As former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is reportedly being considered for the role of Secretary of State in a Donald Trump administration, red flags concerning his business dealings have started popping up faster than a package of Jiffy Pop. One red flag that has been cited frequently involves his work for a controversial group called the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (or MEK).
In editorializing against Giuliani’s possible appointment, the New York Times notes that “he was paid to deliver speeches in 2011 and 2012 defending a cultlike Iranian exile group that was on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.”
A couple years ago, I attended one such “cultlike” meeting in Paris (details and disclosures here), and I think it’s only fair to make a couple of points.
First, the list of prominent Americans who attended this event is large, impressive, and bipartisan. For example, former DNC Chairman Howard Dean (who—from the stage—thanked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for removing the MEK from the foreign terror organization list) and Democratic lawyer and scholar Alan Dershowitz were in attendance. A statement of support was read from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. And many other Democrats, including for DNC Chairman Ed Rendell, have been previously been compensated for speaking to the MEK.
Other boosters of the dissident group include Republican names like former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Ambassador John Bolton—both have been mentioned as possible members of a Trump administration. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Honestly, it might be hard to staff a Republican or Democratic administration by excluding names associated with the MEK; it hardly seems fair to single out Giuliani.
Second, the group’s former “terrorist” designation is, at best, misleading. “When you’re part of an armed resistance and you’re not a government, you’re deemed to be terrorists,” Dershowitz explained to me in Paris. The idea of being part of an armed resistance might sound radical to you and me, but when a regime murders your friends and family, it becomes a bit more understandable.
That being said, it is fair to say that I was surprised by some of what Mr. Giuliani had to say that day—something that involved a rather questionable action for a future Secretary of State: apologizing on foreign soil for America’s behavior.
Some backstory is in order:
Once listed as “terrorists,” these Iranian dissidents laid down their arms years ago as part of a deal with the United States, in exchange for being given a safe haven. But after America pulled its troops out of Iraq, the MEK were turned over to the Iraqi government, which is now (you guessed it) heavily influenced by the Iranian regime. Giuliani described the refugee camp as a “concentration camp.”
(See the 7:45 timestamp.)
“I am embarrassed. I am ashamed. And I’m here to apologize,” Giuliani said of this betrayal. He also said he wouldn’t support any candidate for president who didn’t call for regime change in Iran, and, calling for moral clarity, he continued: “Where is Ronald Reagan when we need him.”
In a Washington Post article, Josh Rogan notes that “the group does have legitimate grievances and has been the target of deadly attacks by Iranian-backed forces inside Iraq. There are also reports that the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services have used the group’s members at various times to conduct covert operations inside Iran.”
The crux of the issue seems to be whether Giuliani profited from advocating for the MEK while they were still listed as a foreign terror organization. And while it is important to answer this question in light of his possible future appointment in Trump’s administration, I think we can all agree that his speaking out against the human rights abuses waged on MEK is something to be lauded instead of disparaged.
Good luck filling an administration that hasn’t spoken to this group.