Panel Refutes US’s Stance on Camp Ashraf, Calls on President to Intervene to End the Hunger Strikes

7 09 2009

September 05, 2009
Scholars of international law, lawmakers and political dignitaries have seriously challenged the US State Department’s position regarding the Iraqi forces’ July 28 vicious and unprovoked attack on unarmed Iranian exiles in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.

The Foggy Bottom, which, to its credit, has deplored the raids as “an avoidable tragedy,” has maintained that the United States has no longer any legal obligation for protection of Ashraf residents. The State Department has, however, continued to explain the 3-day Iraqi operation, which was ordered by Iraq´s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the behest of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as an attempt to “extend Iraq’s sovereignty” by establishing a police station there.

These positions were challenged last week at a press conference in Washington where current and retired US military officers, International Law experts, and human rights activists as well as families and supporters of Ashraf residents who have been on an open-ended hunger strike across from the White House. These Iranian-Americans began their hunger strike on July 28 in protest against the continuing siege of Camp Ashraf and the U.S. inaction to prevent the reoccurrence of another bloody attack on Ashraf.

The panel also called on President Barack Obama to intervene and end the humanitarian crisis in Camp Ashraf, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad and home to 3,400 members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People´s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

In his remarks at the panel, Professor Steven Schneebaum, US Counsel for the families of Camp Ashraf residents and an international law expert, said, “The position of the United States that it no longer has any obligation towards the residents of Ashraf is plainly wrong. The US is still responsible based on the agreement it signed with each and every member in 2004, according to Article 45 of the 4th Geneva Convention and International Customary Law.”

He also rejected the notion that Iraqis only intended to establish a police force. “You do not need 2,200 fully armed police, army and special forces and Humvees running over innocent civilians to do that,” Mr. Schneebaum said. He said that the 36 abducted residents of Ashraf who are being held illegally after an Iraqi judge ordered them released must be let go immediately.

Another speaker, Col. Gary Morsch, Reservist, Commander, Combat Support Hospital in the US army, who severed in Ashraf in 2004 and is currently the President of Heart to Heart International, said in his remarks that, “I am speaking toady as a soldiers and cannot comprehend why our military did nothing to stop the carnage at Ashraf. Had I been there, I would not have waited for any orders.”

“I call on my President and my country to take up the responsibility it has to protect the people of Ashraf. There are hundreds of people across the world who have gone on hunger strike. If we can get our government to act quickly, and get the 36 hostages released, we can bring the hunger strike to an end. The people of Ashraf are our friends,” Col. Morsch added.

Speaking to the conference via an audio link, Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely (Ret.), said, “President Bush made a mistake by transferring the protection of Ashraf to Iraqi forces. President Obama is making a bigger mistake by standing by and simply watching.”

The video footage of the violent attacks you have watched on men and women in Ashraf being beaten and murdered remind us of Tehran streets where the Revolutionary Guards were beating people in the streets.” He added, “All of this is undertaken under our watch. We need to call on the Iraqi government to release the 36 who have been taken hostage. US military must act in a way that is protective and acts as a shield for the people of Ashraf. Iraqi forces can no longer be allowed to act on behalf of Tehran.”

“President Obama assured parliamentarian from Europe who had written to him about Ashraf that the US will do everything in its power to ensure the residents of Ashraf are protected. Is this what he meant by being vigilant on this matter?” asked Bruce McColm, former Executive Director of Freedom House and International Republican Institute.

“We can see that the people around the world are on a hunger strike. There has to be a resolution to the situation in Camp Ashraf so that this humanitarian crisis comes to an end,” he said.

In his remarks, Dr. Firouz Daneshgari, Professor and head of the Urology Department at Case Western University, said that the hunger strikers are at a critical stage. “By the time the President [Obama] discusses his healthcare plan next Wednesday, we will have a medical disaster outside the White House.”

Hamid Goudarzi, a senior research scientist from San Antonio, Texas, who spoke on behalf of the hunger strikers, said, “I have been on hunger strike for 38 days. I am physically weak, but emotionally strong. I never thought that I would leave Iran and come to the US to hold a hunger strike just 50 yards from the White House.”

“President Obama needs to send a representative to the hunger strike to hear our demands. We are asking for the release of 36 hostages and the setting up of a UN monitoring post in Ashraf. We would go on as long as it takes until our demands are met,” added Goudarzi.

Mr. Behzad Saffari, the legal advisor for Camp Ashraf and Dr. Javad Ahmadi, a senior Surgeon at Ashraf joined the conference via an audio link from Ashraf. Dr. Ahamdi spoke about the conditions of the hunger strikers in Ashraf and the physical state of those injured in the July attacks. He said there were 200 injured residents in serious condition due to brain tissue damage, direct result of repeated beatings by Iraqi forces. He also said that the 36 hostages held by Iraqis are in critical condition, some losing their vision and suffering from serious infection and high fever.

In his remarks, Mr. Saffari said the situation in Ashraf is very tense as there are now 1,500 Iraqi police and army forces in and out of the Camp, blocking free movement of people, hindering the entry of food and medicine as well doctors into the Camp. He said it was essential that the US intervenes to help avert another humanitarian crisis.

Later in the day, when asked by reporters in the State Department´s press briefing about points raised at the press conference, Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley said, “We continue to hope the Government of Iraq will work constructively and peacefully with the people at Camp Ashraf.”

He did not, however, say what practical measures, if any, the State Department is taking to ensure that a repeat of the July 28 raid, which so far has left 11 Iranians dead, nearly 500 wounded and 36 abducted, will not happen again.

The White House has also been silent regarding the tragedy in Ashraf and has yet to reply to the demands of more than two dozen hunger strikers who have been seeking President Obama´s intervention to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Camp Ashraf and – in keeping with American pledges to its residents and upholding America´s humanitarian obligations – ensure protection for their loved ones so they could end their hunger strike


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