US State Department Goes “Further Than Ever Before” in Statement on MEK for BBC Documentary

The BBC World Service has broadcast a documentary on the MEK, presented by Owen Bennett-Jones and entitled “The Strange World of the People’s Mujahedin”. The end of the programme includes the following:

Bennett-Jones: In an exclusive statement for this programme, [the State Department has] gone further than ever before in clearly stating what it thinks of the MEK as a political force. Henry Wooster* is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.

Wooster: Let’s cut to the heart of the matter on the MEK. They are not a viable opposition, despite their claims to be the best hopes for democratic reform in Iran. They control their members through measures such as mandatory divorce and celibacy, sleep deprivation, public shaming, and unquestioning devotion to their leader, among other techniques. The regime in Tehran notwithstanding, the US has no evidence or confidence that the MEK is an organisation that can promote the democratic values we’d all like to see in Iran. It would be unwise policy to suggest otherwise.

The programme also includes sceptical comment from John Limbert, who is a former US hostage in Iran and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran, and from Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institute; Riedel claims to know “up to a half dozen” individuals who have turned down invitations to speak on behalf if the group. There’s also input from ex-members, who allege abuse.

Bennett-Jones also speaks to a number of MEK supporters, mostly American but also including Ken Maginnis, a member of the House of Lords who became involved with the issue after being approached by a MEK activist in a street in Oxford (I’ve come across them in London from time to time).

Bennett-Jones lets both sides have their say, but MEK’s supporters have responded with a preemptive statement published yesterday, quoting “Brigadier General David Phillips, Commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade (2004 – 2005), and Colonel Wes Martin, Antiterrorism Officer for all Coalition Forces in Iraq (2003 – 2004) and Commander of Camp Ashraf (2006)”:

“In recent weeks, the producers of this report at BBC Radio asked for interviews about Camp Ashraf residents and related issues. We initially welcomed the interviews.  However, during the communications and in view of the questions asked, a picture of an unfair process with biased political objective and pre-determined agenda developed.  It is disturbing that the net result of this report will be condemnation of the Iranian opposition, as well as helping to set the world stage for indifference to another massacre such as occurred in 2009 and 2011. A part of this BBC team’s actions that was incomprehensible and unjustifiable for us was the insistence of the producers to rely on selected individuals who identify themselves to be former PMOI members as their witnesses and sources. We know many of these people very well and are fully aware of their relations with the fundamentalist Iranian government.”

MEK is also currently in the news over the a claim made by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker that members were  secretly given training in Nevada in and after 2005.

I previously blogged on MEK in 2008.

*Pronounced “Henry Worcester”, and also spelt that way by the Daily Mail.