by Eli Clifton
Wednesday’s scheduled congressional hearing on “ISIS: Defining the Enemy” is rapidly shrinking in size. Two key witnesses are refusing to attend due to the invitation to testify that Ted Poe (R-TX), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, extended to Maryam Rajavi, leader of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).
Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and former State Department counterterrorism director Daniel Benjamin have both said that they won’t appear for the hearing after learning that Rajavi would also be a witness on the same panel. She is scheduled to participate via videoconference from Paris, the headquarters the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a MEK front.
MEK, which the State Department removed from terrorism list in 2012 following a lengthy and expensive lobbying campaign, is believed to have been responsible for the killing of six Americans in Iran between 1973 and 1976.
The group, which went into exile after losing a violent power struggle in the early years of the Islamic Republic, aligned itself with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war and, despite claims to being Iran’s viable democratic government in exile, is widely believed to have little or no grassroots support in Iran. The group has long faced criticism from Iran specialists and rights groups such as Human Rights Watch that it has devolved into a cult based on devotion to Maryam and her long-missing husband, Massoud Rajavi. According to numerous accounts, the group exerts a high degree of control over its followers, going so far as to mandate divorces and celibacy for their soldiers.
But, as Ali Gharib and I documented in February, MEK’s influence in Washington, particularly with Iran hawks, has coincided with a flow of money from the group to American politicians, in particular, to embattled Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) who is currently under indictment on unrelated federal corruption charges.
So why did Poe and the Republican majority on the terrorism subcommittee decide to invite Rajavi (a copy of whose testimony was obtained by Ali who previewed it Tuesday on The Nation’s website) Campaign finances may offer at least part of the answer.
Poe received $17,900 in campaign contributions from supporters of the MEK between 2009 and 2014, according to an analysis I conducted of campaign finance data. Surprisingly, nearly half—or $8,600—of the total flowed into his campaign while the group was still on the State Department’s terrorism list between 2009 and its delisting in 2012.
In 2013 and 2014, the group also paid for $19,671 in travel expenses (including business-class plane fare) for Poe’s travel to MEK events in France.
In contrast, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), returned a $2,600 campaign contribution from a MEK supporter in Virginia in 2013. “During routine due diligence by campaign staff, it was discovered that a few donors had associations the campaign was uncomfortable with,” a spokesman for Graham’s campaign told Politico. “In an abundance of caution, the contributions were refunded.”
Poe seems less concerned about the association. His insistence on inviting Rajavi adds to the irony of his chairmanship of the terrorism subcommittee (shades of Sen. James Inhofe’s chairmanship of the Senate Environment Committee).
With Ford and Benjamin out, Rajavi will be joined on Wednesday by only one other witness: Walid Phares, a pro-Israel Lebanese-American Maronite Christian with a long association with hard-line neo-conservatives and a terrorism “expert” for Fox News. During Lebanon’s civil war that raged from 1975 through the 1980’s, Phares served as an ideologue for the Lebanese Forces, an umbrella group of various Christian militias. Some of these militias carried out the Sabra and Shatila massacres in September, 1982, in which at many as 3,000 Palestinians—mostly women, children and the elderly—were killed following Israel’s conquest of Beirut. Among other positions, he served as co-chairman of the Middle East working group of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy advisory team.
Photo: Maryam Rajavi
I find it funny there is condemnation of a witness even before they have the opportunity to testify. What is the issue with letting a moderate Muslim leader, a woman no less, from speaking in a subcommittee of all things about the links between ISIS and the rise of extremist Islam? Is the topic too taboo for a Congressional hearing? All of this just seems more like the effort to muzzle speech, especially speech from someone who’s views don’t jibe with those working hard to ensure Iran gets a cozy deal in nuke talks. I’ve always taken the position that all speech, even the most objectionable, needs to be allowed and aired. If you have a disagreement, then have a debate. Engage, participate, but don’t ridicule even before someone speaks out. I’d say the same thing if Pol Pot was going to step up on a hearing on human rights. It would be incredulous, but that is what makes American society different and what makes us a stronger people for it.
First of all, the trail of campaign cash in America is wide and deep. That can be seen from the controversy over the $143 million the Clinton Foundation received from UraniumOne shareholders. At the same time massive contributions by the Koch brothers or by the AFL-CIO are part of the political fabric today. We might not like it, we might be suspicious of it, but it’s legal. Believe me, I’d prefer Bill Clinton not be allowed to accept a $500,000 speaking fee from Russians while his wife is Secretary of State or Speaker Boehner loading up on AIPAC money, but it’s all part of the pay to play in government. To single out Ted Poe is kind of silly since you could go down the list of every member on that committee, Democrat and Republican, and find objectionable contributions from labor, defense contractors, cybersecurity firms, etc. That being said, the point Eli makes about MEK is a little outdated since MEK is not on the terror list. So, if we are going to hold them accountable for perceived past wrongs, what’s the justification for Cuba; a poster child of the state sponsor of terror list? And if Iran ever got off the terror list, are we never to work constructively with it again because of it’s past? Pretzel logic like this also strikes me as being more interested in scoring points than in having a serious debate and dialogue. Rajavi is scheduled to speak, so let her speak. What’s the big deal? I’ve never heard of words uttered in a congress hearing room ending civilization.
That’s too bad Benjamin won’t be there to buttress Rajavi’s position that with ISIS,….. Iran is the main culprit. Really! That’s according to Ali Gharib’s article on Rajavi. Regarding Benjamin —
from the files:
“We are increasingly concerned about Iran’s support for terrorism and Hezbollah’s activities as they’ve both stepped up their level of terrorist plotting over the past year,” said Ambassador Daniel Benjamin of the Counterterrorism Bureau. Iran expanded its illicit activities in South Asia and the Western Hemisphere. It also sponsored groups to fight U.S. forces and allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. (end file)
Actually in all the terrorist reports put out by the US government, there has never been any evidence of any Iran terrorism support. None. Like the “nuclear crisis” it’s been concocted.
Take the money out of the politics, then see where the circus goes. Regardless of the posturing, the U.S. needs to keep its collective nose out of other peoples business/civil wars, etc. etc. At some point in time, that will happen, hopefully not after the Nuclear bombs fall, from those who maintain them.
It is interesting to have Maryam Rajavi to testify in a hearing that is about a group such as ISIS. This is like to bring Stalin to testify about fascism or Hitler to testify about genocide.
If you don’t know about this cult and how it treats even its own members, then do yourself a favor and educate yourself about it them first.
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