|Court is Skeptical of State Department Position: False Statement of Fact Mars Government Submission|
|Wednesday, 09 May 2012 21:02|
At oral argument yesterday, before a courtroom packed with Iranian-American supporters of the Iranian resistance, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit expressed skepticism about the position of the Department of State. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) petitioned in 2008 to be removed from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The Department denied the petition in the waning days of the Bush Administration, but the Court of Appeals remanded the matter to the Department two years ago based on systematic denial of the constitutional rights of the PMOI and its supporters.
The Department received the remand, together with instructions to extend due process to the PMOI, in the summer of 2010, but has since then failed to make a decision. Exasperated by the delay, and claiming irreparable injury to its members at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, the PMOI filed an unprecedented petition for a writ of mandamus directing the Secretary to act to delist the group.
During argument, Judges Tatel and Williams took numerous opportunities to remind the Government of the statutory structure, by which designation as a terrorist organization – with serious consequences for anyone wishing to support it – is subject to “robust” judicial review. Failing to reach a decision effectively nullifies that process, and deprives the organization of any opportunity to make the case that it lacks the statutory criteria to deserve listing.
The Secretary of State has argued that she is entitled to delay her decision until the final evacuation of Camp Ashraf, where over 3,400 members of the PMOI have lived since the 1980s. The process of relocation of the residents is likely to be completed this spring. The PMOI argues that it has cooperated and is cooperating with the resettlement process, but that in any event this issue has nothing to do with the requirements that Congress has established for qualification as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
The PMOI decided to end all military activity as a method of achieving political change in Iran in 2001, and Camp Ashraf was completely disarmed, according to an agreement reached with the Multi-National Force-Iraq, in 2003. Between 2003 and 2009, the Camp was under 24/7/365 guard by U.S. troops, who conducted numerous inspections to insure that there were no weapons present, and that the rights of the members were being respected.
There is no shortage of authority for these statements. In June 2003, then-Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno announced that the PMOI at Ashraf “have been completely disarmed. We have taken all small arms and all heavy equipment.” And in July 2006, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV described Camp Ashraf as “a secure military facility that the coalition forces, in fact, guard on a 24-by-7 basis. [The residents are] under continuous surveillance and control.”
In 2004, after personal interviews with every resident of Ashraf that demonstrated their status as civilians, the United States acknowledged that the people of Ashraf were “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. There was and is no evidence that even a single PMOI member has ever committed a criminal act under U.S. law.
Yesterday, for the first time, a representative of the Government stated, in open court, that the PMOI had never allowed a thorough inspection of Camp Ashraf to determine whether it might be hiding weapons there. He also said that the U.S. Army has never confirmed that the Camp was fully disarmed. No such claim has ever been a part of the Government’s announced position regarding Ashraf, nor was such an allegation made even in the discredited 2009 decision denying the delisting petition.
As the Government well knows, Ashraf was always available for unannounced inspections during the entire time of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. And such inspections were regularly conducted, as was acknowledged by numerous military commanders who served at the Camp. Senior US military officers responsible for the protection of the Camp Ashraf during those years have unanimously stated that U.S. forces had complete access to all buildings and personnel at Ashraf, repeatedly conducting unannounced inspections. Brig. Gen. (ret.) David Phillips, Col. (ret.) Wesley Martin, Col. (ret.) Gary Morsch, M.D., and Lt. Col. (ret.) Leo McCloskey -- all of whom served as commanders of U.S. forces at Ashraf -- are among the 21 individuals who filed a brief in this case as amici curiae, all attesting to these facts.
The Government is also fully aware that in April 2009, as part of the handover of control over the Camp, Iraqi forces thoroughly searched Ashraf, using bomb-sniffing dogs, and provided a written certification that they found neither weapons nor ammunition.
U.S. Embassy officials as well as flag-rank military officers visited Ashraf on many occasions for discussions with PMOI leadership, and none of them ever raised any doubt regarding the total disarmament of Camp Ashraf.
There is no evidence supporting the position that the PMOI retains the capability or intent to engage in terrorism, and the record is clear that the organization has not even been credibly accused of a single violent act since 2001. It is time to remove the PMOI from the FTO list, and the Secretary should proceed to do so at once.
It is our hope that the Government will promptly correct the inaccurate representations made before the Court yesterday. There is absolutely no basis to doubt that Camp Ashraf and its residents have been constantly accessible to U.S. forces, as well as to other international visitors. Suggestions to the contrary do not meet the professional standards to which all lawyers, including Government lawyers, are routinely held.
May 9, 2012
For more information contact:
Steven M. Schneebaum, Esq.
Fox Rothschild LLP
1030 15th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
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