Friday, May 11, 2012

Camp Ashraf: Senior U.S. Military Commanders Who Served at Camp Ashraf Reject "Absurd" Allegations

Source: US Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents

Allegations by the State Department lawyer on lack of access to, and suspicion of existence of weapons and ammunition at Camp Ashraf are absurd and insult the professionalism and integrity of U.S. troops who served at Camp Ashraf, senior U.S. military commanders say in a statement, a copy of which was provided to the U.S. Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents (USCCAR).

Camp Ashraf is a temporary home for members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

During a May 8 hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia, the attorney for the U.S. Department of State aroused outrage among former U.S. military commanders - stationed at Camp Ashraf from 2004 until 2009 - when he alleged that weapons and ammunition might be hidden in Camp Ashraf in Iraq.

In a joint statement, Brig. Gen. David Phillips (ret.), former chief of the Military Policy School at Fort Leonard Wood and former commander of all police operations in Iraq, which included the protection of Camp Ashraf until 2006; and Col. Wesley Martin (ret.), senior antiterrorism/force protection officer for all coalition forces in Iraq and the first colonel in charge of Camp Ashraf in 2006, who attended the oral hearing; as well as Lt. Col. Leo McCloskey (ret.), commander of Joint Interagency Task Force at Camp Ashraf until January 2009, described the remarks by the State Department attorney Robert Loeb as "absurd" and a "denigration of the admirable work of thousands of American service-people who protected Camp Ashraf and verified its inhabitants were unarmed."

The Court ruled two years ago that the U.S. Government's designation of the MEK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) was in violation of the Constitution. It is now considering a writ of mandamus filed by the lawyers of the PMOI/MEK, requesting it to order the Secretary of State to abide by the Court's July 2010 judgment and remove the group from the FTO list. Phillips, Martin and McCloskey are among the 21 former senior U.S. Government national security, counter-terrorism, military and law enforcement officials who filed an amicus brief with the Court in favor of delisting the MEK.

During a withering 40 minute grilling by a three judge panel, Loeb remarked that the U.S. military had "never been able to inspect it [Camp Ashraf]." He also stated that the residents of Camp Ashraf did not permit the U.S. military to inspect the camp. "The MEK did not permit it at that time, and the military was unable at the time" to inspect Camp Ashraf, and "the MEK did not permit an inspection. . . . They did not permit a sort of door-to-door inspection of looking for [caches] of weapons or to actually disarm them door-to-door." He also claimed that the U.S. military had been unable to verify that the MEK had disarmed.

The commanders categorically rejected the claims by the State Department lawyer. "Having served at Ashraf during several tours of duty in Iraq, we repeatedly inspected the entire camp without any hindrance and found no sign of weapons or ammunition, nor any plans or intentions to acquire weapons or use violence," the officers emphasized. "These inspections were undertaken impromptu and without prior notice. At all times and during every inspection, the leaders and residents of Ashraf cooperated fully with the U.S. commanders and forces," they added. Ironically, the Department of State has never disputed any of these facts, which were already part of the record.

The military officers reiterated, "Even after the protection of Ashraf was handed over to the Iraqi Government in early 2009, Iraqi forces used bomb-sniffing dogs to conduct a three-day, and an inch by inch, search of the entire camp in April 2009 and gave a written certificate that there were no weapons at the Camp."

In 2003, Camp Ashraf residents voluntarily handed over all their weapons to the United States after receiving and trusting the solemn and written commitment of the United States to protect them. Subsequent to the complete disarming of Camp Ashraf, the United States Central Command, CENTCOM, issued a statement on May 17, 2003, praising the cooperation of the residents of Ashraf and PMOI members in the disarmament process and describing it as a major contribution to achieving peace for the people of Iraq.

The retired U.S. military commanders consider the State Department's unfounded allegations "as a desperate ploy to justify the Department's disregard of the law and its non-compliance with the July 2010 judgment of the DC Circuit, which ordered a prompt evaluation of the terrorist designation." The officers described the designation as "illegitimate, unlawful, unethical and unwarranted."

The decision by the U.S. Government to list the PMOI/MEK originated in 1997 as an attempt to appease the regime in Iran and has been the primary factor in the suppression and the violation of the rights of the residents of Camp Ashraf by the Nuri Al-Maliki government in Iraq. The designation also gave license to Iraqi troops to massacre dozens of defenseless residents of Ashraf and wound hundreds more in two brazen attacks on the Camp in 2009 and 2011.