August 18, 2017

Governer Randell: Let’s honor our word, let’s protect Camp Ashraf

On October 22, 2011, Former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendel spoke in a rally outside White House, calling on US to protect Camp Ashraf residents and ensure their safe and secure re-settlement in third countries. Here are excerpts of his remarks:

It’s a pleasure to be back with you, and it’s amazing that we are this close to the White House, but it’s important that we’re this close to the White House, because we want President Obama to hear us, and we do that in the most respectful of fashions.

Now, I am honored to be here with the other speakers:  Mrs. Tutu; Reverend Lowry; Colonel Martin, the great commander of our troops at Camp Ashraf and head of intelligence and counterintelligence in Iraq; and, of course, my good friend, Governor Tom Ridge.

Tom Ridge is a great patriot.  He resigned a great job, governor of Pennsylvania, to become this nation’s first Secretary of Homeland Security, and I am very pleased and honored to follow Governor Ridge as governor of Pennsylvania.  I think we can all say not only was he a great Secretary of Homeland Security, but he was probably the second-best governor in Pennsylvania’s history.

Governor Ridge spoke very eloquently about the 4,400 American men and women who died in, and he said that we have an obligation to them to leave something behind that’s worthwhile, and it’s true, but Tom didn’t have as governor — he later did as Secretary — the awesome responsibility of talking to the parents or the wives or the husbands or the children of soldiers who died in Iraq.

I did as governor.  I never thought I would when I became governor.  There was no conflict, and I never thought that one of my responsibilities as Commander in Chief of the Pennsylvania National Guard would be to talk to those families.

I talked to each and every one, sometimes over the phone, often at the funerals themselves, and every one of those families asked me the question that you would have asked if it was your son, or your daughter, or your husband, or your wife, or your father, or your mom.  And the question was: Why?  Why did he have to die?  What did he die for?

I told them — and early on I believed this.  I told them he died trying to give freedom to a people that have been oppressed.  He died trying to bring American values of freedom, democracy, fairness to a country that has long been under the heel of a dictator.

I believe that.  But after learning about what the Iraqi government did in 2009 and again in April of this year, the slaughter of innocent people, innocent people who were unarmed, innocent people who were trying their best to live their lives, I’m not sure I can say that to a Pennsylvania soldier’s family anymore.
And that’s a shame, because 4,400 of our sons and daughters have been lost, and now we have a chance at least to correct the faults that we’ve done in the past.  The delisting of the MEK and protecting Ashraf are linked together, because you know when the Maliki government went in just this past April, they used as an excuse that the MEK was a terrorist organization.

Well, Mr. President, it’s time to set the record straight.  It’s time to remove any and all excuses that they might have.  It’s time to delist the MEK.

Governor Ridge is a Harvard man – I don’t know if you know that — and President Obama is a Harvard Law School graduate, and, even better, he was editor of the Harvard Law Review.  That’s the number-one position that any law student can have in this country.  That means he’s a pretty good lawyer, right?

And, Mr. President, you are a pretty good lawyer.  I know the President.  I worked hard to get him elected.  He is a good lawyer.  Just look at the facts.  Look at the facts, Mr. President.  Look at the facts.

Look at the fact that the U.K. and the EU have delisted the MEK.  And as Governor Ridge said, a European court even said that the original listing was perverse.

Look at the facts of our own Court of Appeals that sits right here in Washington, D.C. a few blocks from where we are.  Look at those facts.  Not only did they find that the delisting of the FTO is something whose time has come, but they said that the decision by Secretary Condoleezza Rice was not supported by any evidence, that the standard for classifying someone as an FTO was not met in this case.  If the D.C. Court of Appeals said that Mr. President, the United States Government should follow the law.

But even more than that, just a few weeks ago, a number of American public officials signed an open letter to the President that was published in The Washington Post and in The New York Times.  There were twelve of us.  There were three governors.  There were two ambassadors.  There was one mayor of New York City, the largest city in the country.  There were two congressmen.  There was one head of the FBI and one Attorney General.

Now, what’s relevant about the head of the FBI and the Attorney General, as Governor Ridge told you, they were charged to go to Ashraf and interview every single resident in Ashraf to see if there were any terrorist links, and they found there were none. And of the twelve of us, we were Democrats, we were Republicans, we worked for President Bush, we worked for President Clinton, and it didn’t matter.  Many members of Congress have signed a resolution asking the President and the State Department to delist.  They were Republicans and Democrats.  Gosh, in this town, you can’t get Republicans and Democrats to agree that today is Saturday.

Now, the President, again, he’s a great lawyer.  Mr. President, when you’ve had expert opinions from all of us — two generals, by the way, signed it, both of whom served in Iraq, and you’re going to hear from Colonel Martin, and all of them said that in their expert opinion the MEK was not a terrorist organization.

