Obama must oppose hostage taking, at home and abroad

During the recent stand-off with Congressional Republicans over America’s fiscal crisis, President Obama repeated many times that he would not give in to, nor negotiate with, “hostage-takers.” Whether or not one agrees with the substance of the debate, there should be no disagreement with the basic premise: Dealing with hostage-takers only results in more hostage-taking.

That’s why it’s curious—indeed, quite disappointing—that Obama will play host at the White House today with an honest-to-goodness hostage-taker whose victims are real people whose lives are in serious jeopardy.

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I’m talking about Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq. On September 1, his armed forces brutally attacked a group of people they were supposed to be protecting, killing 52, wounding many more, and taking hostage seven others, six of them women.

The victims are members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK) who have been at the center of a struggle between the tyrants who rule Iran and the ordinary Iranians who want to see their country returned to its rightful place in world society. They are the victims of a broader geopolitical struggle in the Middle East that dates back to the 1980s, when Iraq attacked Iran after that country’s 1979 revolution.

Those who opposed Ayatollah Khomeini and his brutal supporters fled to Iraq and established the peaceful city of Ashraf, where they thrived in peace. Under the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", they remained there for more than 26 years.

The U.S. had the same philosophy, and supported Iraq in the struggle against Iran (remember the picture of Donald Rumsfeld hugging Saddam Hussein?). However, the focus of the picture changed; the U.S. led an invasion of Iraq and forced Hussein from power. At that time, the U.S. also promised to protect the now-disarmed MEK residents of Ashraf.

But as often happens in that region of the world, enemies changed. While Iran under the mullahs remains a foe of the U.S., Iran is no longer an enemy of Iraq; indeed, it now is virtually a master–slave relationship, with Tehran in charge.

The sad reality is that the U.S. won the war but has lost the peace. The nations that once were enemies are now friends and America finds itself on the outside looking in. U.S. military and Intelligence estimates confirm the all-too-cozy relationship between Tehran and Baghdad.

This includes Tehran's efforts to destroy the Iranian dissidents, most of whom have been moved over the last two years from Ashraf to a former U.S. Army base outside Baghdad, ironically called Camp Liberty.

Liberty is one thing its residents surely do not have. They are living in cramped quarters in almost inhuman circumstances, and anxiously await UN action to relocate them outside Iraq—but not to Iran, where they would face certain death.

Back to hostage-taking. Why would Maliki’s forces take these six women and one man hostage? For only one reason: because their puppet-masters in Tehran said so. And why would the mullahs want these people held? Clearly, for interrogation purposes. The question that begs an answer is: Why would President Obama welcome Maliki to the White House under such conditions? Maliki has failed as Iraq’s leader. More people are being killed every day in the streets there than anywhere in the world except Syria—whose regime incidentally survives only because of the assistance of, guess who? Right, Iran.

Obama was right to stand up to the hostage-takers in Washington, DC. But he is wrong to welcome the hostage-taker of innocent civilians to the nation’s home.

Earlier today, I attended a rally by thousands of Iranian Americans whose loved ones were murdered. Joining former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and former Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.), we urged the president to tell Maliki that he would not receive any U.S. assistance, military or otherwise, until and unless he releases the hostages and brings those responsible for this heinous massacre to account.

The price of admission for Maliki should be freedom for the hostages and a change in direction away from Iran and toward the U.S.. America sacrificed too much blood and treasure to win a questionable war in Iraq. It surely must not allow that investment to go down the drain.

At the same time, the UN must heed the demands of freedom-loving people everywhere for action to let the MEK men, women, and children go free, and nations of the world should invite them inside their borders as symbols of the sacrifices that people are willing to make in the name of justice, equality, and peace.

Kennedy represented the Rhode Island’s First Congressional District from 1995 to 2011.

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