The MEK military arm, the National Liberation Army, had a series of bases in Iraq from 1986 until the fall of Saddam in 2003. As they were opposed to the religious extremists ruling Iran, Saddam welcomed the NLA into his country as they were the enemy of his enemy. When the Americans entered Iraq, its 3,800 members consolidated within their headquarters compound, Camp Ashraf, 80 miles northeast of Baghdad.
With all their war-fighting equipment, ranging from individual firearms to tanks turned over to the Americans, the NLA ceased to exist as a military unit. Each member was interviewed, investigated by seven different U.S. agencies, including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, State, and Treasury as well as the FBI, the CIA, and the DIA and determined to never have conducted hostile actions against the United States, nor been involved in terrorism. Every resident of Ashraf was awarded “Protected Person Status under the 4th Geneva Convention.”
Lying about the MEK had already commenced years earlier when the Clinton Administration’s Secretary of State Madeliene Albright had formally identified the MEK as a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Albright claimed the MEK had killed three American service members (Turner, Shaffer, and Hawkins) during the days of the Shah. Evidence already existed to the contrary, but to appease the religious extremists ruling Iran, Albright tried to reverse-engineer the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” routine.
By declaring the MEK an FTO, Albright expected to gain the friendship of Iran. Needless to say, this did not happen. Meanwhile, Albright never did declare Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) an FTO for the Khobar Towers attack, despite thorough and overwhelming FBI evidence. The IRGC FTO designation had to wait over 20 years for President Trump to have the courage to do what should have been done by the previous three presidents.
As for the MEK, during the six-year duration that they co-occupied Camp Ashraf with the American military, a strong bond grew between the two organizations. The U.S. military was the town police force with the authority to go where and when they pleased and had the firepower to enforce their rules. This was never necessary. The MEK fully cooperated with the Americans, worked as close as possible and provided a massive amount of intelligence about the region, Iraq, and Iran.
The Americans occupied the north side of Camp Ashraf. To house people who wished to leave the MEK and develop a different future, the Americans built a Temporary Internment and Protection Facility (TIPF). Over time, 190 people came to live in this facility. For the first three years, they did minor jobs for the Americans and were allowed to eat in the American dining facility. Meanwhile, the American military tried to relocate these former MEK members. U.S. State Department was no help in this effort and thwarted every effort to relocate the residents to anywhere except Iran. On the part of the male TIPF residents their increasing frustration, growing hostility, refusal to cooperate, and determination to not recognize the never-ending attempts of the American military to help them relocate to a third country resulted in losing their work status. The males were then required to remain in the TIPF.
The four female residents, located in a separate TIPF, considered the male reaction as immature. The females continued to work in the American compound and dined with the U.S. Soldiers and Marines. The American warriors were always respectful and behaved themselves around these women. That said, the women always had plenty of company in the dining facility. Not once did they ever state that while in the MEK they experienced sexual abuse or mental harassment that was described in The Intercept article.
The TIPF compound was well-built: each resident had an individual large camping tent and was allowed to beautify his space inside and outside of it. Eventually, independent of the State Department, the U.S. military coordinated with Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani to accept all the TIPF residents and agree to help them move on with their lives. Once the last TIPF resident departed Camp Ashraf, the American base commander completely disassembled the TIPF. He was tired of the antics of the former male residents and had no desire to start over with a new group.
Now we have The Intercept article leveling a series of unwarranted hostile accusations toward the MEK and Americans at Camp Ashraf. The first is Reza Sadeghi who claims that in the summer of 2006 he informed his MEK commander at Camp Ashraf that he was leaving the organization and going to the American-controlled TIPF. Sadeghi further states he was then beaten, tossed into a vehicle by MEK security, and was being transported to a confinement facility when the vehicle was stopped by U.S. military personnel. Sadeghi then claims this vehicle stop resulted in his rescue and immediate relocation to the U.S. controlled TIPF.
The problem with his Sadeghi’s is the incident never happened. I was the senior commander at Camp Ashraf during the summer of 2006. We only had one person who left the MEK compound – and he walked into our camp. The MEK did not know that the person had left until he was in our compound. I conducted an interview with him. He simply wanted to move on with his life.
Residing at the MEK former guest-housing area was a second person who did not wish to remain part of the MEK. Per MEK leadership’s request, and without success, I met with the person and tried to convince him to come to the TIPF. He did not want to give up a life of doing no work while being provided with food, shelter, and clothing. When I left Ashraf, this resident was still there living a good life and doing nothing to help earn his keep.
The Intercept article also claims the MEK was recruiting and training Iraqi youth. Also in the summer of 2006, this claim was relayed to me by U.S. State Department personnel based in Baghdad. Placed on standby was a platoon of U.S. Marines mounted in their vehicles and ready to respond to any armed assault. With the platoon’s lieutenant carrying a radio, I went to the alleged training and housing location. The alleged recruiting/training location turned out to be a small housing area for local workers who would leave the camp once a week to deliver their pay to their families. Daily travel in and out of the perimeter would have increased the risk of capture by al Qaeda or other hostile operatives in the area. The source of this misinformation turned out to be Iranian loyalists inside the Iraqi government.
