Supporters of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) movement are planning their largest-ever gathering in Washington on Friday in front of the State Department.
"Join us in solidarity with the Iranian people, Camp Ashraf, and against the dictatorship ruling Iran," reads the flyer advertising the Aug. 26 rally and march at the 22nd and C Street entrance of the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters. MEK supporters have been gathering there for months, imploring State Department employees and visitors to press Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to remove the MEK from State's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Dear Hillary, My name is Shaghayegh. I am 14 and I live in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. I am afraid I am going to be murdered," begins an open letter from an MEK member to Clinton that has been printed in full-page ads in the Washington Post.
The State Department placed the MEK on its list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1999 for its involvement in bombings that killed six Americans, but is reviewing that status now.
The event is the latest and greatest example of the MEK's multi-million dollar effort to build support among Washington's political elite. The speakers at the event will include: Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Sen. Robert Torricelli, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, and former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations John Sano.
The MEK also lists among its supporters in Washington former National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, Gen. Wesley Clark, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, former CIA Director Porter Goss, senior advisor to the Romney campaign Mitchell Reiss, Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, former Sen. Evan Bayh, and many others.
So what is the MEK? Well, that depends on who you ask. The group, which has an ideology based on the fusion of Islam and Marxism, was formed in Iran in 1965. It allied itself with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and fought against the Shah and his Western backers. After falling out of favor with Khomeini, the group was given shelter in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, who used them to conduct brutal cross-border raids during the Iraq-Iran war.
MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, who lives in Paris with her husband Massoud Rajavi, reportedly told her followers in 1991, "Take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards."
After the fall of Saddam, the United States helped broker an agreement whereby 3,400 MEK members were confined to a complex in Iraq called Camp Ashraf, which was protected by the U.S. military but then handed over to the Iraqi government in 2009. In an interview on Tuesday, Iraq's ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie said that the MEK was dangerous and "nothing more than a cult."
In 2005, Human Rights Watch published a report accusing the MEK in Camp Ashraf of enforcing loyalty by subjecting "dissident members to torture and prolonged solitary confinement," and being responsible for "two cases of death under interrogation."
Elizabeth Rubin wrote about her 2003 trip to Camp Ashraf in the New York Times earlier this month. "Access to the Internet, phones and information about the outside world is prohibited. Posters of Ms. Rajavi and her smiling green eyes abound," she said. "Friendships and all emotional relationships are forbidden. From the time they are toddlers, boys and girls are not allowed to speak to each other. Each day at Camp Ashraf you had to report your dreams and thoughts. If a man was turned on by the scent of a woman or a whiff of perfume, he had to confess."
The MEK says it renounced violence in 2001 and professes to be leading the resistance to the Iranian regime. That claim, in addition to lucrative payments to former officials in both parties, has bought it a lot of attention and friends in Washington. But how can senior officials take money from a terrorist group?
"The MEK's delisting campaign is funded by a fluid and enigmatic network of support groups based in the United States. According to an MEK leader, these groups are funded by money from around the world, which they deliberately shield from U.S. authorities," the Huffington Post reporter Christina Wilkie wrote. "These domestic groups book and pay for their VIP speakers through speaker agencies, which in turn pay the speakers directly and take a fee for arranging appearances. That way, the speakers themselves don't technically accept money from the community groups."
An event organizer told The Cable that the MEK is expecting between 5,000 and 10,000 people at its rally at the State Department on Friday, which begins at 10 a.m.