America, terrorists and Nelson Mandela

January 15, 2010

berndforblog– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Woe betide the organization or individual who lands on America’s terrorist list. The consequences are dire and it’s easier to get on the list than off it even if you turn to peaceful politics. Just ask Nelson Mandela.

One of the great statesmen of our time, Mandela stayed on the American terrorist blacklist for 15 years after winning the Nobel Prize prior to becoming South Africa’s first post-Apartheid president. He was removed from the list after then president George W. Bush signed into law a bill that took the label “terrorist” off members of the African National Congress (ANC), the group that used sabotage, bombings and armed attacks against the white minority regime.

The ANC became South Africa’s governing party after the fall of apartheid but the U.S. restrictions imposed on ANC militants stayed in place. Why? Bureaucratic inertia is as good an explanation as any and a look at the current list of what is officially labelled Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) suggests that once a group earns the designation, it is difficult to shake.

The consequences of a U.S. terrorist designation include freezing an organisation’s funds, banning its members from travelling to the U.S. and imposing harsh penalties (up to 15 years in prison) on people who provide “material support or resources” to an FTO.

At present, there are 44 groups on the list, ranged in alphabetical order from the Palestinian Abu Nidal Organisation to the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia. The Abu Nidal group, according to the government’s own country reports on terrorism, “is largely considered inactive.” The Congressional Research Service, a bipartisan agency which provides research and analysis for Congress, has wondered why it is still on the list.

One can ask the same about the Colombian group, added to the list in 2001. The bulk of the paramilitary organisation demobilized years ago and the latest U.S. government report says its “organizational structure no longer exists.”

In between Abu Nidal and the Colombians are groups whose terrorist acts and future intentions are undisputed – al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad – as well as one which is waging a protracted legal battle to have its terrorist label taken off.

That is the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian resistance group on which the United States is out of synch with Britain and the 27-member European Union. After years of legal wrangling, Britain took the MEK off its terrorist blacklist in 2008 and the EU followed suit last year. In the last week of the administration of George W. Bush, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied the  group’s petition that its terrorist label be taken off.

The MEK’s case came up again this week in a wood-panelled Washington courtroom where high-powered lawyers debated whether Rice had acted “reasonably” in doing so.

Yes, she had, the government’s lawyer, Douglas Letter, told the three-judge panel, given the MEK’s past history of violence. In his written brief, he scoffed at “claims that ‘the tiger has changed its stripes,'” a reference to the group’s contention that it had foresworn violent acts in 2001 in favor of peaceful change.

Rulings by foreign courts, the argument went, were not germane to the case in the U.S. Those decisions included one by Britain’s Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (POAC), a body established to review disputes over terrorist designations. The POAC found it would be “perverse” to stick to that label and ordered the Home Office to remove the MEK from the terrorist blacklist.

When the Washington Court of Appeals will rule on the MEK’s latest (and fifth) petition is not clear but if the past is any guide, political rather than legal considerations will decide the fate of the group in the U.S. American administrations have been using the terrorist organizations list and a separate list of “state sponsors of terrorism” as political tools.

Washington added the MEK to the terrorist list in 1997, at a time when the Clinton administration hoped the move would facilitate opening a dialogue with Iran and its newly-elected President, Mohammad Khatami, who was seen as moderate open to better relations with the U.S. The MEK served as a bargaining chip but the hoped-for dialogue didn’t go anywhere.

Neither did President Barack Obama’s diplomatic overtures to the theocrats ruling Iran. There has been no apparent progress on negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and the government has turned deaf ears to international criticism of increasingly savage repression of anti-government dissent. Obama was guarded in his initial reaction to the crackdown on popular protests that erupted after Iran’s elections in June.

But he finally spoke out against the government in December: “For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days.”

Despite the tough language, he has obviously not given up hope for negotiations. “We … want to keep the door to dialogue open,” Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said in January. Which probably means that the MEK, hated by Iran’s rulers, will retain its role as a bargaining counter and stay on the terrorist list.

(You can contact the author at (Editing by Samia Nakhoul)


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It couldn’t be said better the nature of keeping the MEK in the State Department’s Terrorist list, exposed anti democratic behavior of State Department, and proved by an example of Nelson Mandela and ANC the very business mentality of State Department over human values.
Thank you Reuters, Mr. Bernd Debusmann, and Samia Nakhoul for printing, writing, and editing such a very valuable article.

