Wednesday, former US Senator Joe Lieberman declared, "I will just say briefly that the very fact of this hearing is important today because the greatest because the greatest enemy of the people in Camp Liberty is invisibility."
What was he talking about?
The Ashraf community.
Background: As of September 2013, Camp Ashraf in Iraq is empty. All remaining members of the community have been moved to Camp Hurriya (also known as Camp Liberty). Camp Ashraf housed a group of Iranian dissidents who were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. This is key and demands the US defend the Ashraf community in Iraq from attacks. The Bully Boy Bush administration grasped that -- they were ignorant of every other law on the books but they grasped that one. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp repeatedly attacked after Barack Obama was sworn in as US President. 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." Those weren't the last attacks. They were the last attacks while the residents were labeled as terrorists by the US State Dept. (September 28, 2012, the designation was changed.) In spite of this labeling, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions." So the US has an obligation to protect the residents. 3,300 are no longer at Camp Ashraf. They have moved to Camp Hurriyah for the most part. A tiny number has received asylum in other countries. Approximately 100 were still at Camp Ashraf when it was attacked Sunday. That was the second attack this year alone. February 9th of 2013, the Ashraf residents were again attacked, this time the ones who had been relocated to Camp Hurriyah. Trend News Agency counted 10 dead and over one hundred injured. Prensa Latina reported, " A rain of self-propelled Katyusha missiles hit a provisional camp of Iraqi opposition Mujahedin-e Khalk, an organization Tehran calls terrorists, causing seven fatalities plus 50 wounded, according to an Iraqi official release." They were attacked again September 1, 2013 -- two years ago. Adam Schreck (AP) reported back then that the United Nations was able to confirm the deaths of 52 Ashraf residents.
Those in Iraq remain persecuted.
Lieberman was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday (we covered part of the hearing in the Wednesday's Iraq snapshot). Senator John McCain is the Chair of the Committee, Senator Jack Reed is the Ranking Member. Lieberman was one of three witnesses appearing before the Committee. The other two were retired US Gen James Jones and retired US Colonel Wesley Martin.
The topic was the Ashraf community still trapped in Iraq at Camp Liberty.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: [. . . ] and to our witnesses for testifying to what I also believe is a travesty and that we have not lived up to the commitments that we have made to the people who are now at Camp Liberty. I was in Iraq back in 2009 and we heard about this issue. And I've had a chance to see the video -- a video of one of the attacks on Camp Liberty and the people being murdered. So I think it's an area where we need to do much more to address what has happened there. And I don't understand why people who have relatives here are not able to come and join their relatives and be resettled in America. So I guess I appreciate that I'm asking you all for a subjective analysis of why the resettlement has been so slow. But is it just beauractric foot dragging? Is it because it has not risen to the level of some of the people at State who can make it happen to put pressure on Iraq to release the residents of Camp Liberty? Or is there something else going on? And General Jones or Senator Lieberman, I don't know if either of you have a perspective on that?
General James Jones: Senator, I don't know the answer to that. All I know is that for the last several years, things that look like they're finally going to move are replaced by another obstacle. The-the delisting of the MEK [a decision then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made under pressure from the US courts] would be the end of it but it was replaced by another listing [a designation by the Dept of Homeland Security classifying the MEK as "third tier" -- a listing that is in violation of the court order served on then Secretary of State Clinton] -- that was, somewhat, in my view arbitrary. But it has served to delay the process even more. I don't think the Iraqi government has been particularly helpful. They-they play cat and mouse with the residents. Sometimes they deny food, they deny protection, they turn off the water, they don't take out the trash or garbage for days on end. It's just a constant problem. But I really think that the real answer is for someone in authority to just make a decision, "Enough, we're going to do the right thing. We made a commitment to these people. We didn't live up to it. It's time to finish it." And I think it's that simple. It's a humanitarian gesture. I frankly don't care what the Iranians think about this. I think it's the right thing to do.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: Senator Lieberman, one of the things I have heard from relatives of people at Camp Liberty that they're very concerned about is this requirement that they renounce MEK and concerned about what that might mean in the future and if somebody could use that and come back to address their ability to come back and live in the United States? I've not had anybody explain that to me adequately why that is something people are being requested to do. Have you had anybody explain to you why that's so important?
