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Lord Clarke: Ambassador Butler’s Camp Ashraf Plan Is Positively Dangerous

Gen. Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it politely when he asked recently in the context of a conference in Washington about Ambassador Lawrence Butler’s plan for Camp Ashraf, “What is this man drinking?”

The 3,400 women and men of Camp Ashraf, Iraq, are the enemies of Iran’s ayatollahs — the same ayatollahs who fund, train and arm terror groups responsible for the killing of British and U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The political organization to which the people of Ashraf belong, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran or MEK, was the first in 2002 to blow the lid on the ayatollahs’ clandestine nuclear weapons program. As such, Iran’s ayatollahs will do literally anything to wipe out these Iranian dissidents.

In 2004, the most senior U.S. military officials recognized the people of Camp Ashraf as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention and signed agreements with each and every woman and man promising to protect them until such time as their final disposition is determined.

In 2009, reneging on this promise and despite international protest, the State Department acceded to the demands of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (the ayatollah’s man in Iraq) to hand the people of Ashraf to Iraqi forces under his command. It was a scene reminiscent of Dutch forces acceding to the demands of Ratko Mladic to hand over Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica to his Army of Republika Srpska. As in the case of Mladic and the Dutch forces, al-Maliki gave the U.S. assurances that the people of Ashraf would not be harmed. This promise was as hollow as that of Mladic, and the State Department knew it.

Al-Maliki immediately ordered that Camp Ashraf be placed under siege and that nobody be allowed into or out of the camp. U.S. Congressmen and European parliamentarians visiting Iraq have been denied access to the camp, as have journalists, lawyers and relatives of the camp residents.

Shortly after being handed over to al-Maliki’s forces in 2009, and with U.S. military personnel watching, the people of Camp Ashraf came under attack by al-Maliki’s forces, leaving 11 residents dead and more than 500 wounded.

Two years on and the scenes of carnage and pillaging were repeated by al-Maliki’s forces — only this time worse. Thirty-six residents, including eight women, were shot dead or plowed down by military vehicles.

The highly educated and technologically advanced people of Camp Ashraf were able to send footage of the attack around the world through the Internet. The footage was truly horrific. Condemning this attack, the U.N. Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay, called for an investigation into the killings and stated, “There is no possible excuse for this number of casualties.”

Thankfully, Mladic is now in The Hague facing charges of war crimes and al-Maliki is wanted by the courts in Spain for crimes committed in Ashraf. Al-Maliki’s rightful place is in the cell next to Mladic, and hopefully that is where he will end up.

As with their compatriots in Iran, and their fellow pro-democracy protesters across the Arab world, the people of Ashraf have at their disposal technology and the power of the Internet. Using mobile phones, cameras and other sophisticated technology, the people of Ashraf were able within a matter of minutes to communicate through the Internet with the outside world and to tell of the crimes committed against them. The international community was obliged to respond, with widespread condemnation from the U.S. and British governments and others.

It is in these circumstances that Ambassador Butler’s plan to relocate the people of Ashraf to a remote site in Iraq against their will is positively dangerous. The transfer would lead to the breakup of the group and end their ability to communicate with the outside world using technology and the Internet. It would leave the residents at the mercy of al-Maliki’s forces.

There is simply no justification for Ambassador Butler’s plan, other than to appease the ayatollahs in Tehran and their agent al-Maliki. For a representative of the U.S. government to be doing the dirty work of Iran’s ayatollahs (the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism) is a disgrace.

I have a message for Ambassador Butler — al-Maliki might show more commitment to committing crimes against humanity than to international law, but you are obliged to act within the law and international norms.

Distance yourself from the wishes of Iran’s ayatollahs and instead support the humanitarian solution presented by the European Parliament to transfer the people of Ashraf to EU states and other democratic countries in which their basic human rights will be respected.

The State Department is fully responsible and accountable for the current predicament of the people of Ashraf, and it is not a responsibility from which U.S. Congressmen and European lawmakers would allow it to walk away.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead is a former chairman of Britain’s Labour Party and a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.

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