Thursday, August 02, 2012

Now the administration is concerned about Camp Ashraf -- now?

 As noted yesterday, suddenly the US State Dept is concerned about the treatment of the residents of Camp Ashraf?

Since Barack Obama has been sworn in as US president, Nouri has ordered not one but two attacks on Camp Ashraf resulting in multiple deaths.  Let's recap.  July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."

But now the US is concerned?

Camp Ashraf has housed Iranian dissidents for some time.  They were first welcomed into Iraq by Saddam Hussein decades ago.  When the US installed Nouri al-Maliki into power, they installed a powerful advocate of the Iranian government.  (In addition to Nouri's close ties to Iran today, he also sought refuge in Iran when he was competing in the Chicken Run From Iraq -- a competition that many of the current, US-installed leaders took part in.)

In that role, Nouri has talked tough on Ashraf, coming off belligerant and bellicose.  The US could have made efforts to lower the volume and drop the rhetoric but State Dept spokeswoman Victoria Nuland doesn't know how to do that.  Not surprising since she her most prominent experience is probably still serving as Dick Cheney's Principal Deputy National Security Adviser in the previous administration.   That's how it goes in Hopey Changey Barack Land.  He bloviates about how he was right on Iraq (he wasn't, he disowned his 2002 speech against the war -- a minor speech before the Iraq War started -- in time for the 2004 DNC convention in Boston) but ensures that all the whores who sold war continue to have jobs.  Victoria is, of course, not just Dick Cheney's Rose Mary Woods.  She's also the wife of noted neocon and Iraq War Hawk Robert Kagan.  That she is the media voice for 'diplomacy' in his administration tells you everything you need to know about where Barack truly stands on war.

And where he truly stands on the law.  Camp Ashraf was an armed camp when the US government started the war on Iraq.  The US government wanted them to disarm and authorized the US military to enter into talks.  The residents did disarm and they received protected persons status.  Even the notoriously ignorant of international law Bush administration grasped that.  But our 'Constitutional law professor' neither grasps nor honors it.

Camp Ashraf residents numbered approximately 3,500.  Approximately 2,000 of them have been moved to Camp Liberty (a former US military base whose conditions remain in dispute).  Omar Karmi (The National) noted, "Nearly 2,000 members of MEK have relocated from the land they were granted by Saddam Hussein in 1986 at Camp Ashraf in north-west Iraq to Camp Hurriya, a former US military base on the outskirts of Baghdad."  For various reasons, the remaining residents are not moving.

Yesterday acting deputy spokesperson for the US State Dept's Office of Press Relations Patrick Ventreell issued a statement (quoted in full in yesterday's snapshot) noting the US government's (newly found) 'concern' that Nouri al-Maliki's government is stating it will close Camp Ashraf and proceed with the "involuntary relocation of its residents."

Ventreell insisted that Camp Liberty has humane conditions but there are many who dispute this and, in fact, the UN has not certified it as such for a long term camp.  It only meets their criteria for a temporary way station.  Remember that point.  Here's Ventrell:

The process established by the MOU has resulted in the safe relocation of nearly 2,000 residents from Camp Ashraf, almost two-thirds of its estimated population. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq's (UNAMI) "Roadmap" provides a peaceful way forward for Ashraf's closure, and the United States urges adherence to this process to finally and peacefully close Camp Ashraf. Ashraf's closure will allow UNAMI, the United States, and our partners to focus attention and efforts on a durable solution for the residents' relocation outside of Iraq.

 "MOU" is "Memorandum Of Understanding" (between the UN and Nouri's government) and it has not "resulted in the safe relocation of nearly 2,000 residents."  That's a lie.  It's August.  Those relocations took place months ago.


The residents of Camp Ashraf have a number of objections to Camp Liberty.  Setting aside whether those objections are valid or not (I think a strong case can be made that the bulk of the objections are valid -- for more on that, you can refer to this press release on the topic from the European Parliament), Camp Liberty is not being used as it is supposed to be.  Camp Liberty is not supposed to be New Ashraf.  It is supposed to be, in effect, a bus depot, an airline terminal.  These residents are supposed to be leaving Iraq.  But that is not happening.  Instead they are forced to pack up their items that they are allowed to take (a small number) at Camp Ashraf and then move to Camp Liberty where they wait and wait and wait.

Why have the 1,400 not been relocated outside of Iraq?  Why do they wait and wait and wait at Camp Liberty?

In part because the State Dept has blown off a federal court order for two years now that they re-evaluate the classification of the MEK as a terrorist group. (The State Dept lost -- yet again -- another legal round last spring and are now ordered to review the classification by October.  Whether that will happen or not is debatable.)   The MEK is a larger group of Iranian dissidents.  They didn't have to be conflated with Camp Ashraf residents but the administration has refused to draw a line between the two.  As such, many countries who don't consider the MEK terrorists still won't take the Camp Ashraf residents as a result of the fact that the US government has them on a terrorist list.

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council last month, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler noted Camp Ashraf.

UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Finally, Mr. President, I still remain very concerned by the lack of progress in resolving the issue of Camp Ashraf. 2,000 residents of Camp Ashraf have relocated to Camp Hurriyah [Liberty] in the last months.  Approximately 1,200 remain in Camp Ashraf.  The several deadlines set by the government of Iraq have been extended. I thank the government of Iraq for their flexibility in this regard and I appeal to the Iraqi authorities to continue the process to resolve the relocation peacefully. Our commitment is strictly humanitarian, to facilitate a voluntary, temporary relocation of residents to Camp Hurriyah as the first step of resettlement to countries outside of Iraq; however, the success of a facilitator depends at least on good will. Their can be no facilitation without constructive and practical dialogue.  We are faced with three main challenges.  First, recent weeks have witnessed difficulties in maintaining dialogue between UNAMI and the residents and between the residents and the government of Iraq reinforcing a perception that the residents lack genuine will to participate in the process faciliated by UNAMI.  Second, responsibility also falls on the many international supporters.  It is of great importance that they contribute to positively influence the residents' position.  And third, to  date almost no member-state has stepped forward to offer resettlement to eligible, former Ashraf residents.  There must be a way out of Hurriyah in the foreseeable future.  Without prospect for resettlement, the ongoing process runs the risk of collapsing.  The temporary transit location at Camp Hurriyah has the capacity to accommodate the remaining 1,200 residents and meets acceptable humanitarian standards.  Both UNAMI and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] have devoted substantial energy and resources to resolving this issue.  More than 100 staff are dedicated to the project in the meantime.  I appeal to the government of Iraq to be generous -- particularly in terms of humanitarian needs like water and electricity and to avoid violence under any circumstances.  I also appeal to camp residents to abide by Iraqi laws and avoid provocation and violence.  Time is running out to find a sustainable solution.  The government's patience is wearing thin. I would therefore like to echo the Secretary-General and urge Camp Ashraf residents to cooperate with the Iraqi authorities and to relocate from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriyah.  It is also imperative that third countries step forward to accept eligible residents for resettlement as soon as possible without which there can be no durable solution. 

If time is running out, why haven't the 1,200 at Camp Liberty been resettled?  "Almost no member state," Kobler declared, "has stepped forward to offer resettlement."  Why?

And why rush to get the other 2,000 to Camp Liberty if, like the current 1,400, they're just going to wait there and wait and wait and wait . . .

Until resettlement begins, the residents are just being rounded up into a new pen.  It's a pity the US government has shown no concern about that.

The following community sites -- plus, Adam Kokesh, Pacifica Evening News, Cindy Sheehan, KPFK and The Diane Rehm Show -- updated last night and this morning:

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