Senator Joe Lieberman: I have not. First, Senator Shaheen, let me thank you for the leadership that you've shown on this matter. You've been a real great advocate for the people in Camp Liberty and I know their families and friends appreciate it a lot. This requirement of renouncing membership in an organization that is no longer considered a threat or a terrorist organization by any means -- and really there are questions of whether it should ever have been on the list of terrorist organizations seems to me to be very unAmerican. It's like a -- it's a belief test. It seems contrary to the First Amendment. And the truth is that there are a lot of people there in Camp Liberty who've had a long history with the MEK. As I mentioned, they're-they're freedom fighters. I mean, they were against the Shah [of Iran] for part of the revolution and then they turned against the Ayatollah because they replaced one dictatorship with a worse dictatorship. So I have never -- to what extent members of Congress can to push the State Dept to explain that or really to rescind that because it's an unfair obstacle and you've made a good point: It's going to raise insecurity in the minds of people coming into the country that somehow this is going to come back three, four, five years from now and they may be subject to deportation. I-I would say to you, Senator King, the State Dept if they were here now would not question the promises made to the residents of Camp Ashraf and then Camp Liberty.
Lieberman was referring to an earlier and lengthy exchange that took place which included King noting that no one from the administration was present to testify.
Senator Angus King: Several times you gentlemen used the term "the US made assurances," the term "solemn promise,""guarantee," and Col Martin, you mentioned a card. What did that card say? I'd like to know specifically: what assurances were delivered, by whom and when?
Colonel Wesley Martin: Yes, sir. This was the protected persons status under the Geneva Convention. And I have a copy of it. If you give me a second, I can find it real quick.
Senator Angus King: Well I'd like to know what is says.
Colonel Wesley Martin: Okay.
Senator Angus King: What I'm searching for here is what are the assurances specifically and who delivered them and when. I think that's a fair question given that seems to be the premise of this discussion.
Colonel Wesley Martin: "This card holder is protected person under the agreement of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Should the assigned person" uh, it's a little blurry "should an incident occur, we request that the person contact the [US] military police brigade." And then it goes on the agreement that they made: "You are being offered your release from control and protection in exchange for your promise to comply with certain regulations." And it clearly states they are protected, they will not be -- they will not be arrested, they will not be harmed.
Senator Angus King: What did they have to do?
Colonel Wesley Martin: And what they had to do, sir, is go ahead and sign an agreement --
Senator Angus King: That's when they were moved from Ashraf to Liberty?
Colonel Wesley Martin: No, sir. That was a whole set of different promises. If I may, sir, Senator McCain, [holding clipped stack of papers], if I could, I'd like to make this submitted for the record.
Senator Angus King: Well you can make it for the record but I want to know who made assurances --
Colonel Wesley Martin: Yes, sir.
Senator Angus King (Con't): -- and what those assurances were. And saying they were protected person under the Geneva Convention isn't a promise that the US will take you in. I just want to understand what the promise is that we're being urged to honor.
Colonel Wesley Martin: Yes, sir. I understand. The first one is they would be protected and they would remain at Camp Ashraf. That was 2004. That was with the US State Dept in agreement with the United States Dept of Defense and [then-Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was the person that finally approved it -- but working with the State Dept. The person that issued those cards, working with the Embassy, was US Brigadier General David Phillips --
Senator Angus King: But it is your position that this Geneva Convention of being a protected person constitutes a solemn promise of the United States to look after these people indefinitely?
Senator Joe Lieberman: Part of this was -- correct me, Wes -- that these people gave up their arms. They were disarmed. And that was part of a post-Saddam [Hussein] policy in Iraq. Gen Odierno was actually involved in some ways -- not at the higher level he ultimately reached -- but he was on the ground in these negotiations. I'll tell you, Senator King, to me one of the most compelling -- I've had it happen two or three times -- most compelling moments in my own understanding -- or getting more understanding of what happened here was to hear leaders of the US military -- including Gen Phillips, but that includes people on up who were Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time standing up and saying at a public meeting, 'We made a promise to these people and we broke it.' I mean --
Senator Angus King: Well all I'm looking for was what was the promise, when was it made and who made it? Perhaps you could submit that for the record? That's what I'm interested in.
Colonel Wesley Martin: We can do that, sir.
Senator Angus King: I'd appreciate it.
Colonel Wesley Martin: And matter of fact, I just did.
Senator Angus King: The other -- the other piece that I want to follow up on is that I'm a little uncomfortable with this hearing because we don't have anyone here from the administration. I'm old enough to realize that they're are always two sides to every story and you've made a very strong case. In fact, the case is so strong, you have to wonder why isn't this -- what wasn't this taken care of some time ago? And there must be some reason and I would like to hear -- perhaps, Mr. Chairman, we could solicit the comments of the administration, the State Dept or the Dept of Homeland Security to determine why this hasn't been dealt with? I'm just -- Again, I'm not taking any side here but I-I-I'm uncomfortable not hearing both sides of the situation.
