Saturday, February 09, 2013

Camp Ashraf: The US failure

The number killed and wounded vary but all outlets are reporting on an attack on the former residents of Camp Ashraf.  Trend News Agency says 10 dead and over one hundred injured.  Prensa Latina reports, " 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." Who are these people targeted?

Approximately 3,400 people were at Camp Ashraf when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.  They were Iranian dissidents who were given asylum by Saddam Hussein decades ago.  The US government authorized the US military to negotiate with the residents.  The US military was able to get the residents to agree to disarm and they became protected persons under Geneva and under international law.

Despite that legal status and the the legal obligation on the part of the US government to protect the residents, since Barack Obama was 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."

Under court ordrer, the US State Dept evaluated their decision to place the MEK on the terrorist list and, September 28th, they issued the following.

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
September 28, 2012
The Secretary of State has decided, consistent with the law, to revoke the designation of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and its aliases as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under the Immigration and Nationality Act and to delist the MEK as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. These actions are effective today. Property and interests in property in the United States or within the possession or control of U.S. persons will no longer be blocked, and U.S. entities may engage in transactions with the MEK without obtaining a license. These actions will be published in the Federal Register.
With today's actions, the Department does not overlook or forget the MEK's past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992. The Department also has serious concerns about the MEK as an organization, particularly with regard to allegations of abuse committed against its own members.
The Secretary's decision today took into account the MEK's public renunciation of violence, the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the MEK for more than a decade, and their cooperation in the peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf, their historic paramilitary base.
The United States has consistently maintained a humanitarian interest in seeking the safe, secure, and humane resolution of the situation at Camp Ashraf, as well as in supporting the United Nations-led efforts to relocate eligible former Ashraf residents outside of Iraq.

CNN notes of today's assault, "The rocket and mortar attack occurred at Camp Hurriya, a onetime U.S. base formerly known as Camp Liberty, which is now the home of the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e-Khalq. Accounts of the number of people killed and wounded in the attack vary."

The National Council of Resistance of Iran released the following this afternoon:

Mrs. Maryam Rajavi called on the US President and the UN Secretary General to immediately return the residents to Ashraf
At 05:45 this morning, local time, camp Liberty was attacked with missiles and mortars. Until now 6 residents including a woman were martyred and more than 50 people injured. The injured are at critical condition and the number of martyrs may rise. One of the 6 residents died two hours after the attack due to delay in transfer to hospital. The names of martyrs are: Pouran Najafi, Yahya Nazari, Akbar Azizi, Mostafa Khosravi, Mehdi Abed and Hadi Shafiei. Aid and ambulances for transfer of injured were not available in the early hours of the attack. The generator of Iraqi Clinique was also hit and is not functioning and the electricity has been cut off. Iraq’s prime ministry has ordered the Iraqi forces to prevent transfer of injured to hospitals with few vehicles which the residents had brought to Liberty from Ashraf.
During the past year, despite residents’ insistence and frequent approach to the US and UN officials, the government of Iraq cruelly prevented transfer of residents’ medical equipment from Ashraf to Liberty.  

Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) has a video report here.  She speaks with the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, who states, "We want to avoid bloodshed and that's why we entered into the agreement with the government of Iraq -- because there was immediate violence in December 2011.  That's why I'm so shocked what happened today because these people have to be protected."  The United Nations News Centre noted:

Camp residents were previously situated at Camp Ashraf in eastern Iraq, but were relocated last year, in line with an agreement signed in December 2011 between the UN and the Iraqi Government.
“The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Iraq, which is responsible for the safety and security of residents of both Camp Liberty and Camp Ashraf, to promptly and fully investigate the incident and bring perpetrators to justice,” said Mr. Ban's spokesperson in a statement. “He has repeatedly stated that violence and provocation are unacceptable.”
Mr. Ban also reiterated the UN's strong commitment to continue its long-standing efforts to facilitate a peaceful and durable solution for residents of both camps.
The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, expressed his shock about the attack calling it “a despicable act of violence.”
“I call on the Iraqi Government to do everything it can to guarantee security to the residents,” he said. “The perpetrators must be found and brought to justice without delay.”
In a news release, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said it is closely liaising with the Government on the response to the incident, including medical assistance to the wounded.

