The Cable

Is Camp Liberty really a 'concentration camp' for the MEK?

The U.S. government has worked hard to find a new location in Iraq for the thousands of members of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK), a State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization that is being kicked out of its home at Camp Ashraf by the Iraqi government.

But now the State Department has to answer aggressive charges that the new home for the MEK, a former U.S. military base called Camp Liberty, is a "concentration camp" with horrid conditions. What's more, these charges are coming from senior U.S. politicians and experts, led by former New York mayor and presidential candidate Rudi Giuliani.

"This is not a relocation camp. I have seen relocation camps. I know what relocation camps look like. And I know what jails look like. This isn't a jail. This is a concentration camp. That's what it is. This is a concentration camp. Let's call it what it is," Giuliani said at a Feb. 26 "conference" held under the rubric of something called the Global Initiative for Democracy, an advocacy group that seems to be very interested in the MEK issue.

"This is worse than any facility I've ever seen having been at one time in charge of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and another time responsible for the New York City jail system, Rikers Island, materially better than this. This is a concentration camp."

The State Department worked with the United Nations to prepare Camp Liberty, now renamed Camp Hurriya (Arabic for "freedom"), to get it ready for the MEK, but the MEK has been reluctant to move there. The first tranche of about 400 MEK members started relocating this month.

Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, who was on the panel with Guliani at the Feb. 26 conference, wholeheartedly agreed with his take on the conditions at Camp Liberty, according to a press release put out by the Global Initiative for Democracy.

"This is a scandal. This is a fraud; a fraud not involving money, but a fraud involving threats to human life. What we need immediately is a commission of inquiry to determine how this fraud was perpetrated," Dershowitz said. "Who certified, who approved that hell hole, that garbage dump? Who said that it met United Nations standards? Somebody is responsible for perpetrating that fraud and for getting 400 innocent people to risk their lives and their health to be exposed to that kind of trash and that kind of hazard to their health. We have to get to the bottom of this."

Neither man ever called Camp Liberty a "concentration camp" or a "garbage dump" when it housed hundreds of U.S. soldiers for years during the Iraq war.

Also on that panel were several former high-ranking officials who have been on the roster of the MEK's often-paid supporters in Washington, including former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, and former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats on the National Intelligence Council Glenn Carle.

Other speakers at the conference included former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, former U.S. Ambassador to the UK Philip Lader, and former policy advisor at the Treasury Department's office of terrorism and financial intelligence Avi Jorisch.

Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX) both questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the MEK at Wednesday's hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with Poe directly raising Guliani's accusation that the new location amounted to a "concentration camp."

Clinton didn't comment on the "concentration camp" charge and simply emphasized that the U.S. was working hard to safely relocate the MEK to Camp Liberty, keep the Iraqi government from harassing the MEK, and ensure that the U.N. monitors the camp and provides help for refugees. She also said that if the MEK really wants off the list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), it should get with the program at Camp Liberty.

"Congressman, given the ongoing efforts to relocate the residents, MEK cooperation in the successful and peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf, the MEK's main paramilitary base, will be a key factor in any decision regarding the MEK's FTO status," Clinton said.

The Cable

NATO chief: Intervention just won’t work in Syria

Not only will NATO not participate in any military intervention in Syria, NATO assets won't be used to deliver any military, humanitarian, or medical assistance there, according to NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, because any type of Western intervention is not likely to help solve the crisis.

"We haven't had any discussions in NATO about a NATO role in Syria and I don't envision such a role for the alliance," Rasmussen told The Cable in an exclusive interview in Washington Wednesday. "Syria is ethnically, politically, religiously much more complicated than Libya. This is the reason why the right way forward is different. And I think a regional solution would be the right way forward with strong engagement by the Arab League."

But is order of difficulty the only criterion NATO uses to decide where and when to intervene, we asked Rasmussen? Does NATO feel any responsibility to protect civilians in Syria?

