MEK partly due to the fact that the U.S. continues to view the group as a terrorist organization.
Mr. Loeb disagreed: “Their theory is that if we take off the designation that animus will go away … We don’t agree with that.”
The MEK received military and financial support from Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to the State Department.
During the hearing, Mr. Loeb repeatedly referred to Camp Ashraf as a paramilitary base. Mr. Dinh pointed out that the U.S. military had disarmed Camp Ashraf residents years ago.
The U.S. turned over control of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government in June 2009.