In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration was unequivocal in its public statements that the upcoming war would be one based on principles; particularly the principle that terrorism against civilians as a tactic and method of warfare is intolerable and that it must be opposed wherever it exists.
In its own definition of the conflict as an amorphous and open-ended “War on Terror”, as opposed to a confrontation between specifically defined groups of belligerents, the Bush administration appeared to draw a clear dividing line with the U.S. on one side and those who perpetrate and support terrorism on the other.
On numerous occasions Bush said so explicitly himself, defining terrorism & its perpetrators as being fundamentally in opposition to the foundational American values of freedom and liberty: “Terrorists are fighting freedom with all their cunning and cruelty because freedom is their greatest fear – and they should be afraid, because freedom is on the march. “
This past week the United States removed the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK/MKO), an organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of people since the 1970’s and implicated in ongoing extrajudicial murders today, from its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.
While the MEK has claimed responsibility for countless terrorist attacks against civilian targets, including the murders of several American civilians, it has managed to extricate itself from its terrorist designation through a multi-million dollar lobbying and PR campaign which paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to individual U.S. politicians to advocate on its behalf.
While an officially designated terrorist organization would normally not be able to so brazenly advocate itself, co-opt the American political system, and literally roam the halls of Congress; the MEK has found itself given a remarkably free hand due to the fact that the prime targets of its terrorism in recent years have been Iranians.
Aside from a history of bombings and chemical weapons attacks against Iranian civilians, the MEK is also believed to be behind an ongoing campaign of assassinations targeting Iranian scientists and university professors suspected of contributing to the country’s nuclear program. A wave of bombing and shooting attacks which commenced in 2010 have resulted in the killing and wounding of several Iranian civilian scientists as well as their families.
In one example, Darioush Rezaei, a 35-year old who held a PhD for his research on neutron transport, was shot to death in front of his daughters’ kindergarten while dropping her off for the day. Regardless of whether one opposes Iran’s nuclear program, and there is certainly an argument to be made that it should be opposed, these tactics against individuals who are clearly civilians is as baldfacedly “terrorist” as they would be if Iran were similarly murdering American scientists and professors in the United States.
By embracing the MEK, a group which lacks any semblance of popular support in Iran, which has been widely described as a “cult” by Human Rights Watch and other international observers, and which is actively engaging in political violence against civilians; the United States is brazenly contradicting its own purported opposition to terrorism as a tactic of warfare.
After making opposition to terror the cornerstone of U.S. policy over the past decade, the act of bringing the MEK into the mainstream as a tool with which to inflict terrorist attacks against Iranians is significant of the intrinsically amoral nature of U.S. policy in the region, regardless of public rhetoric which continues to claim that the war is being fought in defense of American principles.
Indeed it is a cruel irony that the justification for war against Iraq in 2003 was partly based on Saddam Hussein’s support for armed terrorist groups, an argument in which the U.S. government specifically cited the MEK which it said Saddam had employed for “terrorist violence against Iran….and [which] was responsible for killing several U.S. military personnel and civilians”.
By this same logic (the Iraqi government acting as the patron to a terror group) the U.S. should be invading itself today for its support and patronage of this organization. However it would appear that so long as the group is willing to direct its terrorist campaign towards Iran, a campaign which seems to have intensified its brutality in many ways, it will receive the same type of open support from the U.S. which it once enjoyed from Saddam. As such terrorism as a method of warfare would seem to be both acceptable and admirable when directed towards countries the U.S. is in conflict with, while simultaneously being condemnable when directed towards the U.S. itself.
The MEK is not the first or only terrorist group employed by the U.S. and its regional allies. Allegations emerged earlier this year that in separate operations Israeli intelligence officers posing as Americans, as well as Americans themselves, have worked with the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jundallah to co-ordinate attacks against civilians within Iran.
Jundallah is believed to be responsible for suicide bomb attacks that have killed hundreds of Iranians, including particularly heinous attacks over the past several years which have targeted cultural and religious ceremonies and caused widespread and indisciminate loss of life. To give a window into the fanatical depravity this group, in 2009 it conducted a bombing which targeted a mosque on the eve of religious holiday, a target chosen due to their explicit knowledge that family attendance would be highest at that time.
The U.S. has also collaborated closely with Saudi Arabian intelligence services to carry out bombings against civilian targets, including an infamous attack against a Beirut residential area which killed over 60 civilians and wounded hundreds more.
This is brought up not to make the argument that the U.S. and its allies are uniquely malicious in this regard, they’re not, but it is undeniable that they freely and openly engage in the same types of tactics and behaviour for which they deliver moral opprobrium to other states.
Using “patronage of violent terrorists” as a pretext for the invasion of Iraq is shown to be utter cold-blooded cynicism given that the U.S. is willing to act as a patron to the exact same group while it conducts the exact same actions – and it renders the use of the “terrorist” argument to justify action against Iran as both disingenuous and morally vapid.
The decision by the U.S. to embrace terrorist groups such as the MEK is an unfortunate development for all those across the Middle East who continue to view America as a potential beacon of superior moral conduct.
In Iran the MEK is one of the few groups which is actually less popular than the regime due to its terrorist attacks against civilians, cult-like leadership, and past work as a proxy for Saddam Hussein. U.S support for them will have the effect of emboldening their capacity for violence, undermining the democratic opposition movement, and allowing the government to more effectively label all dissidents as traitors. This act also deals a severe blow to hopes for peaceful change within the country and makes a disastrous confrontation between Iran and the United States more likely.
Past U.S. support for Middle Eastern extremist groups such as those who would go on to become the Taliban and al-Qaeda should serve as a cautionary tale – while the MEK may have been able to use political lobbying money to bring itself back into the favour of the U.S. government there is no telling what the long-term blowback will be of association with such a wantonly violent and fanatic group.
A cynical political decision made with short-term interests and monetary incentives in mind has had the effect of undermining the United States moral standing and effectively making it a state sponsor of terrorism.
As advocates of military confrontation with Iran and other states make “support of terrorism” one of their key moral arguments, it is worth remembering that such behaviour today is also being enthusiastically pursued by the United States itself.