Iran Focus: Washington, DC, May 30 – A United States Army colonel in charge of security for the enclave of the main Iranian opposition group in Iraq in 2004 joined a chorus of criticism directed at New York-based Human Rights Watch from academics, human rights activists, Parliamentarians, and Iranian exiles for its recent report that alleged the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) abused some of its members. Iran Focus
Washington, DC, May 30 – A United States Army colonel in charge of security for the enclave of the main Iranian opposition group in Iraq in 2004 joined a chorus of criticism directed at New York-based Human Rights Watch from academics, human rights activists, Parliamentarians, and Iranian exiles for its recent report that alleged the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) abused some of its members.
Col. David Phillips commanded the 89th U.S. Military Police Brigade, which was tasked with guarding the MeKs main base, Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, from January until December 2004. Phillips wrote in a letter to Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth that during that time he was given numerous reports of torture, concealed weapons and people being held against their will by the leadership of the Mujahedin e-Khalq.
I directed my subordinate units to investigate each allegation. In many cases I personally led inspection teams on unannounced visits to the MeK/PMOI facilities where the alleged abuses were reported to occur. At no time over the 12 month period did we ever discover any credible evidence supporting the allegations raised in your recent report, he wrote.
Phillips was reacting to a 28-page paper by Human Rights Watch which alleged that the MeK tortured its dissident members who criticised or sought to leave the organisation.
While stating that he would neither have tolerated such abuses outlined in the HRW report, nor would have sanctioned any acts on the part of the MeK to hold people against their will, Phillips said, Each report of torture, kidnapping and psychological deprivation turned out to be unsubstantiated.
Phillips noted that the MeK notified his brigade on a routine basis of people who desired to leave the organisation, transporting such individual to their gate. At your request, I can explain in detail specific allegations and the subsequent investigation by my units. To my knowledge, as the senior officer responsible for safeguarding and securing Camp Ashraf throughout 2004, there was never a single substantiated incident as outlined in your report, he said.
The colonel, now back in the United States and serving at Fort Hood, Texas, said in his letter that he was very familiar with the MeK leadership and personally knew many of the personnel in Camp Ashraf.
Ive visited male and female units on a routine basis. Sometimes these visits were announced, but most frequently they were unannounced inspections. My subordinate units would randomly select billets, headquarters, warehouses and bunkers for no-notice inspections. Not one time did they discover any improper conduct on the part of the MeK/PMOI. Also, the MeK/PMOI never denied entry to any of their facilities, he added.
Phillips said that he believed that the May 18 report by Human Rights Watch was based on unsubstantiated information from individuals without firsthand knowledge or for reasons of person gain, adding that he had very extensive first hand knowledge of the MeK and the operations at Camp Ashraf and that his comments were based on a full year of on-location experience.
He went on to say that he had had one-on-one private conversations with individual members and discussions with large groups of the MeK, and at no time did any member, ranging from young male and females to the very senior leadership, ever report any of the type conduct outlined in the report.
Noting the dangerous situation in Iraq throughout 2004, Phillips said that in his opinion, Camp Ashraf was the safest place within his area of responsibility, adding that there was not one incident or combat injury to his forces there.
I personally felt safe even when surrounded in a room by hundreds of Mujahedin. We always had open dialog and debated difficult subjects, he said.
I was exceptionally impressed with the dedication of the female units. These units were professional and displayed strong support for freedom, democracy and equality for women. The dedication of these female members was inspirational, Phillips said.
I never discovered a single incident where a female or male was held in the organisation against their will. I observed a total freedom of choice on the part of the members to either remain or depart from the MeK/PMOI.