WASHINGTON, June 1, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The remaining 1,200 Iranian dissidents housed at Camp Ashraf in Iraq are justified in refusing to be relocated to a new temporary facility called Camp Liberty until basic living conditions there improve, current and former federal officials said, calling for the U.S. government to push for those changes and improvements.
"Unless these demands (for improved living conditions) are met, we're not sending" to Camp Liberty those that remain at Camp Ashraf, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said at a conference, organized by the Global Initiative for Democracy (GID) on Iran and the threat it poses to the region and the world.
Rendell also called on the United States, and the United Nations to inspect the camp for weapons now, "so they can record there are no weapons, so the Iraqis can't come in and plant weapons after the fact" – a development that the U.S. could use to justify continuing the terrorism designation.
The Pennsylvania governor also said that the United Nations has failed in its obligation to "make sure (the Iranian dissidents) would be held in a place that met humanitarian conditions…that allowed them to bring their personal property," and added that the U.N.'s commitment "hasn't been lived up to in almost any form or shape that you could conceive of."
At issue is the fate of some 3,200 Iranian dissidents, members of Iran's main opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), housed at Camp Ashraf and at Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military post in Iraq.
There is also concern for the safety of residents at both camps; since the Iraqi government took control of the camps from the U.S. in 2009, there have been two attacks on the unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf by Iraqi military forces, resulting in 47 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. The Iraqi government also has rejected numerous requests from humanitarian organizations and current and former U.S. officials and journalists seeking to tour the facilities and help improve the living conditions.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said that the U.N. and the U.S. government need to exert "far more pressure, far more leverage (on) the decision makers in Iraq" to force them to honor previous commitments to guarantee safe living conditions at Camp Ashraf.
The MEK, which renounced violence in 2001, has gone to court to get its terrorist designation lifted, as it prevents the safe relocation of the residents of both camps to the U.S. and European countries.
Camp Liberty, where 2,000 residents of Ashraf have already relocated, lacks running water, regular electricity, and has only a limited number of working air conditioners in a place where daytime high temperatures routinely reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. The residents also lack freedom of movement and access to their lawyers and family members.
Under pressure from Iran, the Iraqi Government of Nuri al-Maliki has refused to allow the residents to transfer most of their property from their home of 25 years in Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, which is akin to a prison.
Former State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that the safe liberation and relocation of those at Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty could have a positive impact on the political situation in their native land.
"The people of Ashraf...represent a real alternative to the current regime in Iran, (and) if they're able to leave Iraq safely and get to a safer place…then they can all participate more fully in convincing the people of Iran that there is a clear alternative" to the Iranian regime, Crowley said.
Referring to "the power of our example and the leadership of the United States," Mr. Crowley added, "We are in a much stronger position when we have opened our door, welcomed the first residents of Camp Ashraf to the United States and then say to the rest of the world, we are doing our share, now it's your turn."
Commenting on the ongoing nuclear talks between Western countries and the Iranian regime, Ambassador John Bolton warned, "With respect to the nuclear weapons program we could be coming to a very, very critical point. This has to do not with political or diplomatic hype or spin or speculation - it has to do with the physics and the physics have to do with the continued progress the regime is making toward its long-sought objective of a deliverable nuclear weapons capability". "You can't find empirical reality that justifies the continuation of negotiations....The cost of negotiation is the time Iran gets to continue to move toward that objective," he added.
Expressing deep concern over the horrible living conditions at Camp Liberty, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), said, "I was mortified to hear that they don't even have the most basic facilities in Camp Liberty. It is not even in basic condition to accept all these camp residents and I say that we should not continue transferring them until Camp Liberty is in a shape to accept them… I will be there with you side-by-side every step of the way to make sure that we finally get freedom for the residents."
Retired U.S. Army Col. Wesley Martin, a commander of Camp Ashraf when controlled by the U.S. government, emphatically rejected claims by the State Department lawyer that weapons might remain in Camp Ashraf. "We have gone through that compound over and over again," Martin said. "There are no weapons at Camp Ashraf."
Other speakers at the conference included, former White House adviser Dick Morris, who highlighted the responsibility of the United States regarding Ashraf. "As to the situation in Camp Ashraf, what is this nonsense about pressuring the Maliki Government? We are the Maliki government," he said. Also on the panel were Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan who described the nuclear discussions "a fool's errand," and Counterterrorism expert, Col. David Hunt (ret.)
Bruce McColm, President of the Global Initiative for Democracy (GID), one of the organizers of the event, underlined the need for a firm approached to the Tehran regime.
The event was moderated by former Rep. Tom Tancredo who warned the policy makers that the situation in Camp Liberty "grows more intolerable and dangerous by the minute."
CONTACT: Robert McColm, +1-703-946-8848, [email protected]
SOURCE Global Initiative for Democracy (GID)