Foreign Policy | Apr 2015 | Renowned U.S. Arabist Is Second Witness to Refuse to Appear With MEK Leader

BY DAVID FRANCIS APRIL 28, 2015 – 11:41 AM

A house counterterrorism panel is pushing ahead with a hearing on the Islamic State — even though two of its top witnesses are refusing to testify alongside the leader of a controversial Iranian dissidents group that was itself regarded as a terrorist organization as recently as 2012.

Arabist Robert Ford, who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria and also was posted in Baghdad, in Cairo, and across the Mideast, told Foreign Policy on Tuesday that he would not appear on the panel with Maryam Rajavi, leader of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).

He is the second witness to balk at sharing the spotlight with Rajavi. On Monday, former State Department counterterrorism director Daniel Benjamin pulled out of the hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to be on a panel with the MEK. I was shocked they invited the MEK. What the MEK has to do with the Islamic State, I don’t have a clue,” Ford told FP. “I told the committee to put me on a panel without the MEK or I wouldn’t appear.”

Rajavi will not be at the hearing: She is set to testify via videoconference, presumably from Paris, where her National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) is based. The NCRI is an umbrella organization of groups that include the MEK.

Until September 2012, the MEK was designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization for the alleged 1970s killing of six Americans in Iran. The group is led by Iranian exiles who bitterly oppose Tehran’s clerical regime and is widely believed to have allied with Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq during the 1980s war between those two nations.

It has bankrolled numerous high-profile U.S. officials and other worldwide dignitaries who appear on the MEK’s behalf, a roster that includes former FBI Director Louis Freeh and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Representatives for the MEK have not returned repeated requests for comment.

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