On Thursday they were terrorists; on Friday they weren't

As of last Friday, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a formerly violent Iranian opposition group ‎once ‎allied with Saddam Hussein, no longer appears on the State Department's list of "foreign ‎terrorist ‎organizations" (FTOs).

The delisting comes after years of lobbying, assisted by ‎prominent political ‎figures, and legal wrangling, culminating in an appeals court ruling ordering ‎Secretary of State Hillary ‎Clinton to act on the MEK's petition by Monday. Clinton's decision ‎probably means the MEK's ‎supporters, who include former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, ‎former New York Mayor Rudy ‎Giuliani, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, do not need ‎to worry about being charged with ‎providing "material support" to an FTO by helping the group ‎shed that label. Theoretically, however, ‎they could still be prosecuted if it can be shown that they ‎‎"coordinated" their advocacy with the MEK ‎prior to Friday.‎

Over at Popehat, Los Angeles attorney Ken White, a former federal prosecutor, recalls that in ‎‏1999‏‎ he ‎helped convict a man "for helping terrorists who now aren't terrorists." The defendant ‎helped MEK ‎members "secure legal residence in the United States through various forms of ‎fraud, including ‎fraudulent asylum applications." In addition to immigration fraud, his actions ‎qualified as providing ‎material support to an FTO—possibly the first conviction under that ‎provision, White says. Looking ‎back, he is ambivalent about his role in the case, recognizing the ‎political considerations that ‎determine which groups count as FTOs:‎

The six people the MEK killed in the ‎‏1970‏s are still dead. They were dead when the State ‎Department ‎designated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization and they have been dead all ‎the years since and ‎they won't get any less dead when the State Department removes the MEK ‎from its FTO list. The MEK ‎is the organization that once allied with Saddam Hussein; that ‎historical fact hasn't changed, although ‎its political significance has. No — what has changed is ‎the MEK's political power and influence and the ‎attitude of our government towards it.‎

More generally, White says, the MEK's delisting shows how arbitrary the contours of the War on ‎Terror ‎are:‎

The scope of the War on Terror — the very identity of the Terror we fight — is a subjective ‎matter in ‎the discretion of the government. The compelling need the government cites to do ‎whatever it wants ‎is itself defined by the government.‎

The definition of the enemy then determines not only who can be charged with violating the ban ‎on ‎material support but who can be subject to warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention, and ‎‎summary execution by drone. But don't worry: The Obama administration is providing all the ‎process it ‎believes is due.‎