|Director John Sano – Solution Needed for Camp Ashraf, Before Arab Spring Can Succeeds|
|Monday, 13 February 2012 20:30|
Speaker: We have the last speaker, Director John Sano from the CIA. Welcome to take the floor. [applause] You have ten minutes. If you wish to be shorter you are allowed to that as well. [laughter]
John SANO: Thank you very much. Madame President, thank you for the opportunity again to be here with all of you. I was a spy for 28 years. So it’s a little bit unnerving for me to be in front of large crowds, but you’re a friendly crowd, so I can get used to it. You know we have—first to the people of Camp Ashraf, and I know you’re watching this, thank you for your continued sacrifices and your bravery. It will not be in vain. While we continue to witness the incredible results and the perils that the Arab Spring have brought upon us over the past year, there remains one major event that still needs to transpire before we can call the Arab Spring a success. And that is the resolution over the plight of the 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf.
The Arab Spring will not, should not be considered complete until such time as this situation is resolved and the residents are fully protected and their safety ensured. The Arab Spring has reaped considerable gains throughout the Middle East, from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya, and we see it occurring on a daily basis in Syria. The removal of repressive regimes and the start of what we can only hope will be true, democratic and open societies where the people themselves can decide the course of their own destiny, where there is no fear of reprisal when you voice an opinion that is contrary to your government. The U.S. has supported these movements. Some, as in the case of Libya, quickly and with considerable focus. Others, like in Egypt and Syria, with an initial degree of caution. Because you look at it in the international environment and those relationships we have in that part of the world. But one thing has remained constant throughout the Arab Spring is that people throughout the region have finally taken the opportunity to make decisions for themselves. It is the same basic right hat should be afforded to the people of Camp Ashraf. These 3,400 people who have already been attacked by Iraqi military forces with the full knowledge and the direction of the Iraqi leadership are facing yet an even greater threat as the Iraqi government under the direction of Iran forces them into an unbearable and clearly life-threatening situation as they are being forced into what is by any standard an uninhabitable and hostile environment at Camp Liberty. As the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ros-Lehitinen has already stated, “international humanitarian standards must be upheld. Human rights must be respected.” And as Louis Freeh, the former director of the FBI has stated, and again I quote, “This is a looming genocide and our goal is to make sure this does not happen.”
In October of last year when President Obama announced that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of last year, no one applauded this more than Iran’s leadership. Ahmadinejad himself stated, and again I quote, that “Iran has deepened their ties with Iraq day by day.” This will create an extremely dangerous situation for a number of reasons, primarily because now Ahmadinejad and the mullahs will be able to exponentially expand their influence in Iraq. And the ally that Iran has in this, as you all very well know, is President Maliki. He’s looking more like a dictator in his own right than the leader of a democratic Iraq. It’s clear that through Iran’s manipulation and direction that they’re looking for the systematic eradication of the residents of Camp Ashraf. This cannot happen. He’s already stated that he has arrest warrants for over 121 residents of the camp, and he has been so bold as to state that, quote again, “Iraq is dealing with the residents of the camp as individuals in accordance with the human rights principle and rules of international law enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international conventions on civil and political rights.” This is a blatant lie, especially when you look at it in the context of the massacre of 43 innocent civilians to include women, and the wounding of over 1,000 just last year in Camp Ashraf and the recent rocket attacks against the camp. All of which demonstrate very clearly to the international community the lengths to which Maliki will go to justify their current and future actions against the residents. His statements are an indication of what his true intents are.
If you look at Camp Liberty and you compare it to most prisons in the world there are better conditions in prisons, as some of the members of the panel have already stated. You have access to lawyers, you have access to medical care. You don’t have that in Camp Liberty. Yet what crimes have these innocent residents committed? Is it their desire for a normal life, one that for the past 25 years plus has been devoid of the same basic human rights we all enjoy? Is it their efforts to see a pluralistic society in their home country, one where their freedom of speech and assembly exist and where there is gender equality and a separation of church and state? Is it a crime to want these most basic of human rights? If it is, then we are all criminals. [applause]
Since Maliki has come to power he’s established a number of mechanisms inside Iraq that echo some of the tools that Saddam Hussein himself used to maintain his grip on power. And I’ll give you just one example. He established an organization called the Baghdad Brigade, which reports only to him. And just last year his own human rights ministry discovered a secret prison where 400 Sunnis are being held without charges. And this is inside what we refer to as the Green Zone. And it’s not far from where Camp Liberty is. So if he could do this while there was a sizable U.S. presence in the country, imagine what he can do now that that presence is gone.