So that’s expert opinion, Mr. President, but we have a better piece of evidence.  It’s called circumstantial evidence.  Circumstantial evidence means it’s not direct evidence.  It’s not an eyewitness.  But when you hear it, you understand that means that the case is proved one way or the other.

Since the MEK was delisted, not one open-source terrorism database — and there are tens and tens of open-source terrorism databases that keep track of terrorist incidents all over the world – not one of them has found one incident by the MEK of terrorism, not one incident of MEK terrorism anywhere in the world against anybody or any country, and certainly no activities that would, in the words of the FTO statute, threaten the United States.

So if for over a decade there hasn’t been any evidence or not one incident of terrorism, what does that mean?  It means that the MEK is not a terrorist organization. And as Tom Ridge said loud and clear, many Americans were shocked when they learned about the fact that the Iranian government at very high levels was engaged in a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador here in Washington and kill U.S. citizens as well.

Were any of you surprised?  Of course not, because you know, and now everybody knows, that there is only one terrorist organization in this play, and that is the government of Tehran.

Now, another reason that I supported President Obama so vigorously and so did so many Americans is because he promised that we were going to change the way things are done in Washington.

He promised that we were going to have a United States Government which stood for the highest of moral values, that made decisions not on what’s politically expedient but on what is right, on the things that go to the core of the American democracy and the justice and fairness we believe we have in this country, right?

And I think, by and large, the President has done that in many, many places, and he has used American power to protect people. When the President said we were going to go into Libya and air strike in Libya, the United States, the French, the British, NATO, he was criticized by a lot of his political rivals, but he stood up and said we are going to act because the United States Government is standing for the things that we stand for and couldn’t stand by silently and let hundreds of thousands of people in Benghazi be put to death.  We couldn’t let genocide happen in Benghazi. We had to protect the citizens of Benghazi from getting killed by a tyrant.

Now, if that’s good enough for Libya — and the President is being praised for what he did, and he deserves praise.  He protected innocent people, and that’s exactly the thing that the United States military should be useful for.  But if it’s okay to protect the citizens of Benghazi from slaughter, shouldn’t we protect the citizens of Camp Ashraf from slaughter?  Absolutely.

Mr. President, we never promised those citizens of Benghazi anything.  We didn’t promise them anything.  We did it because it was the right thing to do.  But there’s another reason why we’ve got to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf, because the United States of America, the greatest democracy in the world, we promised to protect them.  We signed an agreement with each and every one of those 3,400 residents if they didn’t lift their arms they would be protected by the American government.

And, Mr. President, it’s not your fault, but twice the United States has failed to exercise its responsibility, in 2009 during the attack on Camp Ashraf and again in April of this year.

You all know, and I don’t know if the President is aware, but we put it in our letter that there were United States troops within a mile of Camp Ashraf this April.  And an hour and a half before the attack by the Maliki government’s army, they were told to withdraw.  To this day, we don’t know who told them to withdraw.  We have no idea, but we do know that it was a shame on the American government.

Mr. President, we gave our word to protect these people, we failed twice, and we’re not going to fail a third time, because if we fail a third time, it may not be just 34 people or 12 people who are killed.  It may not be eight women.  It may be every single soul.

So what do we have to do, Mr. President, in addition to delisting?  We have to pressure the United Nations to move speedily.  There is no reason why in the next 11 weeks that 3,400 people can’t be repatriated by the UN High Command on Refugees.  They should they should be repatriated.  There are many countries willing to take them.

But if that repatriation doesn’t occur and even during the process, we need to have a UN security force in Camp Ashraf protecting the residents.  We cannot let the residents be taken out of the camp to do this work.  They’ve got to stay in the camp, and they’ve got to stay there under the protection of UN security forces.

And if the UN won’t act, we must.  It’s our moral obligation.  We gave our word.  We must.  We must protect them until December 31st.  And even if we’re taking our troops out by December 31st, if the job isn’t done of repatriation, if the United Nations won’t do it, Mr. President, it is our moral obligation to leave American troops behind to protect Camp Ashraf until every single one of the residents is repatriated.

Mr. President, we’re not calling on you to do anything exceptional.  We’re not calling on you to do anything extraordinary.  We’re calling on you to do the same thing you did so masterfully in Benghazi and in Libya.

We’re calling on you to adhere to the values that you have so often spoken of so emotionally and so passionately.  Most of all, we’re calling on you to make good the promise that the United States Government made to these residents.  We can do no more, and we can do no less.

Let’s honor our word.  Let’s protect Camp Ashraf.  Let’s delist the MEK.  Let’s begin the process that we hope someday will lead to a free and democratic regime.