Colonel Wesley Martin: Yes, sir. If I may, Congressman Dana Roehbacher offered them the chance of what you speak of. I would be at the table along with Colonel Gary Marsh and a representative of the State Dept. They refused. I would love to sit at a table in front of you ladies and gentlemen and go through the issues with the US State Dept. Every time we have made that offer, they've refused. Earlier your question was the promises, the series of promises, especially in 2012 from [Secretary of State's Special Advisor on Camp Ashraf] Dan Fried that these actions would be taken to get them out of harms way. He came to us. And General Jones was on the phone calls as well as myself, [former FIB Director] Louis Freeh, [former Pennsylvania] Governor [Tom] Ridge, [former Governor of Pennsylvania] Ed Rendall, [former Governor of Vermont] Howard Dean and many others -- and [retired General and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Hugh Shelton and others actually. And 'we will do this, we will do this.' And even one of the promises: "We're going to be out at that Camp on a continual basis." And I have that one in writing in this packet.
Senator Angus King: Well I understand. And I understand that the circumstances have changed because of Iran's influence in Iraq at this moment and that that raises the level of, as you said, stress in this situation and, perhaps, urgency. I fully understand that. I just want to get some of the details and some of the background. And I want to understand why -- if it's so obvious -- we should do this that it's not being done.
King's time had run out. Committee Chair McCain attempted to clarify a point.
Chair John McCain: I will just mention, Senator, that we have been trying for years to get the State Dept to react -- correspondence, meetings -- every method that I know of besides a Congressional hearing -- to try to get this issue resolved and these people who are now in greater and greater danger what we promised them. And, I've got to say Colonel Martin, you didn't exactly describe it. That was in return for -- That guarantee was in return for their giving up their weapons and in giving up their weapons we said we would guarantee their safety and gave them, under the Geneva Conventions. But that doesn't mean anything other than that the United States used that as a rationale for guaranteeing their protection. And it's been going on now for years and -- Go ahead, General, go ahead, please.
Gen James Jones: I just wanted to say that we have worked diligently with the administration on a regular basis, on a daily basis. All of Colonel Martin's reports have been sent both to the National Security Council and the State Dept. And there are three of us at the table but it's part of a larger group including six former Ambassadors, a former Director of the FBI, a former Attorney General, 8 five-star generals, one former Speaker of the House, four former governors, six members of Congress, one White House Chief of Staff,
Some may have been bothered by McCain's clarification/lecture. But at least it wasn't like his September 29th outburst during an Armed Services Committee hearing when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was not prepared to get too outraged (publicly, anyway) over cyber propaganda aimed at US (or 'US' -- most are offshore) companies when the US is doing the exact same thing. This prompted a loud lecture from McCain that "glass houses" is not an argument for doing nothing. (Which, for the record, is not the point Clapper was making. He was attempting to say both sides engage in corporate espionage and he wasn't willing to grandstand on the topic as a result.)
One of the moments from the hearing that should especially be noted?
Colonel Wesley Martin: [Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-]Abadi, as I mentioned before, is very weak. And this is a golden opportunity for the United States to pressure him into allowing the residents to leave and for us to bring all the residents here. As I mentioned, there are enough families throughout the United States, we can absorb all of them. And when you think of all the torment and all the horror they have had to go through for the past three, four years especially -- well since 2009 -- and yet they still remain loyal hoping that we will be able to do something to lift them out of that tyranny. It's time to bring them out. And it's only a matter of time before the fight between [former Iraqi prime minister and forever thug Nouri al-]Maliki and al-Abadi is going to come to a head. And I fear Maliki has the strong support of the militias, Abadi will be out.
On the struggle between Haider and Nouri, J. Matthew McInnis (National Interest) offered this near the end of last month:
Following Abadi’s August 9 decision to eliminate Nouri al-Maliki’s position as vice president (which still needs judicial approval), Maliki made a well-publicized visit to Iran, meeting with Supreme Leader Khamenei’s senior foreign policy advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati and other Iranian officials. The prime minister is rightly worried that Tehran is plotting a Maliki restoration, perhaps by using the Iranian-aligned Iraqi Shia militia groups under Soleimani, such as Khataib Hezbollah, that are deepening their grip on large parts of the Iraqi’s security forces amidst the government’s campaign against ISIS.
The violence never ends in Iraq.
In addition, AP reports that a Husseiniya car bombing left 8 people dead and "nearly two dozen" injured. Isabel Coles (Reuters) notes 3 people are dead in the third day of protests in the Kurdistan Region which also saw "several offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)" torched.
The KDP and Goran (Change) are the two main political parties in Iraq following the last KRG elections. The once might Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has slid to three. That slide may be why the PUK is making statements that seemed time to inflame the outrage (which is over the lack of payment of government employees -- as a result of Baghdad continuing to withhold the KRG's percentage of the national budget). All Iraq News reports that PUK MP Farhad Qadir is insisting that the issue of who will be president of the Kurdistan Regional Government has been blocked by the KDP.
Not all protests have turned violent. Outside of the KRG, the Friday protests continued.