Welcome to Iran: The Untold Story. Here, we take a close look at Iran’s role in supporting international terrorism, its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its systematic massacring and imprisoning of political opponents, and the ongoing efforts of dissidents, including Iranian-American interest groups, to bring freedom, equality, and lasting change to Iran.
Iran: The Untold Story – Part One
April 25, 2019
June 1996. Terrorists attack the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia. Nineteen U.S. Air Force personnel are killed; hundreds of others are seriously injured.
President Bill Clinton vows swift revenge. “We will not rest in our efforts to find who is responsible for this outrage, to pursue them and to punish them.”
One of the key on-scene investigators was FBI Agent Bassem Youssef.
Yousef: “Of the day, it was sort of the mini 9/11. That was a huge, huge, attack to our military.”
Youssef says the FBI learned quickly who was to blame.
Youssef: “I would say Iran’s fingerprints were all over this attack, this terrorist attack. And it didn’t take too long for us to come up with that, with that conclusion.”
The investigators were aided, in part, by detailed intelligence made public by the main Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
But top Clinton deputies start to downplay Iran’s role.
Youssef: “It became very clear in a very short period of time that political considerations trumped the investigation.”
While Clinton publicly blamed Saudi-based militants, he sent this secret cable to Iran stating that the US had “credible evidence” that Iran and local terrorists were “directly involved” in the attack.
Louis Freeh, FBI director in ’96, was frustrated Iran was not held accountable.
Years later, at a speech in D.C., he called out the Clinton Administration for putting politics first.
Youssef: “They did not want to confront the fact and the reality that the Iranian government had murdered 19 Americans and blown up Khobar Towers.”
In April 2019, the Trump Administration officially listed the IRGC—the Iranian military group behind the Khobar attack–as a foreign terrorist organization.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “I am announcing our intent to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including its Qods Force, as a foreign terrorist organization in accordance with Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Last September, a federal court in the United States found Iran and the IRGC responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing which killed 19 American service members. For 40 years, the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has actively engaged in terrorism and created, supported, and directed other terrorist groups. This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world.”
BUCK SEXTON: And we’re joined now by the former FBI agent you saw in that piece, Bassem Youssef. Thank you so much for joining us, Bassem. Good to see you.
YOUSSEF: Thank you, [0:03:57]. Good to be here.
BUCK SEXTON: So, as lead investigator in the Khobar Towers attack, how strong was the evidence that the Iranians were the ones that were responsible?
YOUSSEF: Well, it really didn’t take much time. I would say within the first three or four months of arriving in Saudi Arabia in 1996 with cooperation with the Saudis and other governments, it was very clear that from the get-go, Iran’s fingerprints were all over this attack.
BUCK SEXTON: And why didn’t President Clinton more aggressively pursue Iran then for its complicity or its direction of this attack?
YOUSSEF: You know, if you recall back in that—at that time [0:04:38] that the President had promised that we would, meaning the U.S. would retaliate militarily against any country that sponsored this act of terror. For some reason or another, when that was the result of the investigation, I believe the President just had other political reasons for not wanting to pursue that, that result.
BUCK SEXTON: And how frustrating was the situation for you as the FBI’s legal attaché on the ground in Saudi Arabia?
YOUSSEF: Well, the entire FBI, and I believe the entire intelligence community and many, many agents who worked tireless long hours to actually work this investigation to come up with the result that we came up with which was Iran’s involvement, to see that that gets relegated to the sidelines or ignored was extremely frustrating and very upsetting to a lot of agents who have worked this case.
BUCK SEXTON: Were the Saudis reliable partners in that process? Did they seem as motivated as you and your FBI colleagues were to get to the bottom of this?
YOUSSEF: The Saudi mabahith and the GID, the General Intelligence Directorate, sort of the equivalent of the FBI and CIA, cooperated fully. We had great relations with them, and I say that they cooperated as good as can be.
BUCK SEXTON: And in terms of the actual forensics involved in investigation, the details that you had to pull together, was this something that, you know, were there some early hurdles in that process that you were able to- were there some, you know, breakthrough moments that you saw? I mean at what point did you realize, “Wow, okay, we now have the hard evidence we need to know that the Iranian government’s hand was all over this.”
YOUSSEF: Sure. So, obviously, when we started this investigation, even before working the liaison aspect of it with the Saudi counterparts, we had a team, again, of dedicated agents who worked to sift through the sand in Iran to look for evidence, for example, one of the most important pieces was a partial VIN of the Mercedes Benz truck that was used in the explosion. That was an important piece. And as we tracked that to see where it came from, it did come from Iran, and so that’s just one tidbit of many other pieces of intelligence and evidence that we found that points to Iran.
BUCK SEXTON: What was the motivation for the Iranians, in terms of their involvement in this specific attack? We know the Iranian government hates America, hates Israel, hates the West, but was this in specific retaliation for something? Did we ever get a sense as to why they would go—why would the Iranians go after Americans in Saudi Arabia?
YOUSSEF: I would imagine maybe just, I mean we don’t have any specific answer to that meaning. We never really talked to any Iranian official to tell us what their reason or motivation behind it is, but obviously, if this would be a way for them to get us, get the U.S. military out of Saudi Arabia as a buffer between Iran and Saudi Arabia that could have been one of the reasons.
BUCK SEXTON: And what role did the Iranian opposition groups play in terms of Khobar Towers? And did they provide reliable information to the FBI? Were they a part of getting accountability for the Iranian regime?
YOUSSEF: Throughout this investigation, we rely on various sources, and some of them could be the opposition groups, in particular, against Iran. So, I would say, yes, we’ve received good information from various sources, including some opposition groups.
BUCK SEXTON: And tell me about the role that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, may have played in this attack.
YOUSSEF: The IRGC is basically known to be the military arm, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. They are the ones who are behind just about virtually every attack, every terrorist attack that was sponsored by Iran. That is their main job, basically, to sponsor these acts of terror.
BUCK SEXTON: And tell me about the Trump administration’s recent decision to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Is this the right move? And if it’s the right move, how could that help going forward to deter terrorist attacks by the Iranian state?
YOUSSEF: Well, I think it’s about time, because it means that the entire intelligence community, the government, not just our government, but other governments would hopefully follow suit by highlighting the fact that we have a group now that we should be looking at within the Iranian government. So, I think it’s about time. I think it’s a good move.
BUCK SEXTON: Now, do you think that we achieved some measure of justice after the investigation of the attack at Khobar Towers? Have there been any consequences for the Iranian regime?
YOUSSEF: The Department of Justice was able to have indictments and conviction on the individuals who perpetrated this attack. I think there could be actually more in terms of maybe restitution. I mean for example, the JASTA that was just approved recently, the Justice Against state Sponsors of Terrorism Act, that would allow for a civil litigation against countries that sponsor this act of terror. As a matter of fact, just recently, in 2018, last year, there was an award, a monetary award ordered by a federal judge against Iran specifically for being complicit and actually assisting the terrorists to go through Iran without having their passports checked. And I believe that award is over 10 billion dollars.
BUCK SEXTON: Do you think that the West and America, if there’s a willingness to hold Iran accountable for its support of terror and to be more aggressive in response to terrorist acts like the one that you investigate in the future, could that help not just deter Iranian aggression, but also bring about meaningful change in the Iranian state?
YOUSSEF: I would certainly hope that would be the case. If they—if the Iranian government senses enough pressure, not just from the U.S., but from the world at large, that they may at least be more careful in what they do and maybe curb some of the terrorist attacks that they would try to perpetrate in the future.
BUCK SEXTON: Bassem Youssef, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
YOUSSEF: Thank you.
Iran: The Untold Story – Part Two
May 2, 2019
Last summer, crowds of Iranian advocacy groups and like-minded individuals gathered in Paris for the annual meeting of the “Free Iran” movement, calling for the end of Iran’s brutal regime.
Prominent US politicians spoke, Republicans and Democrats alike, including former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
Gov. Richardson: “Are you ready for regime change in Iran?”
Meanwhile, in Belgium, a plot to attack the high-profile rally unravels. Police and bomb techs surround the car of a couple accused of working with an Iranian diplomat to bomb the Paris demonstration.
Belgian Federal Prosecutor Buck Sexton: “We are certain it was their intention to hurt people.”
The suspects possessed enough explosives to kill and maim.
Iran expert and former US Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield was at the Paris rally. He says Iran was behind the foiled attack as French, German and Belgian authorities all confirmed.
Ambassador Bloomfield: “I wonder whether there’s a bureaucratic faction in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, MOIS, that simply does this for a living. They have people planted in foreign capitals. They had an operation that may have been last minute, but it may have been underway for a year.”
The Paris plot confirms why the US classifies Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.
Dozens of Iranian dissidents and foreign nationals have been the target of its hit squads and bombs for decades.
