Security

Did Giuliani And Co. Provide ‘Material Support’ To Terrorist Group?

The Washington Post reports that four prominent Republicans — former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani, former Bush administration homeland security adviser Fran Townsend, former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey — told “a forum of cheering Iranian exiles” in Paris “that President Obama’s policy toward Iran amounts to futile appeasement that will never persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear projects.”

The four “demanded that Obama instead take the controversial Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group off the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations and incorporate it into efforts to overturn the mullah-led government in Tehran”:

“Appeasement of dictators leads to war, destruction and the loss of human lives,” Giuliani declared. “For your organization to be described as a terrorist organization is just really a disgrace.”

The four GOP figures appeared at a rally organized by the French Committee for a Democratic Iran, a pressure group formed to support MEK.

It should be obvious that describing Obama’s Iran policy — which includes a new set of both multilateral and unilateral sanctions — as “appeasement” indicates either a misunderstanding of the policy, or a misunderstanding of what constitutes “appeasement.” (Though, to be fair, conservatives tend to use “appeasement” loosely as a general term for “foreign policy I don’t like.”)

As for the MEK, after the GOP’s victory in November I predicted that we’d be seeing more efforts by pro-war conservatives to set the group up as an Iranian version of Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Very much like the INC, the MEK has no genuine base of support in their own country — its real base is found among American neoconservatives.

Daniel Luban profiled the MEK last November:

Founded as a militant group with an ideology combining aspects of Islam and Marxism, the group is frequently described today as “cult-like,” built around a personality cult centered on leader Maryam Rajavi. […]

The group’s hatred of the Islamic Republic led it to ally with Saddam Hussein, and it fought on the Iraqi side of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Following the Gulf War, “the group reportedly assisted in the Iraqi Republican Guard’s bloody crackdown on Iraqi Shia and Kurds who rose up against Saddam Hussein’s regime; press reports cite MEK leader Maryam Rajavi encouraging MEK members to ‘take the Kurds under your tanks,’” according to the State Department. The group’s alliance with Saddam made it widely despised among the Iranian community at large, as it remains to this day

Luban notes that the MEK’s “militant anti-Iranian stance has made it a favorite of hawks in Washington”:

The MEK’s neoconservative supporters continue to push for it to be taken off the State Department terror list, which it has been on since 1997. One of the many ironies about the MEK is that, for all the groundless allegations that hawks made about Saddam Hussein’s connections to terrorist groups during the runup to the Iraq war, the terrorist group with perhaps the closest links to Saddam was one that the hawks themselves supported.

Human Rights Watch also released a report in 2005 detailing the group’s record of subjecting dissident members to torture and solitary confinement.

Leaving aside the spectacle of prominent conservatives going abroad to criticize the administration’s foreign policy on behalf of an Iranian exile group largely despised by Iranians, there’s actually a real question here of whether Giuliani, Townsend, Ridge, and Mukasey have violated U.S. law in regard to “material support” for terrorism.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project that “the First Amendment does not protect humanitarian groups or others who advise foreign terrorist organizations, even if the support is aimed at legal activities or peaceful settlement of dispute”:

In a case that weighed free speech against national security, the court voted 6 to 3 to uphold a federal law banning “material support” to foreign terrorist organizations. That ban holds, the court said, even when the offerings are not money or weapons but things such as “expert advice or assistance” or “training” intended to instruct in international law or appeals to the United Nations.

Over to you, Attorney General Holder.