Once a terrorist, not always a terrorist

Both Republicans and Democrats have received substantial fees to ‎talk at MEK events, while advocating in Washington on the group’s behalf.‎

On Friday, the State Department removed Iranian exile group MEK (Mujahedin-e-Khalq) from ‎its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Over the weekend, commentators responded to the news ‎with skepticism over the motives, procedures, political maneuvers and payoffs that seem to ‎determine which groups do or do not count as terrorists.‎

MEK, Iranian dissidents who lost a power struggle with Ayatollah Khomenei supporters in the ‎years following the ‎‏1979‏‎ Islamic Revolution, relocated to Iraq and established allegiances with ‎Saddam Hussein. For ‎‏15‏‎ years the group has been listed among foreign terrorist organizations by ‎the State Department. Although considered cultish by many, MEK has preserved and fostered ‎strong U.S. ties, especially among a handful of conservatives, who share the group’s desire to ‎overthrow Iran’s government. Both Republicans and Democrats have received substantial fees to ‎talk at MEK events, while advocating in Washington on the group’s behalf.‎

As Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy noted Monday, there is reason for cynicism about the ‎declassification “after the group [MEK] waged a years-long PR, lobbying, and advertising ‎campaign, paying political VIPs including Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, Tom Ridge, and Ed ‎Rendell tens of thousands of dollars to endorse their cause.” Keating adds, however, that MEK ‎have indeed not carried out a terrorist attack in years, but, going by the language of the Patriot ‎Act alone, many more groups aside from MEK should then be removed from the terrorist list too.‎

Salon’s old friend Glenn Greenwald was less generous than Keating in a Guardian comment ‎piece Sunday. He calls U.S. dealings with MEK a “scam,” which “more vividly illustrates the rot ‎and corruption at the heart of America’s D.C.-based political culture than almost any episode [he] ‎can recall.”‎

In an extensive, important post noting key takeaways from the episode, Greenwald argues:‎

The history of the US list of designated terrorist organizations, and its close cousin list of state ‎sponsors of terrorism, is simple: a country or group goes on the list when they use violence to ‎impede US interests, and they are then taken off the list when they start to use exactly the same ‎violence to advance US interests. The terrorist list is not a list of terrorists; it’s a list of states and ‎groups which use their power to defy US dictates rather than adhere to them.‎

The NYU scholar Remi Brulin has exhaustively detailed the rank game-playing that has taken ‎place with this list: Saddam was put on it when he allied with the Soviets in the early ‎‏1980‏s, then ‎was taken off when the US wanted to arm and fund him against Iran in the mid‏-1980‏s, then he ‎was put back on in the early ‎‏1990‏s when the US wanted to attack him.‎

And now, with the MEK, we have a group that, at least according to some reports, appears to ‎have intensified its terrorism, and yet they are removed from the list. Why? Because now they ‎are aligned against the prime enemy of the US and Israel – and working closely with those two ‎nations – and are therefore, magically, no longer “terrorists.”‎