April 1990, Switzerland. Iranian assassins gun down a former UN diplomat and brother of the leader of the main Iranian opposition group.
August 1991, France. Iranian hit men assassinate Iran’s last prime minister before the Islamic Revolution.
February 1996, Turkey. Iranian agents kill a senior member of the Iranian resistance, who was protecting rights of Iranian women.
Last year, the terror plots increased.
March 2018, Albania. Iranian agents plan to bomb a gathering of Iranian opposition members, where former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was speaking. Albanian police thwart the attack and expel Iran’s ambassador.
And August 2018, Washington. The Justice Department indicts two Iranian-Americans for acting as covert agents for Iran–spying on Jewish centers in Chicago and surveilling Iranian opposition members in D.C. for a possible attack.
Ambassador Bloomfield says the planned Paris attack, alone, reveals the violence of an increasingly isolated and paranoid regime.
Ambassador Bloomfield: “How do you explain trying to blow up a political rally, in the heart of Europe? How do you explain that and then still come to the United States and claim to be a peace-loving regime that’s trying to become moderate and engage with the rest of the world?”
BUCK SEXTON: We’re joined now by Struan Stevenson. He’s a former member of the European Parliament for Scotland. Struan, thank you so much for being here.
BUCK SEXTON: So, you were at the Paris Free Iran rally last year. Did it frighten you to think that the crowd at that rally could very well have been bombed?
STEVENSON: Well, it’s an appalling concept. There were over 100,000 people there—men, women, children even, but there were dozens of leading politicians from all around the world. We had, you know, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Steven Harper, the former Prime Minister of Canada, amongst dozens of leading politicians. Anyone could have been killed. This could have been a huge atrocity on European soil. And the person arrested was a senior diplomat from the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, Asadollah Assadi. He is now awaiting trial, together with three other Iranians to whom he gave the bomb and instructed them to take it to Paris and detonate the bomb amongst this massive crowd of opposition—NCRI, MEK supporters.
BUCK SEXTON: So European police officials have undoubtedly and clearly put this on the Iranian state. Was it to send a specific message that this was targeted? And what was that message that the Iranian state, if they had been able to conduct this horrific attack, as you said, on a lot of innocent people, as well as senior level officials, what would the message have been?
STEVENSON: Well, you know, we know that Mike Pompeo has accused the Iranians of being the world’s sponsors of terror, of being the godfathers of terror. They’re involved in the sponsorship of proxy wars. They back Bashar al-Assad and Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shia militia in Iraq. They spend billions of dollars which they deny to their own people by backing these proxy wars and by using the ministry of intelligence and security which is an offshoot of the IRGC as agents for spreading terror and bomb attacks around Europe. Actually, their embassies are used as quasi bomb factories and, you know, plotting centers for these assassination attempts.
BUCK SEXTON: Immediately after the arrests last year, the Iranian Foreign Minister came out publicly to state that maybe this was a false flag operation that somebody else perhaps put this in motion to make it look like something that the Iranian state would have conducted in order to besmirch the reputation of Iran such as it is, the Iranian regime. Is this a common refrain from the Iranians when they’re caught like this? Is this a tactic that they’ve tried before?
STEVENSON: He would say that, but it’s like the iceberg being accused of plotting to sink the Titanic, you know? I mean this is like a ludicrous concept. And actually, the bomb attack was planned to take place days before the foreign minister from Iran, Zarif, went to Vienna, which is the embassy that sent one of its diplomats to, you know, sponsor the bomb attack. Incredible. It shows to me that the mullahs are panicking though. They know they’re on their last legs. There is a tipping point going to be arrive shortly where the people of Iran will further [0:06:53] power and they’re like a wounded beast and they’re now resorting to violence and assassination attempts and bomb attacks.
BUCK SEXTON: Struan, can you give us a sense of how widespread these efforts from the Iranian regime are to target opposition figures with terrorism, assassination, various plots around the world? Is this ongoing? Is this something that we need to be vigilant for going forward as well, or is the Iranian regime a little more careful because they’ve been caught?
STEVENSON: It is ongoing. I mean back in 1990, Kazam Rajavi, one of the leading NCRI people in Geneva, was assassinated and 13 Iranians, officials of the Iranian government, were named as the people who had been sent to Geneva to carry out that assassination. Two years later, there was a guy, a leading NCRI supporter assassinated in Istanbul. He was kidnapped, tortured to death, and later, one of the people responsible, one of the terrorists, was arrested and led the Turkish police to his unmarked grave where his body was exhumed, and he’d been tortured to death. I mean these are commonplace, for years they have used their Ministry of Intelligence, MIOS, as a form of, you know, exporting terror and sponsoring terror around the world. And Albania, where there are now two and a half thousand Iranian supporters of the opposition, the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, expelled the Iranian Ambassador and the First Secretary from the Iranian Embassy in Albania, accusing them of undermining the security of his country, because they had been targeting attacks on the NCRI in Albania. It’s happened even here in America where, you know, surveillance has been taking place with Iranians trying to track some of the leading NCRI figures here in Washington. So, you know, it’s great that the Trump administration has now blacklisted the =
BUCK SEXTON: IRGC
STEVENSON: = IRGC, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, but you’ve got to remember that the MOIS was at one time part of the IRGC. It’s now a separate entity. It should be added to the foreign terrorists list.
BUCK SEXTON: What does the Iranian regime think of the main opposition group out there, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, or the MEK?
STEVENSON: What does the regime think of =
BUCK SEXTON: What does the regime think of them?
STEVENSON: They’re constitution says that any citizen of Iran who is caught supporting the MEK or the NCRI, it leads to the mandatory death sentence. It is seen as being in opposition to God, at war with God. And, you know, that’s why atrocities on a massive scale have been perpetrated against the supporters of the NCRI. In 1988, 30,000 supporters of the NCRI were massacred. One of the biggest atrocities since the end of World War II.
BUCK SEXTON: Clearly, the Iranian government has concerns about these opposition groups around the world. That’s why they target them with violence and terrorism. How hopeful are you that there will be a change going forward in Iran and that there will be a liberation from this mullahcracy, as some call it?
STEVENSON: There is no way that the current regime is sustainable. They are still trying to spend billions backing all of these proxy wars around the Middle East, spending, you know, billions trying to demonize the opposition, the NCRI, and you know, sponsoring these terrorist attempts around the world. This is not sustainable. The people taking to the streets in all the towns and cities in Iran for the past 16 months, many of them are shouting, “What about us? Forget Syria, forget Hezbollah. What about us? Pay our wages. Help us to feed our families.” I mean the economy is collapsing in Iran. The mullahs are on their last legs, and the tipping point is about to be reached where they will be swept from power.
BUCK SEXTON: Struan Stevenson, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
STEVENSON: Thank you.
Iran: The Untold Story – Part Three
May 9, 2019
In 2015, with great fanfare, President Barack Obama announced the signature diplomatic achievement of his presidency: “Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.”
The deal offered Tehran billions in sanctions relief in exchange for limiting Iran’s nuclear production for 10 years.
But just three years later, President Donald Trump would undo the deal.
President Trump: “The fact is this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.”
Critics of the deal argued that, with its newfound billions, Iran’s hardline regime had expanded its military budget, built nuclear-capable missiles, and continued to fund terrorism.
Obtaining that kind of detailed secret intelligence on Iran—from behind the Curtain—has become a hallmark of the Iranian resistance.
U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA): “The MEK has played a critical role in revealing information on Iran’s illegal nuclear program.”
Indeed, at this August 2002 press conference, the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed that Iran had built nuclear-related facilities hidden from international inspectors.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, Middle East expert, author, public speaker, and TV commentator: “Many nuclear programs are at work without any knowledge of International Atomic Energy Agency. They had succeeded to keep it secret until today.”
That nuclear revelation by the Iranian Resistance became the turning point and triggered for the first time the IAEA’s inspection of Iran’s nuclear sites. Today, nearly two decades later, Iran’s nuclear ambitions remain clear—leading to warnings from top national security experts:
General James Jones: “Today, as was the case in 2010 when I left my post as national security advisor, the Iranian regime remains mankind’s most existential threat to peace and stability. Of this I am certain. That day will come soon when all Iranians will be set free, when all who are forced to flee their homeland to avoid persecution will lead a great parade in Tehran to celebrate the triumphant return of a great people to their rightful position among the family of nations.
BUCK SEXTON: We are joined now by Dr. Olli Heinonen, a non-proliferation expert and former Deputy Director at the International Atomic Energy Agency. Dr. Heinonen, thank you so much for being here.
HEINONEN: Thanks for having me.
BUCK SEXTON: So, first, as an expert on nuclear programs around the world, what can you tell us? What should we know about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?
