Senators Chide State Department Over Camp Ashraf Massacre, Threaten Cuts in Aid to Iraq Over its Role
Today, during the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing “Reversing Iran’s Nuclear Program”, there was a very important exchange between Committee’s Chair, Senator Menendez and Senator John McCain with the Honorable Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in regards to the September 1 massacre at Camp Ashraf and the fate of seven residents abducted by the Iraqi forces. 52 Iranian refugees, members of People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) were massacred execution-style by the SWAT Special Forces of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Here is the transcript of the exchange:
Text of Hearing Senate Foreign Relations Committee
October 3, 2013
Exchange on Camp Ashraf and Camp Hurriya
Senator McCain: …. Situation as regards to the Camp Ashraf people. We know there were Iranian dissidents at one point they were designated as a terrorist organization. But, the United States of America, is it true, gave them an assurance that if they moved, they would be protected. We know the Iranian influence has dramatically increased in Iraq. In fact, we know now that Al-Qaeda is alive and well, doing extremely well, moving back and forth across the two countries. Now, there was a murder of I believe 51 people who were members of this camp and many of them had in their possession guarantees from the United States of America that they would not be harmed. First of all are those facts true and second of all if true, what lesson does that send to people who we say you will be under our protection?
Hon. Wendy Sherman: Senator I share your deep concern about what happened at Camp Ashraf. This was a vicious attack on September 1st and many lives were lost. And the US continues to press the government of Iraq at every opportunity, at the most senior levels to ensure the safety and security of residents at Camp Hurriya, where many of the MEK were moved for better safety. We strongly and swiftly condemned the attack. We of course extend our condolences to the victims’ families and we are working with the government of Iraq and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) to peacefully and voluntarily transfer the surviving residents to safety to Camp Hurriya on September 12th. And we are working for the protection of people at Camp Hurriya because we do not want a repeat of this. So, to date, the government of Iraq has moved in 700 large T-Walls, over 500 bunkers, over 600 small T-walls and nearly 50,000 sand bags. UN monitors visit the camp daily and in accordance with the MoU to assess human rights and humanitarian conditions. I must say Senator, the real answer to this, to the safety and security of all the people in the Camp, who wants to live in a camp, is resettlement to third countries to get out of Iraq and to get out of harm’s way. And I would call on all of the people here today, representing the rights and interests of the MEK and the leaders of the MEK in the camps and in Paris to allow this resettlement to go forward because until the resettlement happens, safety and security is going to be at risk. We will do everything in our power to keep people safe in these camps. But as you point out, the Al-Qaeda threat is increasing in Iraq and it is difficult.
McCain: (in audible) Of course, we, unfortunately did not keep out words. I hope that this issue will be raised with the Iraq government and we in Congress may have to look at the kind of aid and how we are extending that to Iraq if this kind of thing is going to be continence by the Iraqi government.
Senator Menendez: Before I turn to Senator Markey, let me echo what Senator McCain has said in this regard. I have put out a statement in this regard and have also talked to our Department. You know, America went to MEK and we said disarm and we will protect you. And then we ultimately left and that protection has not been there. You can put up, I don’t care how many tons of sand bags, but when elements of the Iraqi forces actually may very well be complicit in what took place, sand bags are not going to take care of the problem. And I agree with you that resettlement is a critical part. May be the United States could be part of leading of the way in saying to a universe of these individuals that in fact you can be resettled to the United States and that would get the rest of the world to offer further resettlement. But it is unacceptable to lose one more life when American commanders gave these individuals a written guarantee toward their safety and it sends a message to others in the world that when we say that we are going to do that and we do not, that they should not trust us. And for one thing that this committee can do since it has jurisdiction over all weapons sales, is that I doubt very much that we are going to see any approval of any weapons sales to Iraq until we get this situation in a place in which people’s lives are saved.
McCain: Could I say thank you Mr. Chairman.
Sherman: …. If I may senator, I would also like to take the opportunity to comment on what you said about Iraq. And we quite agree on what Senator McCain said. We quite agree that we need to do anything we can to resettle the people, to get them out of the harm’s way. To make good on the word we gave to the MEK. I know there are strong feelings up here and I understand why. About arms sales to Iraq but I do want to put on the record that the US security assistance and foreign military sales in particular are tools that we use for building and shaping Iraq’s defense capabilities and integrating Iraqi security forces with our security forces and regional partners. And I just want to caution that withholding security assistance may well serve to decrease our influence in Baghdad, seed relationship and leverage strategic competitors who would fill the vacuum and could conceivably damage our long term interest. So I just ask that we talk very carefully as we go forward.
Menendez: Let me caution you about that over flights that Iraq has permitted from Iran into Syria with largely with impunity.
And let me also caution that the seven hostages, which we believe the Iraqi Government knows where they are, should they die it would be complicating matters for all of that. So I hope we have both cautioned each other.
Sherman: I quite agree with you on both issues.