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Context of 'February 14, 2005: Dissent in Administration Over Fate of Detained MEK Fighters'

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The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian political organization formed in the 1960s, kills US military personnel and US civilians working on defense projects in Tehran. MEK is currently led by husband and wife Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. MEK is part of a larger political organization know as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). (US Department of State 4/30/2003; US Department of State 4/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005; National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism 5/12/2005)

About 500 Iranian students take over the American Embassy in Tehran and hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is one of the groups that supports the take-over. (US Department of State 4/30/2003; PBS 1/15/2006)

The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, helps Saddam Hussein suppress the Shia uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north. (US Department of State 4/30/2003)

After founding the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Ahmed Chalabi approaches the CIA for help in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The agency, hoping Chalabi can provide useful intelligence, gives the organization millions of dollars to set up a “forgery shop” inside an abandoned schoolhouse in the Kurdish town of Salahuddin. The INC promptly sets about creating phony mockups of Iraqi newspapers filled with stories of Hussein’s abuses. “It was something like a spy novel,” CIA agent Robert Baer will later recall. “It was a room where people were scanning Iraqi intelligence documents into computers, and doing disinformation. There was a whole wing of it that he did forgeries in.… He was forging back then, in order to bring down Saddam.” Carla Bonini, an Italian reporter, will later recall: “When I visited [Chalabi] in London, he told me, ‘You can have anything you want.’ It was like a shopping mall for intelligence.” Bonini quickly learns that Chalabi’s information, although often sensational, is virtually useless. None of it can be independently confirmed, and most of it turns out to be fabrications. One of the documents fabricated by the INC is a copy of a purported letter to Chalabi from President Clinton’s National Security Council. The letter requests Chalabi’s help in a plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Baer believes Chalabi’s intent is to trick the Iranians into believing that the Americans will kill Hussein, thus inspiring them into joining a plot against the dictator. According to Francis Brooke, a Rendon Group employee working with the INC, Chalabi did not create the forged letter. “That would be illegal,” he says. (Mayer 6/7/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 125)

The US State Department includes the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, in its list of foreign terrorist organizations. (Executive Office of the President 9/12/2002 pdf file; Isikoff 9/26/2002; US Department of State 4/30/2003) MEK, which in English means, “People’s Holy Warriors,” (Peterson 7/29/2004) is later described by its former members as a cult. Its husband-and-wife leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, exercise absolute control over the group’s rank-and-file, requiring that members worship them and practice Mao-style self-denunciations. Many of the MEK’s members are tricked into joining the group. For example, the parents of Roshan Amini will tell the Christian Science Monitor in 2003 that their son joined because he had been told he would be able to complete two school grades in one year and earn a place in college. But after joining, Amini was not permitted to leave. (Peterson 12/31/2003; Marshall and Rotella 12/5/2004)

The conservative National Review publishes an op-ed article by Sam Dealy titled “A Very, Very Bad Bunch,” commenting on the Iranian opposition group known as People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) and “its surprising American friends.” Dealy’s piece is an attack on Congresspersons who support the MEK despite the exile group’s past history of anti-Americanism (see 1970s and November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). “How has a terrorist group managed to win the support of mainstream US politicians?” he asks. “Simple: Its political representatives in the US have worked hard to repackage the group as a legitimate dissident organization fighting for democracy in Iran—by whitewashing its record and duping our leaders.” Dealy emphasizes that the group’s initial ideological underpinning had been influenced by the likes of Marx, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara, whose ideas the MEK attempted to apply to Shiite society. (Dealey 3/25/2002)

Alireza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), supplies the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with information about two hidden sites in Iran—an underground uranium enrichment at Natanz and a heavy-water production plant at Arak. Iran will later declare both sites to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). (Charbonneau 3/24/2005)

The US orders the bombing of Mujahedeen-e Khalq’s (MEK) camps in Iraq. But the orders are called off after the MEK voluntarily disarms and negotiates a cease-fire agreement with US authorities. The MEK will be held in US custody at Camp Ashraf, located roughly 60 miles north of Baghdad, and its members will be screened for war crimes and terrorism. (Marshall and Rotella 12/5/2004)

The US-appointed Iraq Governing Council orders the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) to leave Iraq by the end of year citing its “black history” in Iraq as a “terrorist organization,” a reference to the militant organization’s long history of working with Saddam Hussein (see 1991 and December 2003). But Pentagon officials do not want the MEK to leave Iraq, as they are considering plans to use the group against Iran. (Peterson 12/31/2003)