HEINONEN: I think that Iran justifies its nuclear program by civilian purpose. But at the same time, they have back in their mind, if their security situation changes, they maintain the sensitive technologies like uranium enrichment, so they are in a position, in a fairly short period of time to weaponize their nuclear program if they so decide.
BUCK SEXTON: Is there any doubt in your mind that Iran was building nuclear weapons?
HEINONEN: Iran had a very ambitious program to build nuclear weapons as this archives with Israel recovered last January from Tehran show, and I came to this conclusion already in 2015 where it’s said that Iran had some [0:04:14] feasibility studies in nuclear weapons, but this archive showed that it was much more ambitious [0:04:22].
BUCK SEXTON: You spoke about the Israeli archives and what they were able to obtain. Can you just walk us through a little bit of what did those Israeli archives of the Iranian nuclear program show us? What were some of the specifics and some of the red flags that people should be aware of?
HEINONEN: I think at the most there are two questions here. First is that why do they maintain? Why you maintain such detailed information about the design of nuclear weapon. The second thing is then you look at the information itself. There was a cohesive plan. So, when this program was stopped in 2002, they had a plan to have by 2004, 2005, five nuclear weapons manufactured, one ready for testing. They had a plan to build a nuclear test site, and they proceeded already with the [0:05:05] experiments. They were building factories or facilities actually to produce nuclear warheads. So, this was a serious program. It was not a feasibility study anymore. They had passed that threshold in my view.
BUCK SEXTON: When was the last time that international inspectors were in Iran?
HEINONEN: Actually, they are there every day. They are visiting [0:05:30] and other places, monitoring activities there, and try to make sure that Iran doesn’t proceed its weapons program.
BUCK SEXTON: Now, the Trump administration has pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action, the JCPOA. What has been the result of that to date?
HEINONEN: So, far not much in terms of the events on ground. IA continues its normal work. So, the Iranian government has hardships, because of sanctions imposed, etcetera, so I think that the Deputy Foreign Minister Araqchi put it very nicely, that this JCPOA is now in life support. We don’t know how it is going to be implement. Iran is getting slightly nervous by starting to threaten that if the other parties don’t fulfill their obligations, we might want to increase our uranium [0:06:24] capability, which that means if you look at from the point of nuclear weaponization, they are climbing up on the ladder to be closer to be able to weaponize and build a weapon if they so decide.
BUCK SEXTON: Has there been any change in the behavior or in the agreement and the follow-through on the agreement from the other members of the JCPOA or is America the only country that has really markedly shifted or changed its behavior?
HEINONEN: Well, I think that the other parties, particularly France and UK, they are worried about certain aspects of Iranian nuclear program, and that’s why during last winter there were discussions between the parties that whether they could amend or change or fix some of the flaws of the JCPOA, but Iran didn’t agree to that, and that’s why we ended up with the situation that U.S. decided then to (boycott).
BUCK SEXTON: Now, do you feel that the international community is safer or less safe in terms of the threat of Iran’s nuclear program today versus before the Trump administration pulled out the JCPOA?
HEINONEN: That’s hard to say. You know, I think that I look at more from the technical and process point of view. And I would raise the question, “Is Iran now in a better position to build a nuclear weapon today than what it was, for example, 2015?” And this comes down to the flaws of the agreement, because they have been permitted to continue development of more advanced centrifuges, more powerful centrifuges, which means that they are able to break out quicker if they so want. Then, at the same time, we don’t know whether they have continued their work on the nuclear weapon design, as the papers from this archive show that they had perhaps an idea to that end. And there has been no, in my view, effective monitoring of the military aspects of that program. Have those really terminated or not?
BUCK SEXTON: Yeah, I was going to ask how transparent is the Iranian nuclear program? Or maybe a better question is how much visibility do we currently have, does the international community have? You mentioned inspectors at the different sites, but are there areas that are still off limits? Are there ways the Iranians could very easily be cheating and hiding important aspects of whatever they’re up to with their nuclear program?
HEINONEN: You know, I would describe the nuclear weapons program like a tent with three poles. One pole is the delivery vehicle, the missile, designed to deliver the nuclear warhead. There’s no monitoring on that at all in the JCPOA or UN Security Council Resolution. So, we don’t know what kind of progress Iran has done, what they have been working also with their [0:09:16], as example. Then it’s the warhead itself, the nuclear explosive. So, IA passed some access rights, but it seems to me that they have not very much exercised it since 2015. So, there is another unknown area (Laguna) where we depend greatly on the intelligence information. And then, it’s the third element where we might be a bit better off, and this is the monitoring of the actual declared facilities in Iran, and then the only drawback there is what if they have some undeclared nuclear material and activities which we have not been able to see yet? And therefore, these archives are important thing to study and dive deeper in to find it out.
BUCK SEXTON: And what has been the role of opposition groups in providing reliable information to the West about Iran’s nuclear program? Have Iranian opposition groups been important in that process?
HEINONEN: Yes, particularly in 2002 when they disclosed this Natanz [0:10:21] Iraq activities to the international community. That was perhaps the high point of their sharing (all) information. Then they have had a lot of announcements since then, some of them may be fairly accurate. So, me of them perhaps not that, but this is always with the intelligence information. You never get a full picture. So, yes, it has been important and particularly now enriched at the months we have talk about this organization SPND, so they were bringing some aspects of that program to the public, particularly, I think in 2015.
BUCK SEXTON: And what do we need to know about the separation between Iranian civilian and military nuclear production facilities?
HEINONEN: Well, this was a traditional approach that you have civilian program and then parallel to that, you run a military program. You compartmentalize it. That’s most of the country’s state. So, the civilian program mainly concentrates on building technologies, acquiring knowhow, producing nuclear material. But then, for example, uranium enrichment and you’ll take centrifuges. Actually, you can manufacture the same centrifuges, do R&D public, but then put them under this clandestine secret military installations and run them there to produce [0:11:50] nuclear weapons. And this was the plan of Iran, as the archives show. The Fordow, or as they call it, Al-Ghadir which actually supports the [0:12:02] military installation and not to be part of the public program. =
BUCK SEXTON: So, what can the international community do to ensure that Iran ends its nuclear weapons program? Is it even possible?
HEINONEN: It is, but you needed [0:12:12] and the (party) is Iran, that Iran makes this tough decision and let’s clean the history. Let’s put end to that. Let’s destroy those documentation and equipment which are only for that purpose. Perhaps they get a slap on the wrist, but then they can start new. They can start from clean [0:12:33] South African in 1994.
BUCK SEXTON: Dr. Heinonen, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your expertise. We appreciate it.
HEINONEN: Thank you very much.
Iran: The Untold Story – Part Four
May 16, 2019
Today, Moustafa Ahmady (AH-meh-dee) happily runs a parking business in Los Angeles.
But in the 1980s, he says the Iranian regime imprisoned him for nearly 8 years—just for his political beliefs.
Ahmady: “When I was in prison, I saw with my own eyes how violently the regime treats anyone accused of supporting the MEK.”
As a young man, Ahmady supported the MEK, the main Iranian opposition group. The prisons were full of MEK supporters, who were tortured and executed.
Today, he cries and says he is not lucky to have survived, and respects those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs.
A recent Amnesty International report says thousands of Iranians were executed by the regime in 1988, including teenagers.
Some estimate that as many as 30,000 people were massacred.
Families were kept in the dark.
Linda Chavez: “It was a mass massacre. It was the state and its various organs that were rounding up people, imprisoning them, torturing them, and ultimately executing them.”
Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International: “After months of being lied to by the authorities, they began to learn the devastating truth—the authorities had executed their relatives, in secret, and dumped their bodies, at night, mostly in unmarked mass graves.”
Mother Ebrahimpour echoes the sentiments of many Iranian-American community group members: “I want to know where my children’s graves are. I need to know where they are. I need to know so that, if I ever return to Iran, I can go and rest my body where they have been buried. I was never able to grieve for my children. I want to go and be with them.”
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued this “fatwa” calling for the deaths of MEK and other political prisoners.
Some of the officials blamed for the massacre today hold top regime jobs, including Iran’s current chief justice and justice minister.
Ahmady wanted justice so badly that, as a volunteer, he raised funds for the MEK when it was blacklisted by the Clinton Administration—what some said was a goodwill gesture to the mullahs. He pleaded guilty in 2009 to federal charges and received two years’ probation. The MEK was delisted in 2012 after a court victory.
Ahmady: “How can they hang all these people simply for their beliefs and ideals and for wanting freedom? 30,000 people, among them some of my own best friends, were hanged for supporting the MEK.”
Buck SEXTON: Welcome to our series, Iran: The Untold Story. This week we explore one of the most horrific moments in Iran’s recent history, the killing of thousands of political prisoners by the Iranian regime.
