House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Iraq and U.S. Policy

16 09 2009

Sept. 10, 2009

Chairman Howard Berman

Ranking Member, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

HFAC Members raised concerns on Camp Ashraf

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ROS-LEHTINEN:

…With respect to those neighbors, particularly Iran, I’m concerned about Iraqi actions being undertaken at the behest of the Iranian regime with respect to Ashraf. And on that issue, Mr. Ambassador, what specific measures have been undertaken in the interim to ensure that the rights of the residents in the camp are being preserved, especially against their involuntary repatriation to Iran? Given the — the tensions of dozens of Ashraf residents, what is the position of the State Department on this situation?

How is the United States protecting Ashraf residents from physical and other harm? And as we can see, we have some folks in the audience who are concerned with that as well.

Mr. Ambassador, these requirements raise the following questions: Does the U.S. have a strategy, an integrated, civil, military plan that is operational for overseeing the transition from a Defense Department to a State Department-led mission? How will the State Department take over the lead from the U.S. military? …..

POE:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq directly and indirectly, the violence they’re causing and also the influence on now the Iraqi security forces, specifically Camp Ashraf when on July the 28th, security forces came into Camp Ashraf, killed 11 people, captured these 36, now holding them, eventhough an Iraqi judge has ordered these individuals to be released two weeks ago. They’re still in captivity.


POE:

And what obligation other than a letter that has been sent by the State Department to the Iraqi government to do the right thing and obey the law that’s obviously been filed, what are we doing to make sure we have the — the ability to secure the safety of these people, especially as we turn down or — or leave the area next year and the year after? We have the moral and legal obligation to secure these — safety of these individuals. What are we doing?

INGLIS:

Mr. Ambassador, we look forward to hearing from you about what’s happening at Camp Ashcroft and, really, we join in expressing concern about the violation of Geneva Convention and hope that the United States can put appropriate pressure on the Iraqis to act in a humane way and consistent with the conventions. So look forward to hearing from you about that as well as other things. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

ROHRABACHER:

Let me say, the other thing that is disturbing to me is of course that we have seen this attack on Camp Ashraf. And I would hope that you’d take back with you to the Iraqi government that there are senior members of the United States Congress that are watching what they’re doing, and holding — going in and taking prisoners from that camp in order to do the Iranian mullahs a favor is not acceptable. Their human rights are being violated, as far as what we can see, and we should put an emphasis on that, as well.

POE:

Thank you Mr. Chairman, thanks for being here Mr. Ambassador. I want to follow up on my opening statement. I’m concerned about the Iranian government. The Iranian government wants to develop nuclear weapons. They were involved in Iraq, directly and indirectly. They cause mischief, they kill people and now they’re involved in Camp Ashraf with influence on the Iraqi government. Apparently the United States knew that there was trouble in Camp Ashraf that there might be some type of problem and of course there was a problem with the invasion of the Iraqi security forces killing 11 people and capturing 36 others. They’ve been ordered by a judge to release these people, they’re still in captivity, and we have the legal and moral obligation, right or wrong, we’re in that situation to protect camp Ashraf. We’re on our way out. How do we know that this camp with these Iranian dissidents will be secure, that their lives are not in jeopardy? Is the fourth Geneva Convention going to use this as a designated persons and make sure that we as the united states push to protect these individuals? My personal opinion is our quarrel is not with Iranians either in Iran or Iraq. Our quarrel is with the government, and so what are we doing specifically to make sure that the people of Camp Ashraf are safe when we leave town?

HILL: Well first of all we sought and received written assurance from the government of Iraq that it would treat the Mojahedin-e Khalq humanely and will not forcibly transfer them to any other country, not forcibly transfer them to any other country.

POE: Excuse me, Just to clarify the question for the answer, was this before or after the security forces came into Camp Ashraf that we got this assurance?