MEK is not a terrorist organization and State Department knows that. They are the crystals of Iranian people’s struggle for more that one hundred years of persuasion of freedom.

President OBAMA please take the name of MEK off of State Department’s Terrorist list and let Iranian people in this historic opportunity deal with their future and earn a Democratic system and country that they deserve.

Posted by Shirmard | Report as abusive

Very good article!!!

I applaud the amount of research done and the real facts pointed out!

I am a british supporter of the PMOI and we were very happy that they have been removed from the UK list.

I think it’s just a matter of egoism of the US government, just because they want to appease a mullahs regime that hangs their own children, they use MEK as a tool!


Posted by Meno | Report as abusive

This is a brilliant piece by Bernd Debusmann. Thank you for this correct analysis. The PMOI is the most organised nationwide movement inside and outside Iran. They have sacrificed hugely for the cause of human rights and democracy in Iran. More than 120,000 of their members and supporters have been executed by the mullahs regime and keeping them in the FTO list will only give the mad Ayatollahs to murder more people inside Iran and to continue their agressive drive to acquire nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama and Ms.Clinton enough is enough. De-list PMOI and stand on the side of millions and not the mullahs.

Posted by HMirmohammadi | Report as abusive

Labeling a legitimate resistance like MEK as terrorist is bad. To do so to placate a dreadful regime like Tehran is even worse.

But now that millions of Iranians are crying for freedom in Iranian streets and want to wrest their country from the clerics who have ruined it, to hamstring the main Iranian opposition in order to keep bridges with this faltering regime is a huge geo-political blunder.

MEK should be removed from the terror list and should be allowed to do what it is meant to do: To resist against blood-drenched Tehran tyrants. The US should allow Iranian political dynamics to play itself out by removing the terror tag from the MEK.

Let’s face it; maintaining the MEK in the terror list is a clear unwarranted intervention in favor of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.

The US administration should take into account the chant of thousands of young brave Iranians in streets of Tehran on November 4 when they said: “Obama, Obama, you are either with them (the Tehran rulers) or with us.”

Posted by joannakramer | Report as abusive

Thank You Mr Bernd Debusman
It’s a very good article. Iranian people need support of International Community. MEK is not a terrorist organization. Its removal from terror list is long overdue.
Good job.

Posted by IranAzad | Report as abusive

After hearing today that the FBI uses photoshop and google images to create the aged image of bin Laden one can expect anything from the so called inteligence services.  /espana/1263644667.html

Posted by angly06 | Report as abusive

obviously this piece is meant to appease to a small and narrow minded group of people. the fact that people are giving you credit for “doing your research” on this is a representation of their lack of knowledge on this matter. you made a case here for the MEK, which is not only a terrorist organization but one that also lables itself as a marxist and communist organization. of all the organizations and groups out there,that can be considered a real resistance group, you picked the one that is despised in iran by all sides. hardliners and liberals.I am not sure what your intention are behind this, but it is clear they are malice. Hamas and Hezbollah are legitimate resistace and have shown an ability change and adopt more pragmatic ideals.Mr. Debusman, i normally find your commentary very interesting and i agree with you on many of your opinions however in this case you are dead wrong.

Posted by sidrock23 | Report as abusive

Excellent article
Best time to Mr. Obama asked the Iranians to respond or whether it is with the Iranian people or the Iranian regime’s policy Mmashat One of the reasons that survival of this regime is anti-human.
Iranian people do not want the U.S. government to help but have a request Anhm removing the PMOI as the largest organization for freedom of liberal principles. Give a positive answer Hamed Berlin

Posted by hamed44 | Report as abusive

This great piece of work is highly appreciated by any Iranian and anyone who believes in democracy and justice. YES! The Iranian resistance is the light in the darkness for the Iranians who have suffered the tyranny of this regime. The real terrorist is the Iranian regime and its agents. Justice Will Prevail! The MEK will be soon delisted and Iran will be free.

Posted by Azadi | Report as abusive

lolol, so u r going to say democracy and the MEK in the same sentence? wow,how pathetic. please make yourselves aware of what the MEK is. the green movement in iran should not be insulted by tying the MEK to the need for reforms and change in iran. you fail to mentioned that the MEK fought alongside sadaam and the iraqis where thousands of iranians were killed. they carried out bombing and assasinations inside iran. please make yourselves aware of these issues. do not be so blind and naieve. iran will make a chage on its own. we do not need the U.S, U.N, or anyone else. where was the U.S and the U.N when america was supporting sadaam while he launced missiles at theran? why did the U.S and the brits overthrow a DEMOCRATICALLY elected mohammed mosadegh? and they are going to tell us about democracy? iran never needed the world before and we don’t need them now.

