Rights and Democracy: The enemy of my enemy is a listed terrorist organization - Macleans.ca

Rights and Democracy: The enemy of my enemy is a listed terrorist organization

The group is urging the government to consider the MEK as a potential replacement government for Iran


This one starts slow and will take you through some unfamiliar territory, but I think it’s the most intriguing foreign-policy story I’ve seen this week. Near the end, it features murdered nuclear scientists. Bear with me.

Today we’re going to give Aurel Braun the benefit of the doubt. Longtime Inkless readers (Hi, Mr. Braun!) will know this takes an effort of will.

Braun, as you know, is the chairman of the board of Rights and Democracy, who spent 2009 and 2010 very nearly running that organization into tatters; click on the “Rights and Democracy” tag at the bottom of this post if you’re free to spend the rest of the day catching up. (Here’s one small part of that copious file.)

But now, here’s the indefatigable Graeme Hamilton at the National Post noting that Braun, along with his fellow R&D board member David Matas, has been in Ottawa urging the government — which is, inexplicably, chock full of big big Aurel Braun fans — to consider the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) as a potential replacement government for Iran.

This is interesting because Canada, like the United States, has long included MEK on its list of banned terrorist organizations for “assassinations, armed attacks, hostage-taking, mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids.” The Harper government reviewed and maintained that listing less than a year and a half ago.

Braun’s entire vendetta against the now-deceased former president of Rights and Democracy, Rémy Beauregard, began when Beauregard gave small grants to an organization run by a guy who may once have belonged to another listed terrorist organization. Braun’s behaviour on that file bespeaks limited faith in the possibility of redemption. But here he is arguing that MEK has cleaned up its act so well it should become the West’s spare tire for use whenever Iran’s current murderous regime collapses.

All that’s missing from Graeme’s excellent story, which was news to me when I saw it last night, is that Braun and Matas are not at all alone in this notion. Most MEK (or PMOI, for People’s Mujahedin of Iran; same thing) members now live in a camp in Iraq, where they face difficult conditions. Here’s Irwin Cotler, former Liberal justice minister, pleading for international attention for their plight, on a website devoted to lobbying for MEK to be removed from terror lists. This story lists Cotler with Alan Dershowitz and Elie Wiesel among MEK’s supporters.

On the immediate question of Camp Ashraf’s safety, every political party in Parliament supports MEK; on the broader and thornier question of its fitness to play a role in Iran’s future, the speaker list is different but impressive: Former US attorney general Michael Mukasey, George W. Bush’s White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, and 2004 Democratic primary-season screamer Howard Dean have all advocated for MEK.

Could a group with a documented history of lethal violence that sure looks like a charismatic family kill cult actually turn over a new leaf? The European Union thinks so; in 2009 the EU removed MEK from its own terror watch list. But, as several of these linked stories have already shown, MEK’s clout, connections, its considerable financial resources and its ability to persuade people to look past its lurid early history are highly unusual.

Along comes NBC with what could be the missing piece of the puzzle. Three weeks ago NBC News reported:

Deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service, U.S. officials tell NBC News, confirming charges leveled by Iran’s leaders.

The group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, accused of killing American servicemen and contractors in the 1970s and supporting the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran before breaking with the Iranian mullahs in 1980.

The attacks, which have killed five Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 and may have destroyed a missile research and development site, have been carried out in dramatic fashion, with motorcycle-borne assailants often attaching small magnetic bombs to the exterior of the victims’ cars.

Oh-ho. So the sudden spike in mortality rates among commuting Iranian nuclear scientists could be attributable to an expat Iranian dissident group trained and supplied by Mossad? NBC’s story contains off-the-record confirmation from Obama administration officials, a No Comment from Israel, and a noticeably focussed denial from MEK, which is adamant that none of its members were trained “on Israeli soil.”

I have no idea what moral score to assign to the various players in this drama that John Le Carré would have rejected as too incredible. Many will say that if MEK is picking off Iran’s nuclear expertise, one soft target at a time, then its members are heroes and its continued presence on Canada’s terror list is an abomination. I suspect covert assassination may actually be preferable to the real-world alternative, an Israeli air raid against Iranian nuclear facilities. But it’s also easy and etymologically correct to argue, as some already have, that anyone using lethal violence to advance political goals is practicing terrorism. Even enthusiastic supporters of the notion of using an Iranian proxy group to pick off Iran’s nuclear experts acknowledge the rather dense moral and legal thickets surrounding it all.