SEXTON: We’re joined now by Mr. Tahar Boumedra, human rights lawyer and former chief of the UN Human Rights Office in Iraq. Thank you so much, sir, for being here. We appreciate it. So please, tell me, you’re a board member of justice for victims of the 1988 massacre in Iran and have researched the killings. Tell everybody what happened in 1988.
Tahar BOUMEDRA: Well, first let me say that JVMI, short for justice for the massacre of the Iranian political prisoners in Iran, 1988. This association is formed by the families of the victims of such a massacre. The JVMI has undertaking some inquiry and have produced this report. It contains overwhelming evidence that there is a crime that amounts to a crime against humanity that did take place during the summer of 1988 in Iran.
SEXTON: Can you explain what happened? Who was on each side of this? Who were the perpetrators, who were the victims, and what led up to this?
BOUMEDRA: Basically, it was a decision by the Supreme Leader of the time, Khomeini. Khomeini has decided that the opposition that has did not sort of behave in a docile way, had to be eradicated, annihilated, and therefore to protect the Islamic Republic there is no room for any opposition. And the only way of getting rid of the opposition is to issue a fatwa to kill them all.
SEXTON: What did this opposition initially want? What were their demands of the Khomeini regime that led to this, this moment where Khomeini finally decided that he wanted to eradicate them?
BOUMEDRA: First of all, the opposition challenged the Supreme Leader by refusing the theory of Velayat-e faqih it means a sort of a divine will to implement the God’s commands by the leader of the time, Khomeini. And the opposition in general did not take this kind of theory, which is refused actually by all religious jurists, whether in Iran or outside Iran.
SEXTON: And this opposition, this is the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or are there other elements that were also encapsulated in this?
BOUMEDRA: There are a number of groups, political groups challenging this theory. And the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, have taken the lead in this position because it has proved itself very familiar during the ‘80s.
SEXTON: Bring me back to the 1988 massacre at the hands of the Iranian regime. How many people are estimated to have been killed?
BOUMEDRA: You see, the investigation has proven that a crime has taken place. Now, the figure is it’s not really important to give a figure because the whole point is about the question and inquiry into this massacre. Figures, different figures have been given, mainly 30,000 political prisoners. Others have stated a number of 33,000. Amnesty in early reports issued or stated the number of 7,500. The special rapporteur of the United Nations of the time, also stated a figure, but for us, this is not important. For us, up to today, no inquiry, no independent inquiry has taken place. And this is why figures are not important, what is important is that all agree that there is a crime that took place. Annihilating political prisoners was done by a fatwa issued by Khomeini.
SEXTON: Tell me about this fatwa that was issued by the Islamic Republic’s leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. Did this lead to death commissions? Were there trials? What did the fatwa itself state about the opposition?
BOUMEDRA: In a word, I would say, which again the fatwa is documented in this book, but it said kill them all, even with a summary kind of trial, because he ordered the setting up of what he called the commission of amnesty while the opposition calls it the death commission. So this death commission is composed of three elements representing the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Intelligence. And the proceedings that last more than three, four minutes. And the purpose is kill them unless they repent and they repent publicly on television. Those who refuse to repent publicly, they are selected for execution.
SEXTON: Did the victims of this politically motivated massacre include women and children or was it limited only to adult males?
BOUMEDRA: All political prisoners who happened to be in prisons those days, summer of 1988, now there are underage juveniles, there are women, and obviously there are men. So everybody who happened to be in prison and refused to repent publicly had to be executed. Juveniles were among those executed.
SEXTON: Is there any doubt at all, does any who is credible question that the Iranian regime was responsible for this massacre? This was ordered from the top down?
BOUMEDRA: The evidence is quite clear and it has been revealed recently by the figure, a very prominent figure in the regime, Hussein Ali (Montezeri). He reported the decision of Khomeini, or the fatwa, in his memoirs published in 2000. And in August, 2016, his son, the son of (Montezeri), had published a recording, audio recording, where the number two of the regime had warned that history will catch up with us, the regime, if we go on executing people with this manner, without a due process of law and without a fair trial.
SEXTON: And tell our viewers why the Iranian regime is so not just hateful toward but fearful of the MEK? What is it about this group that unsettles the Iranian regime both in 1988 and up to this day so much?
BOUMEDRA: It refuses to adhere to the theory of Velayat-e faqih And this is very important for the Iranian regime because whoever does not—and this is even written in the Constitution, that the theory of Velayat-e faqih, whoever doesn’t adhere to it, cannot be included in the power apparatus and therefore the MEK which doesn’t adhere to this theory had to be excluded. And because the MEK is active among the population, they found themselves trying to be eradicated, excluded and terminated in fact.
SEXTON: So you worked at the UN for quite some time. What did the United Nations do about this massacre in 1988 of Iranian dissidents?
BOUMEDRA: The thing is, the United Nations has been monitoring this situation of human rights in Iran from the ‘80s, beginning of the ‘80s they already have a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran. And this is very unprecedented for a country to be watched all the time. Iran is the only country in the world that had a special rapporteur watching and observing the situation since the ‘80s up to today. So, this is in itself a quite serious warning to the regime. But you know, the United Nations has its own kind of approach to these issues, and the power politics also, political expediency always comes into play. So, no serious attempt to sort of point to the perpetrators, and whenever the UN tried to sort of use a robust kind of approach, they were banned from visiting Iran.
SEXTON: What do you want the world community to remember about this massacre and what would you want them to do today?
BOUMEDRA: What we are actually doing both in Geneva and in New York is to say to the world community, through the United Nations institutions, that a very serious crime did in fact take place. The perpetrators were identified and they actually confessed, including highly placed individuals in the government of Rouhani. So, having these people confessing and having the crime being documented not only by NGOs but by the United Nations as well. So this makes it a very serious crime that the international community need to follow up and the United Nations is expected to set up a commission of inquiry to shed the light on the perpetrators, hold them accountable, and bring them to justice.
SEXTON: Thank you, Mr. Boumedra, we appreciate your time.
BOUMEDRA: Thank you.
SEXTON: Coming up next on Iran: The Untold Story, we explore the MEK, the main Iranian opposition group.
Iran: The Untold Story, Part 5
On the streets of modern Iran… open dissent:
“Down with Dictator! Down with Khamenei! Down with Rouhani!”
Who was behind this gutsy rebellion against an authoritarian state?
Iran’s Supreme Leader left no doubt: It was the outlawed MEK.
“They were prepared months ago. The media of the MEK admitted to this…”
In Iran… in 1965… three Muslim university graduates created the MEK, or People’s Mujahedin of Iran, to foster social and political change.
Iran was ruled at the time by the Shah… a US-supported monarch whose corruption and extravagant living were legendary.
The Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, known for its torture of opponents, would ultimately arrest most of MEK’s leaders and members.
The Shah’s military tribunals sentenced MEK’s leaders to death. Most, including the founders, were shot by firing squad in 1972.
The only surviving MEK leader was Massoud Rajavi [RAJ-a-vee]. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after international pressure. He was released days before the fall of the Shah.
The MEK led the anti-Shah resistance, and quickly became Iran’s largest political party. Its rallies attracted big crowds, including women and young protestors.
“How sensational it is to once again speak of freedom, in universities being the home of martyrs of freedom. Yes, without the guarantee of freedom for all parties and beliefs and pens, there is no foreseeable progress for the revolution.”
But after fundamentalist Mullahs usurped the leadership of the 1979 revolution… and took over the US Embassy… they turned on the MEK. Unlike Khomeini, who fanned the flames of anti-Americanism, the MEK was focused on freedom.
“When Khomeini’s people saw that they had mobilized the nation to come out in the streets, which they did in June of 1981, they opened fire on everyone…”
“The Reign of Terror had begun…”
SEXTON: We’re joined now by Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield. He’s authored a book on MEK and served for years in the State Department and Department of Defense. Ambassador Bloomfield, welcome, thank you for being here.
BLOOMFIELD: Thanks, Buck.
SEXTON: Now, a lot of experts seem to be very critical of Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the MEK. Why is that?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, first you’d have to ask them. But they all say the same thing. It’s almost uncanny how the criticism is the same and has stayed the same for many years. I started looking at this group in earnest about eight years ago. And I looked at some of the allegations against them using Western sources, the best that I could find. And what turned out is that what they thought was true wasn’t exactly the way they said it. And so, I kept digging. And that led to a book in 2013 which told the 52-year history of an untold story: that there’s been a lot of deception and exaggeration and falsehood about this group. And I’ve waited five years to see if I would be proven wrong. And I have to tell you, sitting here today I’m just finishing another piece which essentially says we’ve been right and much of Washington has been wrong, and hoping to explain that to people so that the U.S. government is not on the wrong track.
SEXTON: What are the most serious of the Iranian opposition groups? Is the MEK the single most well-known and strongest in terms of opposing the Iranian regime?