Press TV notes, "The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that Camp Liberty should be used as a transit center for the MKO members to other countries." And here's the UNHCR press release on that:

UNHCR Chief Guterres strongly condemns deadly attack on Camp Liberty in Iraq
9 February 2013 The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres expresses his shock about this morning's mortar attack on Camp Liberty in Iraq that reportedly killed six and wounded dozens.
"I strongly condemn this attack," Mr. Guterres said, noting that the residents of Camp Liberty are asylum seekers undergoing the refugee status determination process and thus entitled to international protection. "This is a despicable act of violence."
"I call on the Iraqi Government to do everything it can to guarantee security to the residents," he said. "The perpetrators must be found and brought to justice without delay," he said.
The High Commissioner also calls on all countries to help find urgent solutions for the Camp Liberty residents.
Mr. Guterres expresses his deep condolences to the families of the victims.

Al Jazeera notes that the spokesperson for the European Union has conveyed condemnation for the attack from High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

So the United Nations, the European Union . . . Where's the US government?

See, this is why 60 Minutes and others shouldn't do puff pieces.  Secretary of State was Hillary Clinton.  At least 50% of her job was restoring confidence in the State Dept internally.  Starting with Colin Powell's lies, morale at the State Dept took a deep hit and needed to be restored.  They needed someone who could restore the image and Hillary did that.  She was a political star and she deserves credit for using all of that star power to boost morale and to give the Dept meaning internally.  That's why John Kerry is the perfect choice to replace her.  He has the tools to build on the restoration she's done.  He lacks her star power but so does pretty much everyone else.  He does have stature himself, significant stature, and he's known for being methodical.  So he will hopefully do a wonderful job of picking up the baton and moving forward on that topic.

But 50% of a job isn't a job.  In other areas, Hillary didn't do so well.

That does include Camp Ashraf.  She dragged her feet and ignored a court order.  Yes, with the approval of the White House but I'm not evaluating them right now, I'm evaluating Hillary.  Over a year passed and the courts had to give her another deadline.  This one she managed.  October 1, 2012 was the new deadline.  As we've noted above, September 28th, three days before the deadline, the State Dept finally acted.

Apparently the foot dragging on that was not followed by quick action.  As Jane Arraf notes in her report, there's very little effort to welcome the Ashraf residents around the world.  The US government gave the Ashraf residents protected status.  It is incumbent upon the US government to work to arrange visas for these residents.  Some will most likely refuse to leave.  Those who turn down a genuine offer are on their own.  The US government's extension of protected persons status only extends up to the moment that a way out is presented.  If a resident refuses to take the way out, he or she can remain in Iraq where Nouri will most likely deport them to Iran.

The foot dragging by the State Dept and the White House is appalling.  Today, the residents were yet again attacked.  That can't continue to happen.  The residents need to have real offers to leave, real visas.  And after that, the US government is done.  You can't help someone leave if they choose to stay.  You'd think the US government would work quickly on this issue so that they could dispense with their own legal obligations.

And just as I was about to hit "publish" a State Dept friend called to say they had just issued a statement:

Press Statement
Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
February 9, 2013

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the vicious and senseless terrorist attack that took place this morning at Camp Hurriya killing 6 people and injuring dozens more. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and hope for the swift recovery of those who were injured.
We understand the Government of Iraq has undertaken to promptly investigate the attack. We call on it to earnestly and fully carry out that investigation and to take all appropriate measures to enhance the security of the camp consistent with its commitment and obligation to the safety and security of the camp's residents. The terrorists responsible for this attack must be brought to justice.
We are consulting with the Government of Iraq and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) on the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, and we remain committed to assisting the Government of Iraq and UNAMI in their efforts to implement the December 25, 2011 agreement.

You can file it under "better late the never" or you can keep it in the folder marked "foot dragging."

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