Posted by sidrock23 | Report as abusive

In response to sidrock23, I should only say that your comments clearly show your lack of knowledge and understanding of Iranian politics. You could not provide a shred of evidence that MEK “labels itself as a Marxist and communist organization.”

This is an utter fabrication.

Your political tendency shows when a few lines below you call “Hamas and Hezbollah are legitimate resistance”.

I think I have seen this logic somewhere else before, i.e. the propaganda and publication of the ruling regime in Iran.

No wonder though. Birds of the same flock will also fly together.

Posted by IranAzad | Report as abusive

Delta flight 253 details from a flight attendant at

Posted by muchstardude | Report as abusive

Mister Dobusmann, why not asking directly to the whitehouse to the “tanned” as called by italian president, Mr. Obama to fix the matter?

Posted by magdin | Report as abusive

Thanks to Mr. Debusmann and the Reuters for bringing the facts before its subscribers and readers.
Blacklisting of the PMOI/MEK has best served the interests of the tyranny in Iran. It has for many years tied the hands of the main opposition, thus prolonging a dictatorial rule whose crimes are unprecedented in modern history. The kind of brutality we witness these days in streets of Iran has been going on for many years in prisons away from public eyes. The Iranian people have paid a heavy price for a failed policy pursued by the U.S. over the past decade. It is now time to make up for it, albeit very late, but let Iranian people handle the tyrants in Iran and do not restrain the legitimate opposition to the regime.
Thanks once again to Mr. Debusmann telling the world the fact that the terror label on the PMOI/MEK is nothing but a major concession to the regime in Iran. It will be an unforgivable mistake for the U.S. foreign policy makers if the PMOI/MEK maintained in the list which will be interpreted as further assistance to Tehran’s suppressive rulers.

Posted by farhad-fr | Report as abusive

Thank you for this great article! The PMOI has indeed been bargained with by being put on the terrorist list and being the main opposition group against such medieval and brutal regime, makes this terrorist designation confusing and so injust. How can the United States call the Iranian regime a terrorist regime and at the same time keep the opposition group, against this regime, in the terrorist list?
Appeasing with this regime in a time like this, when the regime is facing it’s last months in power and people have risen to bring it down, is a big political mistake. No government need to support the PMOI for them to get delisted, as long as Justice exist in that country the PMOI will succeed, because Justice is on their side and their struggle for freedom in Iran is Just!

Posted by Sara7 | Report as abusive

Thank you for your article Mr Bernd Debusmann
Please continue to write, which Iran’s people need the people that it helps to write more courage.
Please think of the people that these words have daily to remain behind bars.
how to get the truth from the lie, even with a blindfold can not be distinguished!
This lie has cost thousands of lives to this day.
Long live freedom
think of the people as Neda
the politicians go, what cable lift ………….

Posted by moussa | Report as abusive

I’m one of those who tends to credit incompetence rather than malice for such institutional intertia as this….. there are plenty of indications that that list is just as hard to get on as it is to get off. Gerry Adams and Martin McGinness never made it at all.

Posted by Ian_Kemmish | Report as abusive

When the government of The United States of America brands an organization or an individual as a “terrorist” it is like “the pot calling the kettle black”.
Let us not forget the fact that Osama bin Laden was trained by the CIA. Nor let us forget that there was such a thing as The School of the Americas that trained the military of the most repressive dictatorships the world has ever known to kill, torture and maim anyone that dared to stand-up for their human rights. And how about the dozens of documented “false flag” operations conducted by the very same U.S. government (which by the way is state sponsored terrorism).
How dare they open their mouths… How dare they hold their heads up and face the people of a civilized world…

Posted by Jayson_R | Report as abusive

I wonder….is the Mexican Drug Cartel on the American Terror List yet???

If not, then WHY?

GOOD QUESTION, if I do say so myself…

Posted by Smack-Jack | Report as abusive

The world is watching; this is not about MEK anymore. It is rather about our judicial system and credibility of FTO list. As far as the Iranian people is concerned, MEK is a resistance movement, when it comes to Judicial systems evaluating MEK, both the British and EU court reviewed all documents about MEK/PMOI including the unclassified documents and concluded that PMOI/MEK should not be in the list. The State Department is heavily influenced by pro-mullahs lobby group. This is our opportunity to side with the Iranian people and taking the right step i.e. removing the PMOI from the list.