BLOOMFIELD: I can’t speak for the 80 million people of Iran. And neither can anyone else because if you say anything favorable to the MEK, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or the political umbrella organization in Paris, the National Council of Resistance on Iran, the NCRI, you could face imprisonment, amputation, execution, or if the religious judge likes you, exile. So, you know, you can’t get a good read on that. They are very well organized. They’re very competent. And actually what people don’t realize, it’s a woman-led organization not only at the top level but almost at every level. This is a woman-run political opposition. And they’re very competent.
SEXTON: Now, in a previous segment, Congressman Brad Sherman recognized the critical role that the MEK played in revealing Iran’s nuclear weapons program back in 2002. What can you tell us about that?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, I can tell you that President Bush also acknowledged that an opposition group had come up with this information. There were certain sites that were unknown until it was revealed by members of the opposition. So, and this was at a time, by the way, when the U.S. and the European Union were negotiating with Iran on their nuclear program. And it turned out that there was deception going on. And when it was discovered that the Iranians were dealing with bad faith, something that today’s President Rouhani bragged about later on, that’s when the UN put very strict sanctions at the Security Council on Iran in 2009. And that led them, I think, to the negotiating table.
SEXTON: Let’s look at one of the biggest criticisms, one of the biggest allegations against the Mujahedin-e-Khalq: terrorism. What can you tell us about the truth of whether there is a reality to the terrorism allegations against MEK and have they ever been listed as a terrorist group?
BLOOMFIELD: They’ve been listed as a terrorist group by the United States from 1997 to 2012. And the story that needs to be told is that they have never been terrorists. There have been four major court cases, including in the United States, that led Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to take them off the list because they couldn’t come up with any credible evidence that the MEK had been terrorists in the past. Now, they had armed opposition to the regime for about 20 years. And they did go after some notorious regime figures who had imprisoned and killed thousands of their own people. That was reviewed by a French magistrate in an eight-year investigation. And when he finally came out with the verdict, he said that not only have none of these people committed terrorism, but at any time in the past nothing that they did was terrorism. It was legitimate resistance to tyranny. The EU, the UK also had major court cases. They’ve been exonerated fully. Not one member of this group, not one, in 54 years has ever been prosecuted or convicted of terrorism in a country ruled by the rule of law with due process.
SEXTON: What can you tell me about this allegation against the MEK of murdering several Americans in Tehran in the 1970s and that there was a role that they may have played in seizing the U.S. Embassy? Any truth to this?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, there were people who called themselves Mujahedin, Marxist-Leninist, there was a splinter group of left-wing people who associated themselves and were attracted to the prestige of the Islamic, the real MEK. Most of the MEK was secret for six years. They started in 1965 as a student group that was studying revolutions and how can we get rid of the Shah, he’s a corrupt Western-influenced. We don’t want Communism, what can we do? And they looked at other countries that had had a nationalist uprising. They never committed terrorism for six years. They were going to sort of embarrass the Shah in 1971 and about 100 of them were arrested. Many of them were executed. All of the original leaders except for one, Masoud Rajavi, were executed. Masoud Rajavi was spared. There were outsiders, Francois Mitterrand appealed to the Iranians. They kept him in jail. Other people came right in and said, “Well, we’re the Mujahedin.” They changed some of the symbols. They made it more left wing. They didn’t have Islam. And they killed the Americans. We know who did this. The Washington Post reported it. They interviewed the killers. And those same people turned against the real MEK and killed some of them too. So that story, my story of the inside story will be in print. The State Department admitted this. It was in the terrorism report in about 2005 and then it disappeared the next year and never appeared again. So, that’s one of the stories I tell, why isn’t the truth of the MEK known in Washington?
SEXTON: There are also critics of the MEK who say that it operates like a cult. What are they referring to?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, they’re referring to the intense loyalty that all of the supporters of the National Council of Resistance and the MEK, who are now in Albania, have for each other, including supporters in the United States and around the world. They have a level of trust which spooks some people who look at them. But if you realize that tens of thousands of their relatives, brothers, parents, kids, have been jailed, tortured and murdered over the years, perhaps as may as 120,000 of these people who are suspected MEK sympathizers have been put to death by the regime, all their survivors stick together. They trust each other. And they probably don’t trust anyone else. They’re always on the lookout to see if an assassin or a terrorist team—there were five countries in Europe that had Iran terrorist teams caught last year trying chasing them and pursuing them, and including in the United States, surveilling members of the NCRI. So they are basically being chased. I don’t know what I would do, I don’t now what you would do if you thought you were being hunted. Who would you really trust? That’s what we’re talking about. It’s not a cult.
SEXTON: Does the MEK have substantial support inside of Iran still?
BLOOMFIELD: That is a great question, and to be perfectly honest, not only do I not know, but neither does anyone else. But I’ll tell you one thing, the regime wouldn’t allow anyone to talk about them for 39 years. But in the last year, with all these protests going on, they can’t stop talking about the MEK. There are complaints coming from senior clerics in Iran blaming the MEK for organizing the demonstrations in cities and towns across Iran. And President Rouhani called Macron in France in January of last year, asking him to roll up the NCRI because they’re organizing the protests inside Iran. They have satellite television that broadcasts 24/7 in Farsi. The regime has tried to block the signal. They’ve tried to steal the satellite dishes and roll over them with tanks in several cities. We’ve got all the photos. But the message gets through. They know, the Iranian people have exposure all day to what’s really happening on the outside. They know the truth. So, I can’t answer that. But one more point, Buck. The NCRI is the only group that is proposing a process to find out what the 80 million Iranian people want because they’re offering a roadmap to a legitimate election process under a new constitution. They are not trying to take over the country. The country has been taken over five times since 1906. They’ve always been frustrated when they’ve tried to move in a democratic direction. The NCRI is the only group that is proposing a real process to find out what every man and woman would vote for in Iran.
SEXTON: What brought you to be somebody who not just researches this group but defends them openly, and I’m sure deals with a fair amount of criticism? Why stick your neck out?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, if you’ve listened to what I’ve said so far, Buck, you’ll see that everything I’m saying is trying to get at what’s true and what’s not true. That’s where I am. I’ve spent—I was in five U.S. administrations, not only the Pentagon and the State Department, I was in the White House as well during the nuclear era working for the Vice President. So, national security is in my core. I’m a Cold Warrior. So what brought me to this was some experience being exposed to Iran but wanting to make sure that my government wasn’t being essentially misled by falsehood and that we weren’t negotiating with a very strong country, Iran, on the nuclear issue on false pretenses, not really knowing the vulnerability they have, what they’ve really done behind the scenes, how guilty they are of war crimes and crimes against humanity. All of this, to me, I would want to know if I were the Secretary of State or Defense or National Security Advisor, I would want all of this information. And I don’t think our leaders have it.
SEXTON: And are you paid by anyone in the MEK to say anything at all about the group?
BLOOMFIELD: I’ve never accepted any money for any—I’ve never given speeches for money or any of that. But I don’t like to point that out because I respect the Americans who have gone overseas and been criticized for standing up for them. I’ll stand with those people, generals, senior leaders, they have been demeaned as if you can rent their reputation and they’ll say anything that they’re paid to say. That’s false. These people have done an enormous amount of work offline. They stay in touch with each other. They’re very committed to this issue. They have a strong point of view. Maybe they would do it not for pay. I can afford to do that. I did receive money from a law firm when I first got involved. They were being hired by a group of Americans, the OIAC. One of their constituencies wanted the help of a law firm to get them off the terrorism list. I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a lobbyist, but I am a Middle East policy expert and so I looked into this and started to study this group. And what I found was there’s something not right about the information. So, I’ve just been pulling the string ever since.
SEXTON: How effective and how widespread are the Iranian regime’s anti-MEK propaganda efforts? Are they focused in on this?
BLOOMFIELD: The piece that I’m about to come out with, it’s about an 11,000 word essays that says folks—it’s for Washington—that says, here’s the truth. And the answer is, they’ve been extremely effective. They’ve had 40 years of success in, to use an old Pentagon expression, blowing smoke up our skirt—forgive me for that but that’s what they’ve been doing. They have repeated these things. They’ve actually exaggerated and embellished and added things onto the list that the MEK had nothing to do with ,to the point, and repeated it so often and had people placed in the West in think tanks and media and whatnot, pretending to be independent voices that people in Washington came to believe it. Now I’m not sure that hat’s the whole story. If I were a correspondent, and I’m trying to be kind here, but I and I wanted a visa to Tehran, I wanted to come back in one piece and I wanted to get an interview with Foreign Minister Zharif, I would never say a word about this group. Because the minute you say something about the NCRI or MEK that’s real, you’re never going to Iran again. You’ll never get another interview. So, I think the media has been deeply compromised by self-censorship on this issue and that’s why I’m speaking out.