"The guiding question should be: Would it bring a sustainable solution to the problem if we decided to intervene, if we had the legal basis, if we had support from the region?" Rasmussen responded. Even if there was a U.N. mandate for intervention in Syria, the mission simply wouldn't have a high likelihood of success, he argued. "Syria is different."

No NATO member state has requested NATO begin contingency planning for Syria, and no contingency planning is happening, Rasmussen said. He also said NATO will not engage in arming the Syrian opposition. As for NATO member countries, such as France, Turkey, or the United States, "I take it for granted that all our allies on an individual basis will act within international law" regarding arming the rebels, he said.

Rasmussen also took the opportunity of his interview with The Cable to "clearly denounce" recent statements by Russia's once and future President Vladimir Putin, who lashed out against NATO and the United States and accused them of supporting a "string of armed conflicts" as part of a scheme to achieve "absolute invulnerability."

"Nobody has the right to hijack the prerogatives and powers of the U.N.," Putin said. "I am referring primarily to NATO, which seeks to assume a new role that goes beyond its status of a defensive alliance."

Rasmussen defended the NATO intervention in Libya, arguing it stayed within the U.N. mandate, and said the Afghanistan mission is also within its U.N. mandate.

"The core task of NATO is still territorial defense of our populations and our countries. But we also realize that in today's world, the territorial defense of our borders often starts beyond our borders," he said. "As a politician, I'm not surprised that during an election campaign you will see some sharpened statements" from Russia.

Rasmussen had a jam-packed agenda on this two-day visit to Washington, almost all of which was related to preparations for the May NATO summit in Chicago. He began Tuesday with a seminar organized by the NATO Allied Command-Transformation, where officials worked on a "defense package" to be adopted at the summit, which will implement the Rasmussen-supported concept of "smart defense"  -- i.e., doing more with less.

"The basic question is, in an environment of declining defense budgets, how can we assure that we have the necessary military capabilities in the future. To that end, we need a smarter way of spending defense money. And a smarter way of doing that is by going to the model of a multinational corporation instead of purely national solutions," Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said the United States would increase its operational exercises with NATO countries, especially through the new NATO Response Force, to which the United States will contribute a rotational troop presence next year for the first time.

Rasmussen also had meetings with senior Obama administration officials, including a Tuesday evening dinner at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. He met with two senior senators, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Senate Armed Services member Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

One announcement that won't be made at the NATO summit is the alliance's intention to mark 2013 as the year when full, lead combat responsibility will be handed over from NATO to the Afghan security forces. That announcement was originally scheduled for the summit, but Panetta surprised his European and NATO colleagues by inelegantly announcing it on the plane to Brussels earlier this month.

That announcement was "not big news," according to Rasmussen, who pointed out that U.S. and NATO officials were quick to clarify that the 2013 milestone did not change the goal of transferring full control of all territory to the Afghan government by the end of 2014.

"The fact is that we stick to the timetable that we outlined in Lisbon in 2010, so in that there's nothing new," he said. "If we are to complete the transition by the end of 2014, then something may happen in 2013, but that's not an accelerated timetable. You might say that we tried to detail more in the last 18 months of this transition period."

One administration official told The Cable that the reason Panetta blurted out the 2013 milestone inarticulately and months ahead of the planned rollout was that he accidentally read his internal official talking points to reporters on the plane, instead of the talking points for the press. Rasmussen couldn't confirm that's what happened.

"I don't know about that," Rasmussen said. "You had many things up in the air at that time. But I think we clarified everything at the defense ministers' meeting (in Brussels)."

Rasmussen was accompanied in Washington by his new Deputy Secretary General Sandy Vershbow, the recently departed assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, who moved to Brussels and took up his new post two weeks ago without even taking a vacation in between jobs.

"It's quite historic that an American has the position as deputy secretary general," Rasmussen said. "Here you see America actually demonstrate a very clear political commitment to our alliance, which I strongly appreciate."

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