Iran Terror: Controversy over a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch is taking a new turn with speculation that Iranian intelligence might have exerted influence on the group through surreptitious agents. Human Rights Watch issued a 28-page report on May 18 alleging that the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) opposition group mistreated its dissident members in Iraq. Iran Terror has learnt of two secret emails distributed by a senior figure in Human Rights Watch, which Iranian exiles opposed to the clerical regime in Iran are using as evidence of sinister political motives, and possible interference activity by
Iranian intelligence. Iran Terror Website
By Nasser Taba
London, Jun. 1 Controversy over a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch is taking a new turn with speculation that Iranian intelligence might have exerted influence on the group through surreptitious agents.
Human Rights Watch issued a 28-page report on May 18 alleging that the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) opposition group mistreated its dissident members in Iraq.
Iran Terror has learnt of two secret emails distributed by a senior figure in Human Rights Watch, which Iranian exiles opposed to the clerical regime in Iran are using as evidence of sinister political motives, and possible interference activity by Iranian intelligence.
The two email messages were distributed by Gary Sick, chairman of the Middle East Advisory Board of Human Rights Watch, to a list of recipients called Gulf 2000 list, discussing the HRW report on the MeK on the day it was released.
The first message distributed by Sick said in part, The Human Rights Watch report on MKO (MEK) abuse comes just in time for the consideration of H.R. 282/S. 333–The Iran Freedom Support act, sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania).
Aside from renewing the ineffective economic sanctions against Iran, Section 302 of the bill provides for support for groups opposing the current Iranian regime, the message added. Since Representative Ros-Lehtinen is one of the strongest supporters in Congress of the MKO/MEK, one assumes that this proposed appropriation is designed to go to them, at least in part. The Human Rights Watch report on the MKO/MEK would seem to disqualify them from funding under the provisions of the bill.
Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the Middle East and Central Asia sub-committee in the House of Representatives, has been supportive of Iranian exiles efforts to bring about fundamental change in Iran. In an interview after the fall of Saddam Husseins regime in Iraq, Ros-Lehtinen said of the MeK, In no meeting or briefing I have ever attended has anyone called this group an anti-U.S., terrorist organization. She said there was wide support in Congress for the MeK and that it will be one of the leading groups in establishing secular government in Iran.
Significantly, Sick distributed a separate email message from Masoud Khodabandeh, urging further action against the MeK.
Khodabandeh, based in Britain, left the MeK in the mid-1990s. In a written statement to a British judicial board in 2002, Khodabandehs brother, Ebrahim, testified that Masoud Khodabandeh had been recruited by Irans notorious secret service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).
In early 2003, Ebrahim Khodabandeh was abducted while on a visit to Syria by suspected MOIS agents acting on information provided by his brother, Masoud. Khodabandeh had been living in Britain for thirty years as a political refugee before being abducted to Iran together with another Iranian dissident.
The case provoked an outrage in Britain. A year later, Tehran allowed Win Griffiths, a member of Britains House of Commons, to visit Khodabandeh in prison. On his return, Griffiths said he was shocked in his first visit to Evin Prison to see Anne Singleton, the British wife of Masoud Khodabandeh, wonder freely in the high-security prison and socialize with prison officials and wardens.
Please do what you can to prevent them from bringing Anne Singleton here, Ebrahim Khodabandeh told Griffiths unobtrusively. To Griffiths, the reason seemed clear. Singleton was working for the Iranian regime and was being used to break Khodabandeh.
Masoud Khodabandeh noted in his email, While experts on the MEK have welcomed the HRW report, it represents just the tip of the iceberg as far as the organizations human rights abuses are concerned.
The MeK have used testimonies by MOIS defectors and former associates to show that Masoud Khodabandeh has been working for Iranian intelligence since 1998. These accounts indicate that he first traveled to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur that year to meet senior MOIS officials. He later set up a website, Iran-Interlink, at the request of his MOIS handlers. MeK officials say Khodabandeh was a key organizer of a small demonstration outside the offices of Iranian opposition leader, Maryam Rajavi, north of Paris, which was engineered by MOIS as a means of stepping up pressure on the opposition.
In his email message, distributed by Gary Sick, Khodabandeh noted, There is enough, as yet unverified, information to suggest that the MEK in Camp Ashraf is currently in severe crisis and on the point of collapse, and that the camp is only held together by an atmosphere of fear and repression at the hands of the MEKs leaders. The most recent reports suggest that if the flag of the US army is replaced by the flag of the Red Cross more than 80 percent of the people in the camp will go to the North camp.
Iran experts said the emails raised serious questions about the nature of the relationship between Sick and Iranian intelligence agent, Masoud Khodabandeh.
Given his position as chairman of Human Rights Watchs Middle East Advisory Board, Sicks emails are likely to add to the controversy surrounding the HRW report.
The big question now is What did Gary Sick know about the report, and when did he know it? said Masoud Zabeti, president of the Committee of Anglo-Iranian Lawyers in London.
Zabeti, a lawyer himself, is considering moves to challenge the report through legal avenues. We might even ask courts in America, on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act, to order all correspondence between Mr. Sick and HRW to be made public, he said in an interview.
Sick, who has been an outspoken proponent of rapprochement with the Iranian regime, told Time magazine in May, “Rafsanjani will have secret talks going with the Americans within three months after he takes office. He did not say if this was merely a prophesy or based on secret contacts with senior Iranian officials.
If Sick has allowed an MOIS operator to develop close ties with him, this is going to attract a lot of a attention, said Mahmud Delju, who monitors Iranian affairs from his home in Paris. MOIS has been aggressive in targeting Western academics and ex-officials in its disinformation operations. But this is a new level of operation.
Whatever the significance of the emails, many observers agree that Iranian intelligence scored a big success when the Human Rights Watch report came out.
You have psychological warfare experts in MOIS who have been trained by KGB specialists and have been doing this for years, Delju said. But to see a report by an American human rights group based on accounts by MOIS agents must have won praises for MOIS in many high places in Tehran.
The MeK state that MOIS (a.k.a. VEVAK) no longer simply uses military and terrorist attacks alone, but also a sophisticated demonization and disinformation campaign, to suppress dissidents abroad.
The latest revelations come as a United States Army colonel who commanded the Military Police Brigade at MeKs Camp Ashraf in 2004 joined a chorus of criticism directed at Human Rights Watch by academics, human rights activists, parliamentarians, and Iranian exiles over the report.
Col. David Phillips wrote in a letter to Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth that from January to December 2004 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.