So who paid for the Waldorf Astoria event?
Bruce McColm, president of the Global Initiative for Democracy, told ProPublica in an email: “Resources for the event were provided by the Iranian-American community in New Jersey, New York, Northern California and Texas.”
McColm added that “[t]he financial arrangements for speakers were handled by the Iranian-American Community. For the legal at heart, there were no funds provided by NCRI/MEK or any other so-called front groups.” NCRI stands for National Council of Resistance of Iran and is recognized by the State Department as an alias for the MEK.
McColm is a former executive director of Freedom House, a pro-democracy group he left in the early 1990s. In recent years, he has worked for the government of Equatorial Guinea and served as a member of the Iran Policy Committee, which advocates putting support for the MEK at the center of U.S. policy toward Iran.
The Global Initiative for Democracy was incorporated in Virginia last November. The Alexandria-based group’s mission statement says it “engages in wide ranging activities nationwide to promote the cause of democracy, human rights, religious tolerance, and cultural and artistic diversity in Iran as well as to ensure the safety and security of political refugees and asylum-seekers.”
But, much like other groups that have organized pro-MEK events, the Global Initiative for Democracy appears to be primarily focused on the MEK. The only other event detailed on the group’s website was a pro-MEK event held at a Washington hotel in May and featuring former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, among others. News stories featured on the group’s website mostly involve the MEK.
A decision by the Obama administration on the MEK’s status is expected soon.
Citing two unnamed American officials, The New York Times reported earlier this month that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was preparing to possibly redesignate the MEK as a terrorist group, partly because of the failure of the MEK to fully vacate the group’s home in Iraq, called Camp Ashraf, to a new location.
The Iraqi government wants hundreds of MEK members to leave the camp and, ultimately, the country. MEK members first found haven in Iraq in the 1980s during the rule of Saddam Hussein, who armed the group and, according to the State Department, “deployed thousands of MEK fighters in suicidal, waves of attacks against Iranian forces” in the Iran-Iraq war. The group now has an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 members worldwide.
The most recent acts of violence committed by the MEK were “regular mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids against Iranian military and law enforcement personnel” near the Iran-Iraq border in 2001, according to the State Department’s annual terrorism report. French authorities also arrested 160 MEK members in 2003 “at operational bases they believed the MEK was using to coordinate financing and planning for terrorist attacks.”
By law, an organization can be placed on the list of foreign terrorist organizations if it engages in terrorist activity or “or retain[s] the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism.” In the waning days of the Bush administration in 2009, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied an MEK petition to be removed from the list.
The State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, told reporters in July that the closure of Camp Ashraf would be a key factor informing the agency’s decision because “the history and the use of Ashraf is that of an MEK paramilitary base.”
“It’s where the MEK had its heavy weaponry and from which it carried out a number of military operations during the reign of Saddam Hussein,” he said. “The MEK’s relocation will assist the Secretary in determining whether the organization remains invested in its violent past or is committed to leaving that past behind.”
After several years of legal wrangling, a federal appeals court in June ordered that Clinton must decide on the MEK’s status by Oct. 1. If she fails to take action, the court said it would delist the MEK itself. The order also criticized Clinton for putting off a decision on the MEK, calling the delay “egregious.”
In a petition to the court, the MEK’s lawyers said the group’s leadership decided to end all use of violence in 2001. It also pointed to decisions by Britain and the European Union in 2008 and 2009 to declassify the MEK as a terrorist group.