SEXTON: And you have been working on Mideast issues, security issues for a long time. What should the U.S. government’s approach going forward with the MEK be?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, the points that I would focus on have nothing to do with military confrontation. I think that that would unite Iranians behind their own government, that’s a natural reaction. I think what we really should be doing is showing what specific people in this regime have been guilty of. If you look at the Argentina bombings in the 1990s, if you look at assassinations and machine gun killings throughout Europe and Southeast Asia and all sorts of places, people who are in power right now are guilty of these things. You know, we thought that President Rouhani would be a moderate. When we were negotiating the nuclear agreement in 2013, he was the new president. His Defense Minister was the same man who first trained Hezbollah in the Beqaa Valley and oversaw the bombing of the Marines. I was the country director for Lebanon for Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger when the Marines were hit, all right? So, I do have some exposure to Iran’s aggression. This man who oversaw the bombing was the Defense Minister for four years. And he only left in 2017 after President Trump brought in three Marine four-star generals as his top aides. This man disappeared. There are two senior judicial leaders, the Chief Justice, those people in Iran were all part of death panels in 1988 who committed a serious crime against humanity. Thirty thousand people who were not sentenced to death were all put to death at Khomeini’s order in July and August of 1988. And this is now being investigated, there’s proof that it happened, and so audio recordings from ayatollahs have come out. So this needs to be—I would put war crimes dossiers together. I would take the senior leaders of Iran to The Hague and prosecute them for war crimes, that’s one thing I would do. To get that information, someone needs to talk to the NCRI because they have a great intelligence operation, they have a lot of information. I have access to it, why doesn’t my government?
SEXTON: Ambassador Bloomfield, really appreciate your expertise today, sir. Thank you for joining us.
BLOOMFIELD: Thank you.
[end of audio]
Iran: The Untold Story, Part 6
By the early 1980s, the MEK was organizing massive rallies to protest the growing dictatorship in Iran.
Meanwhile, MEK leader Massoud Rajavi [RAJ-a-vee] formed a broad coalition—the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)—inviting opposition leaders to join.
But with arrests and attacks of supporters mounting, in July 1981 the MEK moved to safety in Paris.
The Iran-Iraq War was raging, and the NCRI proposed a peace plan that picked up international support.
But by 1986, Tehran pressured the French government to expel the NCRI and MEK. Rajavi and his supporters were forced to move to Iraq, a war zone.
In northeast Iraq, the MEK turned an arid piece of land into a thriving community, called Camp Ashraf.
And they formed the mechanized National Liberation Army of Iran, conducting military raids into Iran.
Once the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the MEK disarmed voluntarily …and Tehran gained a toehold in Iraq.
Camp Ashraf was attacked, repeatedly by the pro-Tehran Iraqi government, killing more than 140 MEK members, and wounding more than 1,300 between 2009 and 2016.
The attacks convinced members of Congress to issue six bipartisan resolutions to protect the MEK as “protected persons.” And the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 called for the protection of MEK members in Iraq
Senator John McCain:
“THE US GOVERNMENT AND MILITARY MADE A COMMITMENT TO PROTECT THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHO SURRENDERED THEIR WEAPONS AND CAME UNDER OUR PROTECTION AS A RESULT. CLEARLY THIS COMMMITMENT HAS NOT BEEN SUSTAINED.”
Senator Jack Reed:
“THE DETERIORATING SECURITY SITUATION IN IRAQ ONLY HIGHLIGHTS THE URGENT NEED TO FIND SAFE REFUGE FOR THESE INDIVIDUALS OUTSIDE THAT COUNTRY.”
By 2016, the residents were safely resettled to Albania with the help of the United States and the United Nations.
Secretary of State John Kerry:
“THIS IS A MAJOR HUMANITARIAN ACHEIVEMENT. I’M VERY PROUD THAT THE UNITED STATES WAS ABLE TO PLAY A PIVOTAL ROLE IN HELPING TO GET THIS JOB DONE.”
SEXTON: We’re now joined by soldier and patriot, General James Jones. General Jones is the former Commandant of the Marine Corps, former Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, and former Special Envoy for Middle East Security. He also served with distinction as National Security Advisor to President Obama. General Jones, thank you so much for being here. Appreciate it.
JONES: Thank you.
SEXTON: So, tell me, you’ve been an outspoken supporter of the MEK for many years. Why is that?
JONES: I haven’t been alone in this. There’s about 60 or 70 outspoken former national figures including attorneys general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, members of the Joint Chiefs, ambassadors, politicians on both sides of the aisle. And the reason for the support is that in 2003, when the Iraq War started, we found a camp called Camp Ashraf which was hosting about 4,000 families of the so-called MEK. And this organization was in opposition to the Iranian regime. And we interviewed every one of these people. We gave them safe passage individual ID cards in return for their disarming. We assigned some great officers there to be the liaison officer to this group. They provided many, many valuable bits of intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program to us and helped us immeasurably. And then when we pulled out of Iraq during the Obama administration, we thought we had a deal with the Iraqi government that they would also protect these people in turn. But what they did do is participate in the almost systematic extermination of these people along with Iran. So =
SEXTON: Why would the Iraqi government do that?
JONES: Well, I think the Maliki regime frankly was more of an Iranian—more populated with Iranian sympathizers. They certainly weren’t thanking us for anything we did. And with regard to this particular group of almost 4,000 people, they conducted overt raids, military raids, and attacked them and killed hundreds of them over a few years.
SEXTON: Did we fail to live up to our obligations to help protect these dissidents in Camp Ashraf?
JONES: the group that I’m with and that have been arguing this case and actually successfully in U.S. courts, the Court of Appeals directed the State Department to show cause as to why they should be listed as a terrorist organization when clearly they weren’t. And eventually won that fight. But and the people were relocated from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty with the idea being that they were going to be soon taken to another country. Well, that took several years and several more attempts to eradicate these brave people. And so, a lot of us have rallied to their cause. It’s really now known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, NCRI, which is a coalition of the MEK but other opposition groups. And they have a democratically elected leader by the name of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. And they have a 10-point plan for what the government of Iran is going to look like after the regime falls. And we hope that that happens in the near future.
SEXTON: What can you tell us about the vision the NCRI, as you’ve said, their vision for Iran. What are the broad strokes of the 10-point plan?
JONES: Well, sure, the broad strokes are absolutely Jeffersonian and democratic. One is universal suffrage, freedom of assembly, rule of law and justice, separation of church and state, gender equality, human rights, market economy and the right to own private property, foreign policy that’s based on peaceful coexistence, and a non-nuclear future for Iran. Non-nuclear weapons. And we have met, and those that I’ve associated with since I left office—I actually had never heard about this group until after I left the White House in 2010. And I quite by accident stumbled upon former colleagues of mine who were supporting this group. And I tried to find out a little bit more about them. And the more I found out about the more concerned I was. And then in April of 2011, I was called in New York, I was in a hotel in New York, and I was called from a cell phone at Camp Ashraf, and I could hear the shots being fired in the background. And uniformed Iraqi soldiers had essentially attacked and were killing women and children. And there are videotapes of this. So, I have them in my possession. So, it is a democratic organization. There are people who will not give up on this idea that it’s a semi-terrorist organization. It’s not. Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield wrote this report on the MEK called Shackled by a Twisted History. And this is to me the seminal document that basically talks about what these people are and what they aren’t. They’re alive and well today thanks to my colleagues and others who argued persuasively to get them out of Iraq before they were all exterminated. And they’re living peacefully in Albanian, doing quite well. But even there, the long reach of Iran has tried to persecute them.
SEXTON: Why does the Iranian regime have this fixation? Is it just purely a function of their efficacy as an anti-Iranian
JONES: This is the coalition that the regime fears the most. And it’s =
SEXTON: Why is that?
JONES: Simply because they’re effective. They’re well-connected in the country. They have a following in many countries around the world. They have annual gatherings. They have a very important support base here in the United States. But we have not, we have not gone the extra mile I think we need to celebrate someone like Mrs. Rajavi who is a wonderful human being. Her husband has been persecuted and has been in hiding for many years.
SEXTON: What should we do? Right now there is a discussion about the extent of U.S. involvement, I mean at the highest level at the presidential level, U.S. involvement in terms of dealing with Iran, how much pressure we should put on, should there be additional forces sent to the region as perhaps a signal somewhere that could be a harbinger of things to come. In terms of a group like the MEK how can we, how should we in your opinion help as Americans?