The 2009 RAND Report, referenced in The Intercept’s article, was baseless. Never during my or any other officer’s tenure at Ashraf were there any reports of abuse, deprivation, forced labor and other allegations that appeared in that report. While this report was being researched, I was frequently at the State Department serving as an advisor on both Iraq and Ashraf issues. Not once did State Department representatives mention the report’s in-progress information being developed.
Instead, the U.S. State Department only oriented the attention of the RAND Report’s sole author to detractors of the MEK. The RAND Study only served as a tool for State Department employees who were determined to undermine the credibility, and even the Protected person status, of MEK members. I have completely gone through the RAND Report. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Half a truth is often a great lie” and it applies here. Throughout the RAND Report are derogatory comments about the MEK that fail to qualify as even half-truths.
The allegations allegedly made by former female members of the MEK are beyond what I would have observed. I do know those females who dined with the American Soldiers and Marines never related stories of horror inside the MEK compound.
However intentioned, every piece of negative information provided in The Intercept article is completely contrary to what I experienced while I was at Ashraf and is totally wrong. As a result, accepting the validity of the balance of information provided is suspect.
Even attempting to write off American defenders of the MEK as being paid lobbyists is flawed. The vast volume of work performed by American defenders of the MEK never involves financial compensation.
Despite claims made by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and its disciples, I have never been compensated for anything I have written, said, or work performed for the MEK. If anything, my work is compensation to them for all the lives of American Marines and Soldiers they helped to save while stationed at Ashraf.
Not all people disgruntled against their former organizations are trustworthy. This is especially true with the MEK, in which former members are sought out by the MOIS and offered rewards and financial compensation to become public spokespersons. This article from The Intercept certainly includes its share of detractors who lack credibility.
The article claims the TIPF was used by the American military to help further torment the defectors who left MEK control at Camp Ashraf, yet the article provides a group photo of the defectors cheering with an American officer in the middle of the picture. If the claim was true, this picture would have been impossible.
A similar MOIS claim of abuse in years past was directed at Brigadier General Dave Phillips, Lieutenant Colonel Leo McCloskey, and myself. The allegation was that in 2005 the three of us simultaneously participated in the abuse of TIPF residents at Ashraf. The Problem with these allegations is that in 2005 Phillips was in Missouri, McCloskey in Georgia, and I was at the Pentagon. Phillips was long since gone from Ashraf. I never set foot in the camp until 2006, and McCloskey not until 2009. The three of us never met until 2011, yet the MOIS claims we were together abusing former MEK members at Ashraf in 2005.
Add to this the fake news articles the MOIS has posted about me, including one pretending to be written by a former Central Intelligence Agency official, and insight is given to how low the Iran government will go to attack people who oppose widespread the regime’s corruption. Instead of having a negative impact on me, these fake news articles provide assurance that my work is making a positive difference in exposing the religious heretics ruling Iran.
The surge of recent articles against the MEK serves as evidence that the Iranian regime knows it is in a precarious situation. All totalitarian regimes do fall. The question is never if, but when. Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin, Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot, and hundreds of others came to a sudden end. Khamenei and his mullahs are now struggling to survive by oppressing a nation of very intelligent and hard-working people.
Only through the brutality of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the deceit of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security have the religious extremists in Tehran been able to survive this long. As evidenced by its own actions, the regime’s biggest fear is of the MEK and, in turn, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) with whom the MEK is closely aligned.
Whether the future government of Iran will be run by the NCRI or a coalition of opposition groups, including those riding out the storm inside Iran, remains to be seen. What is certain is the religious extremists will go down and the survivors of the regime will be held accountable. Just as in the last century, there were the Nuremberg Trials, and in this century there will be the Tehran Trials.
The world almost witnessed a change of government in 2009 following the bogus Iranian presidential elections. Had American President Obama done something more than stand idly by while demonstrations were being brutally suppressed by Iranian police and the IRGC, the regime would have likely collapsed? Obama was so concerned about his nuclear weapons deal that he was determined not to take the side of the citizens over their oppressors.
Now, Americans have a president who is not afraid to do the harder right over the easier wrong. Removing the United States from a dysfunctional nuclear weapons treaty, a reimplementation of sanctions on Iran, and the elimination of international terrorist Qassem Suleimani, serve as testimony to the resolve of President Trump. Iranian regime leadership is determined to outlast Trump’s presidency. They may well not make it that long, whether or not President Trump is re-elected to another four years.
The IRGC’s brutal suppression of three prison riots in the past two weeks, the mishandling of the Coronavirus and subsequent cover-up of massive numbers of deaths, the manipulation of this February’s local elections, the exportation of Iranian wealth to fund meddling operations throughout the Middle-East, terrorist activities throughout the world, and the never-ending suppression of the country’s citizens are moving the Iranian people to the limit of their tolerance. All the misinformation campaigns and character-assassination articles against Iran’s enemies are not going to help when the Iranian people realize they have no other choice than to rise up and free themselves from tyranny.
Perhaps then, The Intercept will be willing to write a follow-up article to address all the brutality and corruption that will be exposed.
– Colonel Martin’s progressive assignments in Iraq included serving as Senior Antiterrorism Officer for all Coalition Forces, Operations Chief for Task Force 134 (Detention Operations), and as Base Commander of Ashraf.