The Cable

Jim Jones: Camp Liberty is worse than Guantanamo

Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones said Tuesday that the former U.S. military base where a group of Iranian dissidents live is like a prison and the conditions there are worse than the U.S. facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Jones was a keynote speaker Tuesday at a Nowrouz lunch reception hosted by the Iranian American Cultural Society of Michigan, a group that advocates on behalf of the Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that was designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization until last October. The organization is one of several Iranian-American organizations believed to be a front group for channeling MEK money to famous American lawmakers and former senior officials, according to State Department officials and congressional aides. The groups insist they are independent.

The State Department agreed to remove the MEK from its list of terrorist organizations, a designation the group earned after a terrorist attack in the 1980s that killed six Americans, because the MEK agreed to move from its secretive compound, Camp Ashraf, on the Iran-Iraq border, to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base near the Baghdad airport.

But the MEK has been complaining about the conditions at Camp Liberty ever since the move, along with its powerful and often paid friends in the U.S. foreign policy community.

"The facility at Camp Hurriya (Arabic for "freedom") has become more of a prison than a camp," said Jones, who added that the alleged terrorists imprisoned at Guantánamo "are treated far better."

Jones criticized both the U.S. and Iraqi governments for ignoring what he called a "growing human rights debacle," said the MEK at Camp Liberty "continue to languish in horrible conditions," and put forth that the camp "should be more aptly named ‘Camp Shame.'"

Jones did not disclose whether he was being paid for his advocacy on behalf of the MEK.

Jones also openly criticized the Obama administration's policy of engagement with the government of Iran and said that the Iranian regime is simply using the negotiations with the international community to buy time to build a nuclear weapon.

Jones also called for regime change in Iran.

"We say to the so-called leaders of the Iranian regime: ‘Your days are numbered,'" he said.

The lunch event was held in the ostentatious Kennedy Caucus Room in the Senate Russell Office Building and was organized by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who once paraphrased his uncle President John F. Kennedy's famous "I am a Berliner" quote by declaring, "I am an Ashrafi."

The other speakers were former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of conspiring with Iran to murder MEK members. Gingrich pointed to the attack on Camp Liberty in February that killed seven members of the group, which he said was perpetrated by the Iraqi military.

"This is a deliberate plan by Maliki to humiliate the United States and prove our irrelevance and curry favor with the Iranians," Gingrich said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) popped into the event make quick remarks about Iran but didn't say anything about Camp Liberty or the MEK. The Cable caught up with Sessions afterwards and asked him what he really thought about the MEK. Sessions said he trusted Jones on the issue.

"I believe that General Jones is correct that this has been an unfortunate mistake," he said, referring to the conditions at Camp Liberty. "I didn't know it was that bad. But I know it went from a good facility to a bad one."

The lunch began with grilled eggplant, dolmeh, cherry tomatoes, olives, mint, and bread. The entrée was beef and sliced boneless chicken kabob with grilled tomatoes and rich rice with saffron. Persian pastries were served for dessert.

Josh Rogin / Foreign Policy

The Cable

GOP Senators call Karzai ‘nutty’ ‘bizarre’ ‘offensive’ and ‘disrespectful’

The Republican Senate caucus is fed up with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and openly looking forward to his departure, following Karzai's recent accusation that the United States is colluding with the Taliban.

Karzai marred Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's first official visit to Afghanistan last weekend by publicly accusing the United States of conspiring with the Taliban to destabilize his country in order to create conditions that would require the extended presence of U.S. troops. The joint press conference between Karzai and Hagel was cancelled after Karzai's outburst.

The incident was only the latest string of accusations Karzai has leveled against the United States, including the recent allegation that U.S. Special Forces were murdering innocent civilians in Wardak province.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, several senior GOP senators told The Cable that they can't wait to be finished with dealing with Karzai, who will step down after new presidential elections in 2014.

"That guy never ceases to amaze me. He's bizarre. He continues to be someone who hurts rather than helps the relationship," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN). "That's why I've said the elections in 2014 are one of the most crucial factors in what our involvement there going forward will be. I have a very low regard for Karzai and it's a shame that he's been the way that he's been."

Corker said the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is important regardless of the poor relationship with Karzai and that the United States has to make decisions based on American security and American interests.

"At the end of the day, in spite of the nutty things that [Karzai] says from time to time, in spite of the disrespect that he shows for the men and women who have lost their lives and kept him alive, we have to continue to look at what is in our nation's best interest," he said.

Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable that he too wanted to continue to work with the Afghans, but that if Karzai and his government aren't going to play a constructive role, he could advocate withdrawing American support for that government.

"I'm not going to invest in a country where I see no hope," said Graham. "They've got to want this more than we do. I am perfectly capable of pulling the plug on Afghanistan."

Graham said Karzai's basic premise makes no sense because one would have to assume that the Taliban want the U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan to believe Karzai's theory. In fact, the Taliban want the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

"My initial reaction was one of disgust and resentment. At many levels this is bizarre," said Graham. "From the U.S. point of view it's just offensive. It doesn't do justice to the sacrifice of those who have been injured and died in Afghanistan. It was really unwelcomed by the American people... The good news is in 2014 there will be a new election."

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican James Inhofe (R-OK) told The Cable that the incident shows that Karzai and Hagel are not going to be able to work together.

"I think [Karzai] was probably angry with his meeting with Hagel because they didn't get along too well. I don't get along too well with Karzai either, so I guess me and Hagel have that in common," Inhofe said. "That guy [Karzai] has always said crazy things."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member John McCain (R-AZ) said that Karzai's behavior shows the need for a permanent bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that will govern the American military presence there so that Afghan politics do not play as big a role.

Hagel is not responsible for Karzai's actions, McCain said. But at the same time, neither Hagel nor anyone else is likely to be able to repair the relationship with Karzai at this point.

"Our sights really should be set on April 2014 when they will elect a new president," he said.