In response to Sunday’s attack on Camp Ashraf in Iraq, the National Council of Resistance of Iran held a telephone press conference Sept 3, hosted by the American Friends of the MEK.
Present on the call, responding to the issues with the Iraqi government and the refugee camp, was Governor Ed Rendell, Judge Michael Mukasey, former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy, former Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department Michel Reiss and former F.B.I Director Louis Freeh.
To begin the call Robert Torricelli read an open letter written from the American Friends of the MEK to Secretary of State John Kerry. The group of signers is comprised of 13 former senior government officials and military officers, who wrote the letter in response to this weekend’s Camp Ashraf attack urging immediate action at both Camp Liberty and Camp Ashraf. The letter in its entirety is available below.
Following the letter reading, the conference participants had the opportunity to respond to the issues in Iraq and Iran and to the attack on Camp Ashraf. What follows are the live responses from telephone conference on September 3, 2013.
Telephone Conference Transcript:
We were instrumental in pursuing them [residents] to leave Ashraf and go to liberty and we were instrumental in convincing them that they would be processed to other countries quickly. Nothing that they [Iraqi forces] have said to us is anywhere close to being true. They said that the embassy would have a constant presence at camp liberty – there hasn’t been a presence since April. People at Ashraf have been left virtually unprotected and have been slaughtered, as seen in photos, or executed. These 3,400 people, now hundreds of whom have been killed, were promised protection by the U.S. military on behalf of the United States once they disarmed. They did all we had asked them and we have failed to protect them every step of the way for these last five incidents. We ask Secretary Kerry for one and only one remedy – to lead these [people] out of Iraq. We could take them to any one of our air bases, to Guantanamo. We owe these people that as a minimum, whatever it takes to do that – a day, two, three days… and we were told by Dan Freeh, State Department Representative that there was an emergency 24-hour evacuation plan in place in case something like this happened.
I know it is easy to dismiss more carnage in Iraq – Iraq is a sea of carnage. There is an important distinction and difference in the massacre that happened on Saturday evening. These refugees were protected persons by the United States military. They remained at Ashraf under a negotiated settlement by the United States Government. They were assured protection. These were innocent, unarmed refugees. They didn’t die by a road side bomb – their hands were tied behind their backs and they were executed. The wounded were taken to a hospital, and they were murdered on hospital gurneys. These people were killed by a government that is being supported by the United States. It is outrageous; it is a further example of the degree to which the Iranian Regime is operating with impunity within Iraq. It is clear Iraqi forces were involved. It is also believed there were Iranian forces infiltrated into the assault. Many of those that were committing the murders spoke Farsi. In any case, I know it is easy to become cynical of all the carnage, but this is about murder, it is also about the credibility of the United States Government.
To add an additional dimension to this tragedy that has been endured now for about three years by this group – these are political assassinations. This is a group that has been dying in eternal enmity and hatred of the Mullahs in Iran. Make no mistake about that, make no mistake about that. We understand that the Mullahs obviously had more influence in Iraq than the country that lost several thousand lives and [shed blood]. That’s the first point. The second point is the deceased will leave in their belongings a document signed by the United States Government that says they are protected persons under the Geneva Convention. So much for that. They will also have in their files, a copy of the status of forces agreement, where Iraq promises to take over for us because we left Iraq, and they are going to provide for the security for the individuals at Liberty and Ashraf. Take a look at the video, go to Google, search “Ashraf 2011,” and you will see American Humvees, American trained Iraqi soldiers, who at the time we believe were accompanied by Iranian agents, gunning down and running over a group of men and women, who by the way were also responsible for providing information about the expanded nuclear program to the United States Government. Fast forward the past couple of years. For about a year and half to two years, negotiations with Secretary Clinton and Dan Freed, they imposed on us – they basically said you need to go from Ashraf to Liberty (and we are not going to go into all the negotiations), and when you do, we assure you of a permanent, robust American and UN presence at both facilities. They said this in writing – that we will protect them. And then you have the political assassinations of 24-36 hours ago.
I read in an article the other day that [Secretary] Kerry was worried about the credibility of America if we do not act in Syria. I would suggest that they could act visa vi these 3,200 people for whom we pledged as they gave up their own means to defend themselves… we need to act now. They need to be taken to a safe place. There needs be no argument about whether they are protected persons or if they are refugees. It is not about granting them resettlement opportunities, it is about getting them to a safe haven as we promised and have been promising for nearly a decade.
