Court orders State Department to review ruling on alleged terror group
A federal appeals court on Friday ordered the State Department to review its designation of the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran as a foreign terrorist organization, strongly suggesting the designation should be revoked.
The ruling by the three-judge panel hands yet another foreign-policy hot potato to the Obama administration. The PMOI, also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, has for years fought its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, contending that it was only placed on the list in 1997 by the Clinton administration to curry favor with the Iranian government, which views the group as a threat. The 22-page ruling said that the group's due process protections were violated because the State Department did not give it a chance to rebut unclassified information used to justify the designation.
The current designation was reaffirmed by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in January, 2009, in one her last acts, even though the State's top counterterrorism official at the time, Dell L. Dailey, had pushed to delist the People's Mujahedeen.
The group's cause has also been taken up by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), the chairman of a terrorism panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I have difficulty understanding what has the MEK done, anything remotely, in recent times, that causes the MEK to be on that list," he said in June.
The group has argued it has ceased its military campaign against the Iranian government in 2001, voluntarily handed over its arms to U.S. forces in 2003 and provided a flood of information to U.S. intelligence about Iran's nuclear programs. It has also convinced the United Kingdom and the European Union to delist it as a terror group.
But State rejected its efforts, largely on the basis of classified information.
During the court proceedings, some of that information was declassified. State asserted that the group has not ended its military operations, still intends to use violence to achieve its political goals, has trained females to be suicide bombers and that much of the information it has provided on Iran's nuclear program has been wrong. But the court cast doubt on some of these assertions and said the group now must be given the opportunity to rebut these charges.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, a former spokesman for the group, said "this is a great opportunity for Secretary [Hillary Rodham] Clinton to correct a wrong. She would have the backing of Congress."
The State Department said it would study the opinion "carefully" and noted it continues to view the group as a terrorist organization.
| July 16, 2010; 5:28 PM ET
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