Posted by alisadeq | Report as abusive

good article,

One must ask himself/herself, is this the american definition of “justice for all”.

it feels like, it doesnot matter what the organization was or is, as long as the appeassment of the ruling mullahs is the main policy, this organization will be named as a terrorist. In Europe justice prevailed over shameful hourse trading. Would it be the case in US too? Lets hope so.

Posted by juergista | Report as abusive

A simple question Mr Dobusmann, I’m an italian with residence in Cairo, Egypt. In the case I want to visit Manhattan flying from Cairo I’m arrested on the JFKennedy Airport on the spot? or are the police ask me if I prefere to go to Cuba, Guantanamo? just to know, because I don’t like the cold of Down Town Manhattan being an “aficionado” to the warm climate. You suggest me to stay quite in Cairo or what? Thanks

Posted by magdin | Report as abusive

this a good article, your analyse regarding the reasons for keeping the mek in the black list are really well explained. they have been put in the black list to satisfy iranian regime. the mek relay the voice of iranian people. the amercian government should stop keeping hope in this regime since this regime will never make any concessions; as you said mek have always been used by the US or EU as the bergainning chip with the iranian regime.

Posted by eliott | Report as abusive

The central point not brought up by the article is that the U.S. definition of whether you are a “terrorist” or “freedom fighter” depends largely on whether you are serving Washington’s agenda or not.

There has been some marginal improvement in this regard in recent years — with for example Columbian right-wing paramilitary groups making the list. But this is essentially window dressing to fend off accusations of hypocrisy.

And that hypocrisy is rife.

The rebels in Darfur have not been labelled “terrorists” — because the U.S. wants to overthrow the government of Sudan. The rebels in Sri Lanka were labelled “terrorists” because the U.S. doesn’t want to overthrow that government. They have nearly identical motivations and tactics.

Mr. Debusmann’s focus on the Iranian opposition MEK is due to a simple point: efforts are being ramped up to overthrow the Iranian government with a “colored revolution” — and the U.S. bureaucracy is interfering with a quick switch to supporting the MEK as a tool of this.

What is lacking from the U.S. system is any clear, universal definition of what is the right of a minority region to wage a war of independence, what is the right of people in an occupied territory to resist occupation, what is the right of people under a dictatorship to take up arms. And what defines dictatorship, along a continuum from open dictatorship like China, to blatantly fraudulent democracy like Kazakhstan, to seriously flawed democracy like Iran, to carefully managed democracy like the United States itself?

For example under international law, Hamas has every right to shoot at occupying Israeli soldiers — but the U.S. calls this “terrorism”. And the French Resistance shooting Germans? Oh, well that’s a different story. Somehow. Not defined how.

And that “notorious murderous terrorist gang leader” — George Washington?

Posted by robert_john | Report as abusive

Truth in advertising: until they can be reformed under more enterprising leadership than President Barack Obama, these lists should be renamed the “We Don’t Like You – Don’t Ask Us Why” lists. All they really seem to be is brown icing on the urinal cake of sinecure known as The War On Terror.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

I would not mention Nelson Mandela and the latest Nobel Prize for Peace Speech in one breath. HBC, while talking about propaganda and using this exciting week as a crude example:

What is the similarity between the Golden Globe Awards and yesterday’s ‘Attack’ in Kabul:

1. It was staged;
2. No one actually knew how to get to the stage;
3. The winners applauded themselves;
4. The losers looked happier than the winners;
5. The advertising/drug breaks were extremely irritating.

The camera work was shocking.

The differences:

1. The most consistent petty drug offender in the US made the best speech, ‘or not\';
2. The MC was better in the US;
3. The MC insults were more subtle in the US;
4. The Taliban gets better botox treatment;
5. Kabul needs a facelift.

America is great at putting on a ‘show’. That’s about it…

Who cares about blacklists ? Really, traveling has become a financial hazard in/to any event.

Posted by Ghandiolfini | Report as abusive

during the court proceeding,some of the information about MEKm`s activities declassified by state department.
according to these information the group has not ended its military operation,still intenends to use violence to achieve its political goals and trained females to be suicide also said that much of the information the group has provided on iran`s nuclear program has been wrong.
( rticle/2010/07/16/AR2010071605881_pf.htm l)
therefor MEK exatly is a terrorist group.

Posted by khorzo | Report as abusive

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