Just to add to what has already been said – If you Google “attack on Ashraf,” it is actually very hard to find the attack from Saturday because there are four or five others that are just loaded there. This is a repetitive and recurring and escalating threat and now genocide we believe and a very serious loss of life. We are also very concerned that unless these residences are evacuated immediately – and we’re not asking for military intervention – we are asking for humanitarian evacuation, which the United States is capable of doing, we think we are going to see more murders at Ashraf. There are only about 40 survivors now of the original 100. More importantly, there are about 3,000 people, similar residents with the same written guarantees of protection by our military, by our state department in Camp Liberty. And it is only a matter of time, in fact I think a very short time, that we do not see an escalation of the attacks. They have already attacked Camp Liberty, killing people with missile attacks.
I want to just mention the investigations – we have the United Nations [calling on] the Iraqi government and Maliki [government] to conduct the investigations. We are still waiting for the results of the last three quote-unquote investigations. These investigations are meaningless; they are certainly not credible – being done by governments with elements that have promoted this attack. We need to get these people out of there immediately or we are going to see huge escalations. It is a test; it is a very clear test of not just the UN, but more critically of the U.S. It’s not a coincidence that this happened over the Labor Day weekend, while everybody is distracted with Syria. This is a matter that, as Senator Torricelli said, just can’t wait or we’re going to see a massive loss of life here.
To make it obvious what the agenda is of the government of Iraq – They have removed the blast walls that were in front of the shelters at Camp Liberty and they have refused to allow sand bags to be brought in, they have refused to allow helmets to be brought in. In other words, they have taken away every means that these people have of even possibly defending themselves against incoming rockets. So, it is obvious what is on the agenda here, and that’s something that the government of Iraq did.
I want to draw a distinction that is important to note. We are calling for an immediate evacuation of all these people from Iraq. The administration may say that is what we have been trying to do for the past year and a half, since they were taken off the terrorist list and even before. This is a distinction that is important – we are calling for them to be evacuated immediately because their lives are at great risk. The administration has been concerned with permanent relocation. We are talking about a temporary and perhaps a transient place where they can just be safe, and not be murdered in their beds by Iraqi forces. Then we will have the time to figure out the ultimate disposition of where they need to go to be permanently resettled. So the distinction here is that the administration may say that they are trying to get them out, but their efforts are really looking at a different goal than the short term goal of protecting lives by removing them from the country.
I would just add to Director Freed and Attorney General Mukasey’s points, that we have in place here the same issue in Syria, and that is Iran’s hand is in all of this. And the MEK are the sworn enemies of the Mullahs in Tehran. It is just inconceivable to me that the United States would not be trying to support the very organization that has helped us gain intelligence on the nuclear program in Iran, has assisted the United States and the world community exposing a lot of the activities that have taken place in respect to the nuclear program. And the President is now considering a tactful military strike in order to send a message, and he is really trying to send the message to Iran that weapons of mass destruction should not be tolerated. These refugees in Ashraf and Liberty are the very people who have let the whole world know about the challenge and the ticking time bomb that Iran poses with nuclear weapons. It is just inconceivable to me that they are not a major priority for our country given the state of affairs in Syria and the state of affairs in Iran, it is all interconnected and it runs through Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty.
– Michael Mukasey:
They are paying a high price for having cooperated with and protecting the United States. Some members of the press may note that there was a story in the New York Times, which was written quickly after the massacres so I certainly understand that noting that there is a dispute about the death toll being 15 or 52 and the causes and the motivations. The United Nations team visited Ashraf yesterday. The 52 confirmed deaths is now a United Nations figure. Their report confirmed that many of those who were killed had been arrested and were in handcuffs and those who were wounded were murdered in the hospital. This is no longer a debatable issue between the residents of Ashraf and the government of Iraq or Iran; it is now a statement by the United Nations.
And also, there are seven still missing, six women and one man – they have yet to be accounted for. The Iranian and Iraqi influence – when we are worried about Syria, think about this – we’ve got Iraq granting permission for the Iranians to fly arms to Syria. They are co-conspirators there. They are co-conspirators in trying to eliminate a democratic opposition group, and the Mullahs would like to see all of them politically assassinated. It is inconceivable, as Patrick Kennedy just articulated how we could not view this as a priority. If you want to send a signal to Iran that we are serious about both Syria and then going on to nuclear, then rescue the group, the representatives of the group that has given us more information about the nuclear capability than we would have had otherwise – a group that the Mullahs are deathly afraid of. I’d also note, we don’t have to fire a shot, all we have to do is drop in some planes and take them to Guam, take them to Guantanamo, just get them out of there. And as Reese said, we will worry about resettlement later.
-Ed Rendell :
Some people would have you believe that this group has no following and is no threat to the Iranian government, but if that’s the case then why are the Iranians so interested in eliminating them?