So. Braun and Matas did not invent this idea that MEK deserves a second look. A lot of people have argued the same, and now it seems that MEK may be playing a crucial role in the most important covert conflict in the world right now. Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu will visit Ottawa on Friday. Maybe one of us should ask him whether MEK should be a listed terrorist organization in Canada.



Rights and Democracy: The enemy of my enemy is a listed terrorist organization

  1. Here is the Stratfor info Wikileaks just dumped about Israeli tactics inside Iran.


    On edit… I’m adding another Stratfor item on Iran that Wikileaks has out.

    Economic benefits to bombing Iran


  2. “Maybe one of us should ask him whether MEK should be a listed terrorist organization in Canada.”

    That’s funny, Wells, because I think your colleagues are more likely to ask Netanyahu how he can do business with a government that steals elections from hapless Liberals. 

    I wish Americans, Israelis or whoever would assassinate the leading 20 or 30 mad mullahs and let the regime collapse but I don’t believe we should be picking winners either. Enabling abominable clerics death is fine with me but we should also allow Iranians to choose who their next leaders will be. 

    I am for meddling in other countries affairs but only up to certain point. because we don’t want to intrude too much. West leaders should behave ike EU bureaucrats when they make countries have second referendum after not voting for correct decision the first time. West should remove murderous dictators but not choose which leaders are next. 

    Assassinating nuclear scientists is dirty pool because they might have been coerced into studying and working as scientists.

    • Goose and Gander come to mind.
      Who are the North American mad religious leaders you would be willing for others to kill?

      How much meddling by other countries in Canada’s affairs is acceptable to you?

  3. It’s a simple world for some people. If you’re uncritically pro-Israel all the time you can dispense with uneasy questions of conscience, hence the ideological attraction for fundamentalists of other faiths.

    • What questions of conscience should trouble us the most?

      John Adams ~ I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations.

      David Horowitz – lecture at UCLA: 

      Israel is in fact the only country that is not an apartheid state. Most of the Arab countries of the Middle East exclude Palestinians, which is why the Palestinian refugee camps are still filled 63 years after the 1948 war. There were 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states as a result of that war, but they have all been re-settled in Israel. The head of the Palestine Authority has said no Jews will be allowed to live in the Palestinian West Bank.  But there are more than a million Muslim Arabs who are citizens of Israel with more rights than the Arabs of any Arab state. 

      Israel is the only place in the Middle East where an Arab who is gay can live without fear, and the only place where he can march in a Gay Pride parade. There are 57 Muslim countries but not one in which gays can hold gay pride parade. Calling Israel an apartheid state when the reality is as starkly opposite as this can have only one purpose: to inflame the ignorant and the fanatic and incite them to destroy the Jewish State.

      • I guess some gay pride parades make up for firebombing civilians.

        I’m not saying that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, but don’t pretend that they’re some oasis of compassion.

      • Tony do you have anything original to contribute to political discourse or are you just content to waste space and everyone’s time with cut and paste of stale copies of someone else’s opinion? 

        • wiki ~ Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people. Thus, projection involves imagining or projecting the belief that others originate those feelings

          • So that would be a No…

  4. So now that they are murdering people the West finds inconvenient (using essentially the same tactics as they used against Western interests, mind you), they are no longer terrorists?  We have always been at war with EastAsia, I guess.

    • Nice Orwell reference well done sir or madame.

  5. Seems like Israel is using tactics previously employed by Iran.  Iran has long used Hezbollah in Lebanon to help destabilize Israel.  Now Israel is using an Iranian group to help destabilize Iran.  These attacks through proxies seem to be the preferred way of conflict in the middle east.

    Anyway, I’m not sure what to make of all this.  But it does look like Israel will be making some major initiatives to stop Iran from going nuclear, and they need to do it soon.  It also looks like they won’t be getting any assistance from the US. Could be another interesting year in the region.

  6. If the “indefatigable Graeme Hamilton” continues writing about R&D, and as a result PW has a heart attack, who do we blame?

    Because I can sense his blood pressure rising already, daily.

    The Middle East is a mug’s game. Probably why R&D does not and has not had any programs operating there for some time.

    Were Matas and Braun in Ottawa acting on behalf of R&D? Is that relevant?

    • I caught a bit of his appearance at a Senate committee meeting recently, he didn’t appear to be there representing  R&D.

      • I’ve seen a couple of op-eds from him in the G&M. He seems to be a bit of an expert on Russia. I only noticed since I was not aware of him before PW started on his case.