Tehran views the presence of the MEK in Iraq as a threat. So it’s no surprise that the regime not only publicly supports the idea of displacement inside Iraq for the residents, but actively lobbies for it in Baghdad and elsewhere. Now, much of this so-called lobbying is orchestrated by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the MOIS. Now in my 28 years working as a spy overseas I’ve had exposure to the MOIS. They’re well trained and they’re very capable. They could very well be in the audience today. They provide misleading, actually completely erroneous information—we called it disinformation—in a very feeble attempt to convince the United States and the international community that the residents of Camp Ashraf should be displaced, and further that the MEK should remain on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. Why are the mullahs in Iran so worried about the MEK? And why are they committed, along with their puppet regime in Iraq, to eradicate the MEK? It’s because the MEK represents the single most serious threat to their autocratic and dictatorial regime. They are afraid of you. [applause]
We included the MEK on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list initially to placate the Iranian regime in the misplaced hope that by such an action the U.S. might reach an understanding with the ruling regime. Clearly, this effort has not proven successful. Iran’s actions over the past several years have clearly indicated that their intent is not to reach any accommodation with the U.S. but rather to exploit what they believe are American weaknesses. Because the mullahs believe the U.S. is afraid of Iran, and that is because the mullahs believe this that they interpret American and Western acts of kindness as weakness. We must not let this stand. We must show the mullahs in Tehran that the U.S. will stand up for its friends, that we will not let the innocent residents of Camp Ashraf stand another day in the face of repression, that we are indeed resolute in rectifying what has been an exceptionally egregious situation, and that we will do the right thing. [applause]
Now if you look at the current list of—the current FTO list, it’s about 44 organizations around the world, and they include such notoriously well-known groups as Al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, (Abinodal), (Abusaya) to name just a few. But one of the most serious terrorist organizations on the planet is not listed. The MOIS. They are terrorists. [applause] I have seen firsthand what they have done to not just their own people but to other peoples of the world. They don’t abide by any international standards. They are ruthless. And I’m probably preaching to the choir, you’ve probably witnessed these types of atrocities as well.
The residents in Camp Ashraf have called it home for well over a quarter of a century, but they still have been massacred and abused. Iraq repeatedly has called for their forcible dispersal, and again creating situations that could not possibly be construed as, as the UNHCR memo has stated, and I quote, “respecting the human rights of the camp residents.” Less than a square kilometer to live in. The inability to enjoy any sense of privacy. The refusal to allow the residents to take with them their personal property. And most worrisome, the inability of the residents to move freely within and in or out of the camp, not to mention the placement of cameras, other security monitoring devices inside the camp, in all likelihood done by the Iranian intelligence service. How can anyone classify these measures as quote, “respecting human rights”?
When the U.S. took over the camp in 2003, as General David Phillips has already mentioned, they did an extensive investigation. There were no ties to terrorism. I looked at the earlier intelligence that the State Department had, once it was unclassified, that had established some very nefarious links to terrorism. I looked at that intelligence. I could find nothing, based on my nearly 30 years of experience in the field of intelligence, that linked anyone form the MEK to any acts of terrorism. On the contrary, in recent years it has been the MEK that has helped the U.S. intelligence community in better understanding the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program. [applause] And just yesterday there was a news report out that said that the MEK was behind the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. You may have seen it, it’s been on several Web sites. Nothing could be further from the truth. And they quote in this report that it was according to unnamed U.S. intelligence officials. How convenient. Unnamed. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve done the same thing when I put together false reports about other intelligence services. I’ll just say unnamed foreign. Impossible to prove and almost always, as in this case, completely erroneous. It is an act of desperation.
Now, a few months ago Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Tripoli to reassure the National Transition Council and their leadership of U.S. support. She announced new programs fostering closer U.S.-Libyan ties, a student exchange program, gave them an additional $40 million to help track down Khadafy-era weapons. Now the residents of Camp Ashraf are not asking for this type of assistance. They’re not asking for outright political support. Just the right to live in peace. [applause] Thank you.
In the coming months, and as Madame President has already pointed out, the economic situation in Iran continues to worsen. In the coming months this is going to get incredibly worse. The country faces internal political dissension, economic threats, military threats. President Ahmadinejad is scheduled to appear before his own Parliament to answer questions about what appear to be his less than hardline policies. Don’t believe it. What Ahmadinejad and the ruling mullahs want to present to the rest of the world is that there is slight dissention in their ranks, and that maybe Ahmadinejad is a moderate. He’s not. He never has been, he never will be. This is a ploy. If we can distract the Western world, if we can distract the United States and other countries from focusing on the problem at Camp Ashraf, then we can deal with it quietly. So all of the saber rattling, threatening to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, nuclear weapons, situation in Syria, (Kutz) forces being deployed elsewhere, this is an attempt to throw off the rest of the world and to disguise or rather to hide their plans in terms of how they’re going to deal with the residents of camp Ashraf. We must not let this subterfuge continue. The mullahs in all likelihood believe that by their saber rattling and that their increased efforts to develop a nuclear weapon that the U.S. and the Western world will become preoccupied with these issues, and conveniently for them overlook the problem of Camp Ashraf. We must remain focused on the camp. We must ensure that despite any of Iran’s efforts to mask their intentions that the issue of the plight of the residents of the camp remains in the international spotlight. [applause]
And finally, when Secretary Clinton traveled to Kabul last year, late last year, for what she described as quote, “a reality check,” she discussed the recent assassination of the former Afghan president Rabbani. And in referring to him, she said, again I quote Secretary Clinton, “He was trying to do the right thing.” Secretary Clinton it is time for you to do the right thing. [applause] Delist the MEK from the FTO, and the time for further review, as Secretary Clinton told the Voice of America a few months ago, that time is over. Delist them now and ensure that the residents of Camp Ashraf are protected. Thank you. [applause]
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