The State Department has asked for a delay in a lawsuit brought by the Iranian dissident group MEK (Mujahdeen-e Khalq) that would compel the State Department to remove MEK from the terror watch list in 30 days. After talking to former Brigadier General David Phillips, the highest ranking American armed forces representative at Camp Ashraf from 2003-2009, and Shariar Kia, a MEK representative at Camp Ashraf, I am wondering why.
Kia, who attended University of North Texas, said, "We want to stay at Ashraf. The Americans want us to Camp Liberty, which is a prison. How do we know that the Iraqis will not kill us like they did in 2009 and 2011? Our members that are handicapped and disabled have made a video saying how fearful of the move they are. They do not know how they will cope."
Phillips assured me, "I found no evidence that they were terrorists. I conducted many midnight raids looking for weapons and found nothing. While MEK was terrorist organization in the seventies, the majority the MEK members at Ashraf are under 30. They were not even born when the terrorism occurred."
He explained why the MEK does not leave Ashraf for Camp Liberty. He said, "Ashraf is Disneyland. The MEK have built the camp into a paradise. There are 25 foot vines of roses, mini Eiffel Towers. Camp Liberty is a prison. They will be cut off from all communication. They will have no cell phones or internet. Without any form of communication with the outside world, they fear what the Iraqis will do."
In 2005, he wrote a letter, which probably cost him a promotion, to human rights organizations criticizing their characterization of the MEK as a cult. The former general when challenged on Saturday did not rule out the possibility that they were a cult.
"There are cultish parallels," he said. I was in Waco, Texas with the Branch Davidians. Maryam Rajavi is no David Koresh or Jim Jones."
He continued, "There are separate female and male units. Members, who wear uniform like clothes, are married to the cause not each other," Phillips said. "One of the leaders, Oxford educated Hossein, told me that his wife was at the camp but he did not see her for two years."
He conceded that members would have no trouble dying for the cause- either fighting the Iranian regime or by suicide.
"All of the leaders wear a black leather strap around their necks that holds a square poach. Inside the pouch, there is a black rubber capsule that contains an off white powder that is cyanide," he said. The powder is enough to kill three people. I have asked them about it. They feel they will be tortured for information and then killed so it is better just to die and not give up the information. I do not see this as a mass suicide like Jim Jones in Guyana."
The general, who was in Germany when the wall came down, insists, "They are a democracy. Maybe, not an American style democracy. I watched them hold elections and elect leaders at Ashraf. Their beginnings were Marxist. They have more of a Communist way of doing things."
Most of the senior leaders are women, which is atypical for the Middle East. Phillips believes that the MEK would be preferable to the current Iranian regime.
Phillips also dispute the wide spread allegation that the MEK holds members against their will. "They may not be happy that members leave. Neither is the army for that matter," said the general. "I have watched them escorted members that are leaving to the camp's entrance. They leave with two suitcases and are given $200 American dollars and some Iraqi dinar."
Retired from the army, Phillips spends time advocating for the MEK. When asked why, he said, "The American Government made a promise, which I was part of, to protect the MEK. I want the government to keep that promise. The world will not be safe for marines like my son if we do not keep the promises we negotiate."