Wes Martin, TownHall, 10 December 2018
In additional to serving as the Senior Antiterrorism Officer for all Coalition Forces in Iraq, the Operations Chief for Task Force 134 (Detention Operations), and Commander of Camp Ashraf, Colonel Martin also served as the U.S. Department of Army’s Chief of Information Operations
An investigation by Reuters revealed last month that a Tehran-based agency has quietly fed propaganda through at least 70 websites to countries throughout the world. The Iranian dissidents have a primary target of the ayatollahs misinformation campaign.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its affiliate Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK) are perhaps the two most lied about organizations in the world. Most of the lies were fabricated by the Khomeini regime years ago, but like golden oldies, they are still playing. Newer versions appeared in The Guardian’s lengthy November 9 article entitled, “Terrorists, cultists – or champions of Iranian democracy? The wild, wild story of the MeK.”
The article penned by Aaron Reza Merat is not only an attack on the MeK, but on truth itself. The MeK, translated to English as the Peoples’ Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), came onto my radar in 2003 while I served as the first Antiterrorism Officer for all Coalition Forces in Iraq. At that time, the military arm of the MeK, the National Liberation Army (NLA), had several bases inside Iraq.
This was the first time in U.S. history, and perhaps world history, where one country was invaded and with it came the entrapment of a large military force dedicated to the removal of a third of the country’s leadership. Eventually, the NLA was consolidated into Camp Ashraf, eighty kilometers northeast of Baghdad, and oversight of the NLA was assigned to the U.S. military.
A cease-fire agreement was signed between the U.S. military and the NLA, a largely unnecessary step as the NLA had never fired on the Americans, or any Coalition forces, and all of the NLA’s weapons were turned over to the Americans. All NLA members signed letters renouncing terrorism, also unnecessary because subsequent FBI interviews and analysis revealed none of the residents of Ashraf had ever committed terrorist acts. The most serious crime the FBI uncovered was one resident’s failure to pay parking fines years earlier during his college days in the U.S.
Next, the residents were awarded Protected Person Status Under the 4th Geneva Convention, and for the next six years the residents of Ashraf worked very closely with the American military.
In 2003, as the senior Antiterrorism Officer of all Coalition Forces in Iraq, while focusing most of my work on al-Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, Badr Corps, and a host of real enemies, I conducted an assessment on the MeK and determined they were not a threat.
When in 2005 I returned to Iraq as the senior Operations Officer for Task Force 134 (Detention Operations), and in 2006 I became the first colonel to command Camp Ashraf, the residents of Ashraf progressively became the focus of my attention.
In late 2006, I returned to the Pentagon for the third time. Before leaving Iraq, I promised the Commander of Task Force 134, then Major General John Gardner, that I would serve as his representative to address Ashraf issues with the U.S. State Department. My mission was to provide accurate information, replacing rumors and lies with facts.
Unfortunately, the State Department policy under the Obama administration was intent on appeasing the Iran regime.The Protected Person Status of the Ashraf residents was revoked and oversight of the camp was turned over from the U.S. military to the Iraqi Army, despite the fact that the loyalty of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to the Iranian regime was well known. Attacks on Camp Ashraf in 2009 and 2011, and the Iraqi Army’s 2013 Ashraf Massacre, attest to the extent of Maliki’s allegiance to Tehran.
With promises of pristine living accommodations at Camp Liberty (next to Baghdad International Airport) and a quick relocation to a safe country, the residents were moved out of Ashraf. Three years, four rocket attacks, scores of deaths, and hundreds maimed later, the residents were located to Albania.
Against this backdrop, the mis-information against the former residents of Ashraf, now peacefully living in Albania, has resurfaced in a number of pro-engagement media outlets, including in The Guardian. The author, Reza Arron Merat, starts out with the continuing saga of Mostafa and Robabe Mohammadi, allegedly trying to secure their daughter Somayeh’s release from the MeK. It is an old fable, which they have repeated at the behest of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) outside the gates of Camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq, and now in Albania. They claim Somayeh was kidnapped and held for years against her will.
Like all MeK refugees, Somayeh was interviewed by the FBI in 2004. Half a decade later, to determine if there was any validity to her parents’ claim, Somayeh was again interviewed by Camp Ashraf’s commander, LTC McCloskey in 2009, to whom Somayeh made it clear that she was at Camp Ashraf of her own free will, had no desire to leave and rejected her father’s claim. Meantime, I served as Ashraf Base Commander, and continuously visited all MeK compounds. Had Somayeh, or any other resident, wished to leave, she could have asked for assistance and I would have personally escorted her out.
In addition to re-telling old MOIS tales,The Guardian article comes up with some new ones, among them the claim that the MeK’s Albania camp is heavily fortified. Actually, I have been to the Albania camp three times and can confirm there are no fighting positions, which would be useless anyway because there are no weapons inside the compound.
Merat also regurgitates one oldie from Khomeini’s time that the organization derived from an “Islamist-Marxist” ideology. In other words, the MeK is composed of God-fearing atheists. He needs to pick one or the other, because Islam and Marxism do not mix.
On a personal note, I have not been exempt from similar MOIS-generated slander. One former MeK member later recruited by MOIS falsely accused me of abusing ex-MeK in Iraq; I was in fact stationed at the Pentagon. The two other American officers accused of being my accomplices were also not in Iraq at the specified time. One had already departed and the other would not arrive until years later. The three of us never met until 2011. I relate this incident to convey the absurdity of such accusations.
Iran, the number one nation-state exporter of terrorism, is also the number one exporter of propaganda. Iran’s MOIS will fight the truth with lies, deceit, and manipulation of facts. MOIS expends great effort to neutralize the MeK as the primarily threat to the Iranian regime. When that fails, it resorts to more deadly means, such as the recent failed attempt to bomb the MeK camp in Albania and the annual Iran Freedom rally in France.
Rather than dignifying any more of the misinformation in Merat’s article, let me simply state that The Guardian could have readily fact-checked any and all of his allegations. The Guardian and Merat are a disgrace to the free press.