Across the street from the White House for the last 16 days sit Iranians on a hunger strike, demanding justice for the victims of the attack onCampAshraf inIraq – an incident few Americans know anything about.
Today Amnesty International called upon Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to investigate those attacks.
So what’s the issue?
Since 1986,Camp Ashraf has been home to more than three thousand members or supporters of the Iranian opposition group the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, also known as Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK). Camp Ashraf was permitted to stand during the reign of Saddam Hussein and when Iraq was underU.S.control.
Saddam allowed them to be there because they shared the goal of overthrowing the Iranian government; the US found the dissident group a useful source of information about elements of Iran’s nuclear program, and so though MEK is still designated a terrorist organization by the State Department, US forces awarded Camp Ashraf residents protected status after residents renounced terrorism and surrendered their weapons.
Last September, Gen. David Petraeus told reporters that the Iraqi government had assured the US that Camp Ashraf’s protected status would remain.
But as the Iraqi government has taken control over its country and formed closer ties with the Iranian government, Iraqi government officials have in recent months stated that Camp Ashraf residents need to leave the country.
On July 28, Iraqi forces – using U.S. weaponry and vehicles – stormed into the camp and killed nine residents. Brandishing batons, tear gas, and water cannons, the Iraqi forces beat residents, apparently driving purposefully into crowds. Hundreds were injured and 36 were detained and, according to Amnesty International have been “subjected to beatings and torture” in a nearby police station.
“Some are in need of medical treatment due to injuries, including as a result of torture and gunshot wounds,” says the human-rights group. “The detainees are reported to have been told to sign documents in Arabic but to have refused. They have been denied access to lawyers of their choice and have launched a hunger strike in protest against their detention and ill-treatment.” (There is some graphic video purporting to be of the aftermath of the attack that can be seen HERE.)
Amnesty International fears that the Iraqi government will transfer the 36 Iranian dissidents to the government of Iranian president Mahmous Ahmadinejad, and they will be tortured and executed.
On Thursday evening, roughly three dozen protesters gathered across the street from the White House, most of them Iranian Americans, many with relatives from the camp. They were frustrated with Obama administration inaction.
“Obama is doing zero, quite frankly,” said Al Arza, one of the protester, originally from Ahwaz,Iran.
Arza, who works in stocks and investments and now resides in Los Angeles,Calif., says he’s disappointed because he voted for the president.
“He doesn’t stand for basic human values,” Arza said. “He doesn’t say killing is wrong, abductions are wrong. Quite frankly, I want my vote back.”
Farideh Goldarre of Tehran currently works as a seam-mistress in the U.S. She begins to cry as she describes how she hasn’t been able to reach her step-brother, Mohammed Kashani, 60, since the attack.
“The United States forgot and broke the agreement … to protect any innocent person or group that’s not safe after the occupation of Iraq,” said Goldarre.
What does the Obama administration have to say?
“We regret what happened at Camp Ashraf and the loss of life and injury that occurred, even as we understand the government of Iraq desiring to extend its sovereignty into that camp,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said today. “We understood what they were trying to do. They did not do it well. There are obviously, you know, ramifications of that, and we continue to talk to Iraq about what should be done with respect to this group going forward.”
A similar hunger strike is going on outside the U.S. Embassy in London.