JONES: Well, first of all I think we have to understand that Iran is fundamentally unchanged regardless of what the previous administration tried to achieve. Iran is still one of the number one exporters of terrorism in the world. And they have not changed. So, I support the administration’s position on Iran. I think we should celebrate the NCRI and their existence. I think Mrs. Rajavi should be invited to visit Washington. We have all kinds of unsavory people who come here; this is one of the good people and we should invite her I think. And I think one of the colleagues who helped get the MEK out of Iraq was the current National Security Advisor, John Bolton, who knows this group very, very well and was one of the big supporters of them before he went back into government. So, I think we’re on the right track about identifying Iran for what it is. I do think that the NCRI organization has got a plan to say this is what we are going to do within the first six months after the regime falls, and the Iranian people are going to be much happier and much better off for it.
SEXTON: And finally, has the Iranian regime harassed you or other prominent supporters of the NCRI?
JONES: I don’t know that they have recently. I know when I was in office they published a list of most wanted people in the American government, and when I was National Security Advisor I was one of them. So, that’s about =
SEXTON: That’s a yes, I think we’ll take that as a yes.
JONES: It’s a badge of honor.
SEXTON: All right, well General, thank you so much for your expertise in this. We appreciate it sir.
JONES: It’s my pleasure.
[end of audio]
Iran: The Untold Story, Segment 7
June 6, 2019
Buck SEXTON: Welcome to our series, Iran: The Untold Story, and our continuing look at the main Iranian opposition group. This week we examine how a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and House members have supported the MEK and the NCRI for nearly four decades.
US political support for the MEK and National Council of Resistance of Iran runs deep and spans nearly four decades.
Senator Gary Peters:
“… And move to a democratic regime where the people of Iran actually have a say, we have to be united. Thank you for bringing us all here to be united because together we can make that happen.”
And it’s always been bipartisan. The support dates back to the 1980s… when Senator Ted Kennedy and then-Congressman John McCain wrote letters on behalf of human rights for MEK dissidents, many locked in Iranian prisons.
By the 1990s, a bipartisan majority of members of the House and Senate declared that the NCRI “will contribute to the achievement of peace and stability…”
That continued support picked up steam in 2009… when hundreds of bipartisan co-sponsors demanded that the US protect MEK members living under near-constant attacks at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
Later, Congressional delegations who successfully fought to delist the MEK, were able to directly engage with the NCRI and MEK at their bases in Paris and Albania.
Cheering, McCain enters Albania event
One of the strongest supporters was Senator John McCain, who visited Albania with the NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi in 2017.
Senator John McCain: “You have stood up and fought and sacrificed for freedom, for the right to live free, for the right to determine your own future, for the right that is God given. I thank you for being an example, an example to the whole world, that those people who are willing to fight and sacrifice for freedom will achieve it, and you are an example to everyone in the world that is struggling for (freedom).”
Congressional support from prominent Democrats and Republicans continues to this day:
Rep. Brad Sherman: “Your fight is our fight. And we stand with you as you face down a regime that cares nothing for your own people’s freedom or prosperity.”
Rep. Tom McClintock: “The Iranian regime is illegitimate and needs to be overthrown. And there are many Democrats who believe as Republicans believe that that is absolutely essential to the peace and security of the Middle East and the future of civilization”
SEXTON: We’re joined now by a former member of Congress, Representative Ted Poe of Texas. Congressman Poe, great to have you here. We appreciate you joining us.
POE: Thank you, Buck.
SEXTON: So, in your experience, what level of support does the MEK have in the U.S. Congress?
POE: It’s interesting because the MEK and the resistance movement for years has been one or both chambers and in a bipartisan way have supported the MEK throughout the 40 years that they have been in existence, especially the last few years. And the support is very strong both in the House and both in the Senate by leading members of both parties in the Foreign Affairs Committee primarily. So, it’s been good. And it’s one of those issues where I hope it continues to be bipartisan in the future.
SEXTON: Now, this has been a group that is controversial, was at one point listed as terrorist group, has been delisted as a terrorist group. Why do you and other members of Congress feel so strongly about supporting them to this day?
POE: It’s interesting because of this, they gave up their weapons as the United States demanded that they do, and they have continued to not only give the United States information about the regime that is taking place, the mullahs, what they’re doing and their nuclear activity, but these people, Iranians support the most important thing that we support in this country, which is freedom and human rights. And here we have a group of people that their government is at war with them and has been since 1979, 120,000 people in the resistance have been murdered by the regime over the last 40 years. And members of Congress still—and this is good—believe in helping people who believe in freedom and support freedom. And that’s all that these people wants. It’s a human rights issue. And I think we should continue to support them. Like President Kennedy said a long time ago, that we will support anybody who will pursue freedom. And that’s what they’re doing and that’s why members of Congress support them, because they have been oppressed by their own government. Their government has been at war with them. And we hope that the resistance is able to become now leaders of the Iranian people, the Iranian government.
SEXTON: In Iraq, the MEK camps, Ashraf and Liberty, they came under repeated attacks by pro-Iranian militias, the Iraqi government. Over 140 MEK members were killed. What did the United States Congress do in reaction to this?
POE: There were numerous resolutions presented, bipartisan of course, bicameral, supporting the people of Camp Ashraf. And calling out the killers. There were 140 killed Iraqi militias that were supported by Iran. And they invaded these camps that were defenseless that we were supposed to be protecting with the U.S. military. And not one of those killers has been brought to justice by any government. And so, members of Congress, once again in a bipartisan way, wanted to make sure that these people who’s seeking freedom and liberty were protected and made sure that there were some people held accountable. No one has ever been held accountable and we have I think strong support of those people who are Iranians who just want to go back home and have a free democracy.
SEXTON: When the MEK was still in Iraq, you joined a Congressional delegation to go visit them. Is it true that the Iraqi prime minster at the time blocked your visit?
POE: [laughs] Yes. He did. We went to =
SEXTON: Why would he do that?
POE: [laughs] We went to see Maliki and find out many things about what was taking place in Iraq, the U.S. support for the government. And we asked him and told him we wanted to go to Camp Ashraf and see some of the problems that were going there, including the visit with people who had been attacked by the militias that had attacked the camp. And he got indignant. I was really surprised how indignant he was. He said, “You are not going to Camp Ashraf.” Refused to allow us to go. And eventually because we persisted on wanting to see the people in the camps, ordered us out of Iraq. Told us, “you have to leave my country. You cannot be here.” Very indignant, quite loud when he made that statement. Of course we didn’t leave until we were ready to leave. But the reason he did it was because he didn’t want us to see the truth. He didn’t want us to see what the consequences were of the attacks on this camp of several thousand people, Iranians who were in Iraq, supposed to be protected by the Iraqi government and the United States. And I think he was just being a puppet of the mullahs in Iran and preventing Americans to go see the camp that we supported.
SEXTON: In 2015, as the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism and Nonproliferation, you invited Maryam Rajavi to testify as a witness. Why?
POE: She is the President-in-exile, as I call her, for the MEK. And wanted to hear from her firsthand the history of the MEK and what the plan was for when the government finally becomes under the control of the citizens. And so we invited her to testify. We had great resistance from people who did not want her to testify, including the State Department, which the State Department has always been on the wrong side of this issue of helping and protecting the MEK. Anyway, we did. And she testified by satellite for a long time and told us about the members of Congress. And this was a bipartisan request, the members of Congress, to have her testify by satellite. And she enlightened us on the plan for the country being taken by the resistance and the people of Iran. And she gave us a ten-point plan which is very good, which is about as democratic as Jefferson would like it to be, talking about the basic human rights that the new plan, ten-point plan would present. So, she presented all that and made awareness to American people about what has taken place to a group of wonderful people across the land.
SEXTON: What do you say to critics of the NCRI who claim that it’s just not a legitimate and capable alternative to the Iranian regime?
POE: Well, those critics really don’t know what they’re talking about. Because it is. This group of people have been wanting to have the people in control of Iran. We have a government in Iran that is at war not only with Iranian people in Iran, but a war with exiles across the world, and at war with the world. The Iranian government is the state sponsor, number one state sponsor of terror in the world. And they are causing terror not only in their own country but in other countries: in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Yemen and others because of the organizations that work with them. And that government must eventually fail because they are at war with us. They claim they want to, you know, death to the United States, death to Israel. I think the Ayatollah means it. So that is their plan. The people, the MEK and this group of people have an alternative. They have a free alternative. And they are in exile of their own country. So, I think they can totally support their government, a new government, and have free elections and let the people choose who rules over them. And have a secular government, not one that is a religious organization that is wanting to kill anyone who disagrees with them. So, they are quite capable of being the resistance. And I’m glad they exist. They’ve been fighting for a long time. They’ve been in exile a long time. And I think they’re quite capable.
SEXTON: Congressman Poe, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate it.
POE: Thank you. Thank you, Buck.
SEXTON: Next week on Iran: The Untold Story we examine the MEK’s growing international support. I hope you’ll join us.
[end of video]
IRAN THE UNTOLD STORY
June 13, 2019
BUCK SEXTON: Welcome to our series, Iran: The Untold Story, and our continuing look at the main Iranian opposition group. This week, we examine the growing international support for the MEK and NCRI.
