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The Ghosts of MEK Past: Hillary’s Forgotten Death Toll

A tense moment ensued as Hillary Clinton spoke at a Las Vegas rally August 4th. Secret service agents rushed on stage as animal rights activists tried doing the same. After regaining her composure, Clinton said, “apparently these people are here to protest Trump because Trump and his kids killed a lot of animals, so thank you for making that point.”

It was an interesting observation from a woman responsible for “a lot of” human deaths (beyond the Benghazi four), occurring during her term as Secretary of State, that seem to have been forgotten.

Among those who have suffered greatly since the 2003 invasion of Iraq is an Iranian opposition group: the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). After MEK was kicked out of France in 1986, Saddam Hussein invited members to Iraq as they were just as opposed as was he to Tehran’s mullahs. MEK even supported Iraq during its eight-year war (1980-1988) with Iran, earning the contempt of Iran’s leadership.

For this reason, when the U.S. held secret talks with Tehran to secure a tacit non-interference agreement prior to invading Iraq, the mullahs desperately wanted the U.S. to disarm MEK and turn its leaders over to them.

The MEK occupied Camp Ashraf in northeast Iraq on the border with Iran. The camp sought a truce with invading U.S. forces—quickly surrendering to demonstrate it was friend, not foe. As such, it gained the status in 2004 of “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions.

Such status was controversial, as MEK was on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list at the time. Although it had not engaged in violent actions against the U.S. since before the fall of the Shah in 1979, the MEK had been placed on the list in 1997 by President Bill Clinton whose only purpose in doing so was to curry favor with the mullahs.

But with MEK’s protected persons status, the U.S. became responsible for the safety and welfare of Camp Ashraf’s residents. Under President Barack Obama, this obligation continued even after the U.S. force withdrawal from Iraq, beginning in June 2009, was completed on December 31, 2011.

Despite America’s role as MEK’s protector, Iraq’s government—acting as a pro-Iran puppet—allowed and participated in a number of attacks against Camp Ashraf. Hundreds of unarmed MEK residents—men, women and children—have been killed as a result of these attacks.

As MEK fought for its survival in Iraq, the group also fought to be de-listed as an FTO. Not only did Secretary Clinton do little to protect MEK residents from the attacks, she repeatedly opposed its delisting. This was in spite of ample evidence MEK had renounced any terrorist intent. A court order finally forced Clinton to act as a responsible Secretary of State and delist MEK in 2012.

One of Clinton’s last acts before resigning as Secretary of State was a promise to MEK residents, who were being pressured to leave Camp Ashraf and the amenities established there through decades of hard work, for Camp Liberty located outside Baghdad, but lacking most such amenities.

Clinton’s departing promise to the MEK was if they peacefully relocated to Camp Liberty, its 4,000 residents would be processed by the United Nations for resettlement in other countries.

Just like Pontius Pilate who washed his hands of responsibility thus allowing the crucifixion of Jesus, Hillary washed her hands of responsibility for MEK’s safety. By the time she stepped down as Secretary of State in February 2013, hundreds of MEK residents—under the “protected persons” status she was to guarantee them—lay dead.

Today, MEK residents still remain at Camp Liberty where these attacks have continued.

Clinton failed miserably while serving as Secretary of State to protect Camp Liberty’s residents. Her successor, John Kerry, has done no better. MEK dead have continued to mount as he put greater importance on giving Iran a nuclear arsenal than on saving MEK lives. He made no effort as part of that deal to negotiate Tehran’s non-interference with MEK’s resettlement.

Accordingly, it has been left to others to address the unfulfilled U.S. responsibility to protect the remaining MEK members at Camp Liberty. This is to be done—removing them from harm’s way and out of Iran’s reach—by resettlement outside of Iraq.

Earlier this year, Senator John S. McCain (R-Arizona) introduced a bill seeking to move the resettlement process forward.

With the U.S. State Department’s lack of MEK focus, the bill expresses the “sense of Congress on the safe resettlement of Camp Liberty residents.” It seeks to focus the State Department on working with the United Nations and Iraq government to expedite MEK resettlement efforts to Albania—which has agreed to accept the group—and to prevent Iran’s intervention with same.

In a nutshell, McCain’s bill tells State Department to do its job—a job left unfulfilled by Hillary Clinton. U.S. obligations guaranteeing MEK residents protected persons status under the Geneva Conventions following the 2003 invasion of Iraq clearly extend to effecting MEK’s safe passage to a country friendly to their resettlement.

It is unconscionable Obama does everything possible to bring into the U.S. thousands of Syrian refugees—to whom no similar protection guarantee exists from our actions—yet nothing is being done to meet our international obligations to MEK residents who Iran’s mullahs seek to make extinct.

One would think Hillary Clinton would be haunted by the ghosts of MEK residents lost under her leadership. Yet, just as she recently forgot the deaths of four brave Americans in Benghazi (erroneously claiming the U.S. “didn’t lose a single person in Libya”), she undoubtedly forgets about the ghosts of MEK past.

Unsurprisingly, while mocking the Trumps for lives of animals lost on a hunt, Hillary appears unmoved by the toll in human lives her own irresponsible leadership has caused.

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.

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