HILL: This was before because the UN mandate for us to be responsible for this camp ended at the end of 2008. After 2008, that is starting January one this year, it is the sovereign and sole responsibility of the Iraqi government and because of that we sought from them written assurances, that they would treat them humanely and that they would not forcibly repatriate them, where they would be, they could be tortured or persecuted based on their religious or political beliefs.

POE: It doesn’t appear that they had been treated humanely if eleven of them were murdered and 36 others were arrested

HILL: Well on July 28th Iraqi forces went in to try to set up a police station. They regarded that as an exercise of their sovereignty because Ashraf is in Iraq.

POE: Did we know about that before it happened?

HILL: I understand that they told us that. Yes, that they were going to do this. Yea

As you, as you are well aware, the operation of setting up this police station resulted in violence and the deaths of several of the residents. The United States gave immediate medical attention to the injured, and provided medical supplies and expertise to the clinic there. We also evacuated most seriously injured to US medical facilities. We have continued, the US has continued to monitor the treatment of the 36 Mujahedin E Khalq members who are were arrested on charges relating to the rioting and illegal residence in Iraq. So we have continued to monitor them and we have continuously and clearly told the Iraqi government of our interest in their treatment. I can assure you sir that we are continuing to be in touch with the Iraqi government and urge that they live up to their written assurances to us with respect to the treatment of the individuals and especially to the issue of repatriation because it is repatriation that I think we have to make sure does not happen.

POE: Let me ask you a question in the limited time I have left. Let’s just cut to the chase. When we leave what is your personal opinion about the safety of the people in Camp Ashraf

HILL: Well, we have made it very clear to the Iraqi government, I think this committee in fact has made it very clear as well, that we are interested in the well being of these people, we’re interested in the preservation of their human rights, we’re interested in the fact that they should not be forcibly repatriated to Iraq. It is therefore my view the Iraqi government respects our concerns in this regard and will work with us on those. That said they do want to exercise sovereignty over their own territory but that sovereignty should not come at the expense of human rights or repatriation. So Mr. congressman, I can assure you we will continue to be very vigilant on this matter.


JACKSON LEE:

….    Now, I’d like to add to my question on the Camp Ashraf. We note that there are 36 detainees who were arrested and being held after the raid. Where are they? And why are we just monitoring the situation? We need to do something about it.

What has happened to the thousand women that have been attacked by — I’m told — Iraqi nationals. There is no excuse for these individuals who are minding their own business, who are not threatening Iraq that have to be condemned and attacked. My own constituent has a person there, Mitra Surabi (ph).

So my question — if you can answer those three questions quickly. I’m only giving you about one minute and 30 seconds. I understand that.

And I’d ask unanimous consent to submit into the record report and legal opinion dated July 28th to 30th, Mr. Chairman, 2009, and a newspaper article from the Washington Times regarding the faith community that is sick and tired of the treatment of these individuals in the Ashraf Camp. I ask unanimous consent…ACTING CHAIRMAN: Without objection, both will be made part of the record.

HILL:

……  With respect to Camp Ashraf, I don’t have a lot to add to what my previous answer was, except that we do monitor the situation closely. We monitor it for — for two commitments that we’ve seen and what we’ve had in writing from the Iraqi government: one, that they will respect the human rights of the camp residents and, two, that they — that they will not engage in any forced repatriations to — to Iran.  We are also monitoring the treatment of the 36 individuals who were arrested for violence and how — and how that — the court cases against them will proceed. Thank you.

JACKSON LEE:

Mr. Chairman, I — I close here. I just want to pose a question to you, Mr. Chairman. Whatever the protocol is — and I appreciate Ambassador Hill. It might be appropriate to have the ambassador to the United States from Iraq — obviously what Ambassador Hill is saying is that this is Iraqi business. Well, I think they’re handling their business poorly. And I would ask that if there are human rights violations this glaring, we need to have answers. And I appreciate if we’ll have the opportunity to get them.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’ll yield back.


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