At its giant Paris rallies, and at demonstrations around the globe, the MEK and NCRI have become an international presence, advocating for democracy and change in Iran.
John Baird, former foreign minister of Canada: “We come together to support the people of Iran in their great struggle.”
They organize street protests in the US, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, London, Warsaw, and Toronto, always calling for freedom in Iran.
Many observers consider the National Council of Resistance of Iran as having established itself as a formidable alterative to the Iranian regime, initiating diplomatic and international efforts.
Its international standing began decades ago, in Paris, when the NCRI leader tried to negotiate an end to the Iran-Iraq War.
Massoud Rajavi: “I requested from the President of Iraq to stop bombing against our cities and innocent civilians. Now, we have a solution for this war in our hands.”
Struan Stevenson, former member of the European Parliament: “They are well organized, and they have a 10-point manifesto that I would be proud as a western politician to stand under.”
Today, with its modern 10-point plan calling for legitimate elections in Iran, separation of church and state, gender equality, abolition of the death penalty and Sharia law, and the rule of law, the NCRI is winning support in capitals around the globe.
Senator Joseph Lieberman: “It’s hard not to see the resemblance between the resistance that you and the people of Iran are a part of and those who fought for America’s freedom in the revolution in the 18th century, or those who fought for the freedom of France during the 19th century, or those who fought against Nazism and fascism and communism during the 20th century.”
As a host of international leaders made clear at a recent “Free Iran” Summit in Poland, support for a change in Iran is growing.
Senator Robert Torricelli: “We have hoped for the best for 40 years. And they have answered us with terrorism, oppression and death. There is no negotiating with this regime. The regime must end. Now!”
SEXTON: We’re joined now by Governor Tom Ridge, the former Congressman and Governor of Pennsylvania. He’s also the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Governor ridge, great to have you here, thank you so much.
RIDGE: Nice to join you.
SEXTON: So, as you know, the MEK was designated for many years by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. President Clinton’s administration acknowledged at the time that this was a kind of goodwill gesture toward Tehran. Now, many years later Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delisted the MEK as a terrorist group. What do you think about this change, this back and forth? Was it ever the proper thing to do to list the MEK as a terrorist group?
RIDGE: Well, the short answer is no. I thought it was somewhat naïve back then, if I look in the rearview mirror, President Clinton suggesting you could extend a goodwill gesture to an autocratic regime that took hostages out of our embassy, kept them for 400 and something days, and then since that hostage taking has overseen a reign of terror and oppression against opposition groups, particularly the MEK. And the other thing that I remind everybody is that as Secretary of Homeland Security on a day to day basis I got briefings that lasted for several years, written briefings, oral briefings. Not one day, not one page, not one mention of MEK as a terrorist organization and that’s what the briefings were really focused on. And the irony was, was that President Clinton put the organization on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list and Secretary Clinton couldn’t possibly sustain it. The only reason she withdrew the designation is the court said demonstrate, demonstrate it, how and why they should be on the list. She was unable to do it, so naïve from the start, wrong, and I didn’t have any interaction with them as Secretary of Homeland Security where I saw in any manner, shape or form, that this government thought they were adverse and operating adverse to American interests or taking action against American citizens anywhere.
SEXTON: So you’ve been supporting the MEK for a long time, publicly now. Why do you put your reputation built over many years of government service, why do you put your reputation out there and at some level on the line for this group?
RIDGE: Well, thank you, I think it’s a very important question. But I’m not the only that’s been in public service that has embraced the notion that this is an organization worthy of not only our personal support but the support of the government. Give you a couple reasons. One, they were improperly designated as a terrorist organization way back when. Secondly, have come to know and appreciate the service of a lot of men who worked with them when they were in Iraq. And they’ll tell you firsthand that they were responsible, the MEK saved a lot of lives, were an important source of information. Thirdly, when we as a government took their weapons away from them when they were in Iraq, their ability to defend themselves as an organization, we promised to provide protections to them under the Geneva Convention and we failed to provide those protections either from some sources within Iraq who looked the other way when Iranian forces lobbed mortars in, actually kidnapped a few of them. So for me it was there was a long list of things, improper designation, their support of us, of our military while we were there, our fact we gave our word to protect them and we failed until more recently to provide that kind of support. So, I’m proud to join frankly a list of rather substantial list of men and women, public sector, Republicans and Democrats, religious leaders, diplomatic leaders =
SEXTON: And where is the international support for the MEK =
RIDGE: Well, I think that’s a great question =
SEXTON: Is that support growing? Do they have supporters in Europe? Are there other allied governments of ours where the MEK is finding a sympathetic ear?
RIDGE: Yeah, Buck, every year they normally have a meeting in Paris, and the list of individuals from multiple countries around Africa, Europe, and the Middle East continues to grow and grow as they recognize that this is an alternative to the theocracy, the very repressive authoritarian regime in Iran. So the list of international support continues to grow day by day and it’s very significant.
SEXTON: What do you see from the leadership of the MEK and their history of resistance against the Iranian autocrats that is encouraging to you? Why is this group ideologically effective and why are they the ones that you think have had the greatest impact and obviously are the ones that agitate the mullahs the most?
RIDGE: Well, it’s interesting, the last part of your question is probably the most significant signal that they are an alternative to the Iranian regime. Since the early ‘80s, this regime has probably has murdered an excess of 100,000 MEK members and supporters. I think in 1988 Amnesty International said that they had massacred over 30,000. Since that time they continue to imprison, torture, murder. They hang members publicly to remind the opposition, remind the rest of the Iranian community that this is a threat to the theocracy that exists there. The Minister of Intelligence Services announced proudly that they just arrested a bunch of several MEK units of rebellion. They just hung a young man, I think it was 34, 35 years, in May because he was a supporter. So if you want to understand why the international community has embraced this organization because they see it as the mullahs do, as Khamenei does and as Rouhani does, as an alternative, potential democratic alternative to the regime.
SEXTON: The Iranian regime has also hunted down MEK members outside of Iran and the Middle East, right? This has been a global effort to stamp out this MEK resistance movement.
RIDGE: Yes, they have. Matter of fact, there was I think in both Belgium and in France and other locations around the globe there have been some attempted assassinations globally. The fact of the matter is, is that this is an alternative to the regime. The regime understands, does everything they can internally to discourage it. They’ve been unable to do so. And there’s such discipline, and we talk about the vision and their leadership and the organization, but there’s one other quality that I think all of us admire about this group: their resiliency. I mean they continue to stand up for freedom, for liberty, for democracy, even though 100,000 plus members of the organization and supporters have been assassinated, even though there are these attempts day in and day out to pull these individuals out, hang them publicly or throw them in jail. That speaks a lot to who they are but I think we’ve got to talk about the resiliency. They stand up for what they believe in.
SEXTON: What about other alternatives that are out there? Are there any that are viable, relatives of the Shah that are in exile, groups similar to but not the same as the MEK in terms of their mission, is there an alternative resistance group that has the same gravitas?
RIDGE: I don’t think so, Buck. I think clearly the people of Iran have said, well, we’re not interested in a regime similar to the Shah’s, we’re not interested in theocracy, this very authoritarian rule. I think they’ve demonstrated for the past 30 years nearly that they’re interested in selecting their own leaders and around the NCRI and around the MEK a regime that embraces democracy, that is non-nuclear, that is much more tolerant of both political and religious expression, that’s what they want. They’re looking to the future. The Shah is the past, the theocracy is the past. They want a democracy and they’ve been writing that commitment in blood since the early ‘80s.
SEXTON: For years you were receiving government briefings at the very highest level when it comes to national security. Do you have any faith, do you have any real hope that the Iranian regime as it stands now will bend to U.S. demands, will bring itself fully into the international community, essentially will change its essence and the nature of what it is?
RIDGE: Well, I think the only way they will be embraced by the broader community is if at some point in time the regime in place now that is totalitarian, that is repressive, that is the number one exporter of terrorism globally, is replaced. And the only viable democratic opposition presently is the MEK. Their international group is NCRI, as I’m sure you probably reported. But I think the change has to come from within, it has to be indigenous, and it’s quite obvious that this organization is not going away. So, I think continued sanctions are important. I also think it would be a good move if this administration would recognize the NCRI, recognize the MEK, as a democratic alternative to the regime that exists. But I think it has to be an internal, internal change in the way that America and the rest of the global community can support it and encourage it if one continued economic sanctions, and elevate the visibility, the political visibility and the credibility of the NCRI and the MEK.
SEXTON: Governor, really appreciate your time. Thanks for sharing your expertise today.
RIDGE: Buck, nice to be with you.
SEXTON: Next time on Iran: The Untold Story, we profile Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. I hope you’ll join us.
[end of video]