        One piece still accessible:

        Russia’s political order shakes

        Aurel Braun is a professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto. His latest book is NATO-Russia Relations in the Twenty-First Century.


        I’d be curious, as a reader, to find out what former R&D Director Payam Akhavan thinks about this group. From his wiki entry:

        Payam Akhavan is a Professor of International Law at McGill University.[1] . He is the co-founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre in New Haven, Connecticut, an organization devoted to documenting human rights violations in Iran

  7. MEK is the remnant of the original anti-Shah opposition that did most of the heavy
    lifting in his final downfall. They were elbowed aside by the mullahs and when they
    resisted that the military was brought in to help slaughter them in the thousands.
    The survivors fled to Iraq where they were welcomed by Saddam and in return they
    gave him firm support in the Iran – Iraq war as well as being among his strongest
    supporters in the subsequent American invasions. The current Iraqi regime wants to
    send them back to Iraq … where their future will be short and brutal.
    For the past couple of years there has been lots of money spread around the US and
    Europe to raise their profile and support for their existence. Wonder where the money
    comes from ? All very murky and there is so much spin going on it’s raising dust
    devils in the desert. Much skepticism is in order.

  8. Today we’re going to give Aurel Braun the benefit of the doubt. ” … ”
    Braun, as you know, is the chairman of the board of Rights and Democracy, who spent 2009 and 2010 very nearly running that organization into tatters;” 

    It makes me think that the reason we’re giving Mr. Braun the benefit of the doubt is because Mr. Wells knows his article would be unpublishable if he used the language he feels is really deserved.

    • Buy the book (director’s cut).

  9. Probably the most fascinating aspect of this is to what extent the US and Israel are NOT entirely onside over this; here again it looks like the US is going out of its way to blow Israeli cover, as some have argued the CIA chief may have recently done by publically musing about a possible Israeli preemptive strike on Iran.
    I’m not unsympathetic to the allies of convenience argument. However some of that article was just too precious. Not sure exactly why Israel felt they had to work with SA, but I think it was mostly economic- SA being an important arms market – but did it really justify working with SA on NWs? Maybe they thought so?Similarly Israel made some very dubious choices to work with known murders in El salvador for instance.
    Not every decision they have made is as rooted in existential angst as their current dilemma.

  10. Mr. Wells, one could hope that you will do your homework before you coming in and write an
    article that is more of a gossip than news based on fact.

    The Iranian regime is a tyrant for the past 30 years, so by the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS it is the unalienable right of MEK to resist the mullahs’ reign of terror by any means necessary.

    Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

    Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort,
    to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.

    So please Mr. Wells instead of pointing your finger at and keep kicking on the victim you
    should perhaps ask your government how it is possible that a man like Rafsanjani, one of the masterminds of the terrorist bombings in Argentina can own highways and hotels in Toronto.

    In addition, if you have time could you please ask your government that they should look in to how much money the Iranian regime and its notorious revolutionary guard corps have invested in Canada, then you would be surprise.

    So please,pretty please with the sugar on top can you at least make an effort to find the fact and merits of the case before you write next time on this them.

    And for your knowledge, the Europeans were force by court orders to remove the MEK from their list because they never belonged there. So was the case in UK and also in France. The secret here is that the MEK NEVER BELONGED IN THE FTO-LIST. The only reason they are there in the first place is that the western government wanted dialog with the mullahs’ regime and as a carrot, they prohibited and shackled its opposition. In return, they hoped for a closer cooperation and better diplomatic relations and a halt in Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

    We all know how that went and in working. The history will not be nice on the western governments when it recalls this period of time, that I can assure you.

  11. God!  Do we learn absolutely nothing?  Ever?  There once was a heroic group taking on the evil Russians with guns and missile launchers.  Only, they turned into the Taliban.  Actually, they always were the Taliban, we just chose not to notice.  Come to that, there once was a heroic group taking on Hitler with guns and tanks.  Only, they turned into the Russian Communists.  Actually, they always were the Russian Communists, we just chose not to notice.  I’m quite sure a half-hearted google search would find a dozen other examples in just a few seconds, but why bother.

  12. “I have no idea what moral score to assign to the various players in this drama that John Le Carré would have rejected as too incredible”

    Think so? I know you were just taking journalistic license, but have you read Le Carre’s last couple of novels?One set in Germany dealing with forced renditions the other probing the links between the pigs in clover[ his phrase]  poste capitialist entrepreneurs[ read politically connected] and Russian mafioso drug money…supposedly loosely based on actual transactions that took place after the financial meltdown; they were incredible.