After a 16-month review by the US State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bush administration says it has found no basis to charge any of the 3,800 Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) fighters held in custody by the US at Camp Ashraf with violations of American law. The decision is made in spite of the group’s long history of collusion with Saddam Hussein. MEK fought alongside Iraqi forces against Iran during the 1980s (see December 2003) and helped Saddam’s internal security forces brutally put down the 1991 Shia uprisings (see 1991). The organization was also responsible for a number of American deaths during the 1970s (see 1970s) and has been listed on the State Department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations” since 1997 (see 1997). “A member of a terrorist organization is not necessarily a terrorist,” a senior American official explains. “To take action against somebody, you have to demonstrate that they have done something.” (Jehl 7/27/2004; Peterson 7/29/2004)

The US sends teams of US-trained former Iranian exiles, sometimes accompanied by US Special Forces, from Iraq into southern and eastern Iran to search for underground nuclear installations. (Hersh 1/24/2005; Sale 1/26/2005; Borger 1/29/2005) In the north, Israeli-trained Kurds from northern Iraq, occasionally assisted by US forces, look for signs of nuclear activity as well. (Sale 1/26/2005) Both teams are tasked with planting remote detection devices, known as “sniffers,” which can sense radioactive emissions and other indicators of nuclear-enrichment programs while also helping US war planners establish targets. (Hersh 1/24/2005; Sale 1/26/2005) The former Iranian exiles operating in the south and east are members of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a group that has been included in the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997 (see 1997) and included in a government white paper (see September 12, 2002) that criticized Iraq for its support of the group. After the US invaded Iraq, members of MEK were “consolidated, detained, disarmed, and screened for any past terrorist acts” by the US (see July 2004) and designated as “protected persons.” (see July 21, 2004) Initially, the MEK operate from Camp Habib in Basra, but they later launch their incursions from the Baluchi region in Pakistan. (Sale 1/26/2005; Dickey, Hosenball, and Hirsh 2/15/2005) They are assisted by information from Pakistani scientists and technicians who have knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program. (Hersh 1/24/2005) Pakistan apparently agreed to cooperate with the US in exchange for assurances that Pakistan would not have to turn over A. Q. Khan, the so-called “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb,” to the IAEA or to any other international authorities for questioning. Khan, who is “linked to a vast consortium of nuclear black-market activities,” could potentially be of great assistance to these agencies in their efforts to undermine nuclear weapons proliferation. (Hersh 1/24/2005) In addition to allowing Pakistan to keep Khan, the US looks the other way as Pakistan continues to buy parts for its nuclear-weapons arsenal in the black market, according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat interviewed by Seymour Hersh (Hersh 1/24/2005) The United States’ use of MEK is criticized by Western diplomats and analysts who agree with many Iranians who consider the group to be traitors because they fought alongside Iraqi troops against Iran in the 1980s. (Peterson 12/31/2003)

Newsweek reports that there is disagreement in the Bush administration over what to do with 3,800 Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) fighters being held in custody by the US at Camp Ashraf (see April 2003). The magazine says that parts of the Defense Department want “to cull useful MEK members as operatives for use against Tehran, all while insisting that it does not deal with the MEK as a group.” They would be sent to Iran to gather intelligence and possibly reawaken a democratic movement in Iran. The CIA however has objected to this strategy “because senior officers regard them as unreliable cultists under the sway of [Maryam] Rajavi and her husband,” Newsweek explains. A Defense Department spokesman however denies there is any “cooperation agreement” with the MEK and claims that the Pentagon has no plans for using MEK members in any capacity. But an MEK official interviewed by Newsweek said the opposite: “They [want] to make us mercenaries.” Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) also feels the Defense Department has plans for MEK members. “The Defense Department is thinking of them as buddies and the State Department sees them as terrorists. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle,” he told Newsweek. (Dickey, Hosenball, and Hirsh 2/15/2005)

About 500 protesters demonstrate in Huntington Beach, near Los Angeles, calling on the Bush administration to back the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group, and remove the organization from the State Department’s list of US-designated foreign terrorist organizations. One of the speakers at the event is Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political front for the MEK. Addressing the crowd via satellite, she tells them that she believes the opposition’s efforts will soon payoff. (Haldane 5/23/2005)

The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” (Collier 10/26/2006)

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