The objected-to Politico article was written by Daniel Benjamin, often referred to below but not identified as author of that article.
London, 29 Nov – On November 28, in an article for Politico Magazine, Robert G. Torricelli, former U. S. Senator from New Jersey, and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, wrote about the Iranian Resistance Group, Mujahidin e-Khalq (MEK). His article was written in response to an article published in Politico last week, criticizing the MEK and the U.S. politicians who support them, particularly former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Torricelli, a former Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is familiar with the MEK and with Giuliani’s work on behalf of the organization says, “I can say unequivocally that Benjamin’s assertions are outrageous—so outrageous that I must respond.”
A large bipartisan coalition supports the MEK in its campaign for regime change in Iran, including two former chairmen of the joint chiefs, two former CIA directors, a former attorney general and the former chairs of both political parties. People with such varied political ideals, such as Howard Dean and Patrick Kennedy to Newt Gingrich and John Bolton support the MEK. Torricelli says, “From this perspective, the outlier isn’t Rudy Giuliani; it’s Daniel Benjamin.”
The history of the MEK began when it was part of the coalition opposing the shah of Iran in the late 1970s. The shah’s secret police executed and imprisoned most of their leadership. That vacuum was briefly filled by a Marxist group who were rejected by the incarcerated MEK leaders. Most of the Marxist leaders were killed by the shah or by the mullahs after their ascent to power in 1979. The MEK eventually regained its original leadership, and the MEK became an opposition group to the theocratic regime, and fled into exile in Paris and Iraq.
Torricelli writes, “Throughout this time, the MEK did take part in legitimate political and military action against the Iranian regime, but I have seen no evidence to support the assertion Benjamin makes that it took part in terrorist activities against Iranians or Americans.”
In Iraq in the 1980s, the refugee camps of the MEK were under the protection of the government of Iraq. MEK fighters were aligned with Iraqi Army during Iran/Iraq War. “But Benjamin’s claims that they assisted in Saddam Hussein’s repression of the Kurds have been denied by both MEK and U.S. Army leaders in Iraq. Upon the arrival of U.S. forces in 2003, the MEK willingly handed over its weapons, accepted U.S. protection and actively exposed the Iranian regime and its proxies’ terrorist activities. This included saving American lives by identifying IED locations. This, more than anything, explains the group’s support by former U.S. military personnel, including the former army anti-terror officer and the U.S. military police general assigned to the camp,” writes Torricelli.
The MEK provided invaluable intelligence regarding the Iranian nuclear program that helped counter Tehran’s efforts to develop atomic weapons. Maryam Rajavi, leader of the movement, committed herself publicly to a democratic, non-nuclear, secular Iran at peace with its neighbors with gender equality and a ban on capital punishment. The MEK organized thousands in the Iranian diaspora and built political support in Congress and parliaments across Europe. It is now the most organized and disciplined of the Iranian opposition groups.
“Some current and former State Department employees, including Mr. Benjamin, have a different concept. They remain committed to the idea that the MEK was a terrorist organization—a notion, I believe, which stems from an illusion of American reconciliation with the mullahs. In 1997, a group at State succeeded in convincing President Bill Clinton to place the MEK on the State Department list of terrorist organizations. Some claimed at the time that this decision was mainly intended as a goodwill gesture to Iran. The State Department gave as its reasons the MEK’s long record of violence, but I can tell you that as a member of the Foreign Relation Committee, I reviewed the State Department file on the MEK and found no evidence, no testimony and no reason for the designation except placating Tehran,” Torricelli writes, adding, “Thousands of Iranian-Americans and literally hundreds of members of Congress protested. In 2011, as a private attorney, I led a team of lawyers in a State Department inquiry to resolve the issue. After four hours of testimony, we yielded to the State Department to present their contradictory evidence. They had nothing.”
Without evidence, an order by the U.S. District Court was issued. The MEK was removed from the State Department list of terrorist organizations by Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2012.
Torricelli continues, “Defeat came hard for the Iran apologists within the department. Mr. Benjamin isn’t the first to argue that the broad coalition of former U.S. intelligence, military, diplomatic and congressional leaders can’t be believed because some accepted speaking fees to attend MEK meetings around the world. The fact that these people faced combat for or dedicated their entire careers to our country, and are among our most respected leaders seems to be of no consequence. It’s an argument that requires no rebuttal except to note that by this standard the views of Thomas Paine, Elie Wiesel and Winston Churchill—all of whom accepted speaking fees from various international organizations—would have been silenced as well.”
Rudy Giuliani was one of the most outspoken supporters. The 3,000 MEK refugees settled along the Iran/Iraq border were under imminent threat in 2012. Iraqi relations with the United States were tense. Torricelli writes, “Secretary Clinton requested that I assemble a persuasive group of distinguished Americans to travel to Europe and persuade Mrs. Rajavi to relocate the refugees to a former U.S. military base near Baghdad. I appealed to Louis Freeh, Ed Rendell, Michael Mukasey and Rudy Giuliani. Each accepted, canceled commitments, paid his own transportation to Paris and argued persuasively that the MEK assist the United States by relocating.”
Such a broad coalition of diverse Americans has varied perspectives. Torricelli says that, “Some believe that in the political vacuum following an economic or political collapse in Tehran, a determined and well-funded political opposition like the MEK could seize power. Others believe that the MEK might simply be part of a broader coalition, a simple pressure point or just a source of continuing intelligence.” Although rationales for support might differ, this group of Americans is united by the beliefs that the MEK is a genuine democratic force, and that regime change in Tehran is the best option to keep the peace, avoid a nuclear Iran, and benefit American interests.
Going back to Mr. Benjamin’s argument that Rudy Giuliani’s participation in this coalition should disqualify him for consideration as secretary of state, Torricelli has this to say, “Experience and participation in public policy issues was once a condition for high government service. It’s now a complication, because a record of advocacy creates controversy. But the selection of secretary of state needs to be different. Among the most likely crises facing the new president is an escalation in the struggle with the fundamentalist Islamic Republic of Iran. Rudy Giuliani has lived that struggle for a decade. Mr. Benjamin may quarrel with his efforts but it’s important to note that voices in the American foreign policy establishment as diverse as Senator McCain, Secretary Clinton, Deputy Secretary Blinken and John Kerry’s own personal representative on the MEK, Jonathan Weiner disagree. Each has thanked Rudy Giuliani and the other Americans involved in these efforts.”
Whether or not the president-elect chooses Mr. Giuliani as secretary of state, countering Tehran and assisting our country should not be seen as anything other than a valuable contribution to his consideration.