Still no help for Iranian dissidents

Consider three principles. First, in Plato’s Republic, one definition of justice is to give each person that which is due. Second, Martin Luther King stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Third, King also said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Two groups receiving “due justice” are Iraqi Yazidis and Afghan interpreters. It is intolerable for the State Department to ignore virtual imprisonment by Baghdad of Iranian dissidents stuck in Iraq. To defend Yazidis and offer visas to Afghan interpreters but not to Iranian dissidents is an injustice to those whom we promised to protect and have provided useful intelligence to us; such actions degrade the good deeds done for Yazidis and Afghans.

With United Nations actions in support of Yazidis, the arc of justice tilts in their favor. They belong to a pre-Christian and pre-Islamic sect, which is vulnerable to the Islamic State (IS); it believes Yazidis are apostates deserving execution. The International Rescue Committee describes how 30,000 Yazidis are on Mount Sinjar, Iraq, under siege by IS. The UN Security Council condemned attacks by IS and expressed its “deep outrage” about the treatment of Iraqis from vulnerable minority communities, especially Yazidis and Christians, displaced by such attacks.

It is just to support President Obama’s August 7 decision to prevent “genocide” at the hands of IS; hence, the U.S. military provides Yazidis with airdrops of food and water. And it is in the U.S. interest to conduct airstrikes against IS to help open a corridor of escape for the Yazidis, defend American diplomats/military advisors, and support peshmerga Kurds fighting IS on the southern side of the mountain.

Justice also is on the side of congressional action to provide 1,000 visas to Afghans who have been working as translators for the U.S military. There were already 3,000 Special Immigrant Visas available to such Afghans during 2014. Additional visas and resettlement of Afghan translators might eventually cost an estimated $66 million. Congressional action is the most recent of visa extensions for Afghans who have worked for the United States during wartime conditions. Because the interpreters risked their lives in support of the American war effort, they are being watched by the Afghan Taliban and deserve to be allowed entry into the United States.

While American justice bends in favor Iraqi Yazidis and Afghan interpreters, there is scant fair treatment of Iranian dissidents in Iraq. Assuming that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, injustice for the dissidents detracts from the high moral ground reached providing fairness for Yazidis and Afghans.

A statement of August 7, 2014 by Wes Martin, Colonel (Ret.), U.S. Army Military Police and Antiterrorism/Force Protection for Coalition Forces-Iraq, as well as Commander of Camp Ashraf, Iraq, which housed Iranian dissidents, sheds light on the situation facing them. Martin described how 2,900 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) stood with U.S. forces and accepted protected persons status from Washington in exchange for disarmament.

The PMOI provided intelligence that saved the lives of U.S. military personnel. I saw some of this information during a visit to Camp Ashraf in 2008, as reported in President Obama and Iraq. The statement regarding protected persons status refers to Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is ironic that the State Department is willing to fund resettling Afghans, while the Iranian dissidents are seeking ways to pay for their resettlement here but are gaining little support from the Department.

While the UN and State Department have been active regarding Yazidis and Afghans, they are mostly silent about the fate of the Iranian dissidents in Iraq. As of August 10, there have been 56 days since the United Nations Assistance Mission Iraq (UNAMI) monitoring team visited Camp Liberty and 121 days since the State Department sent its officials to the camp. Such absence has emboldened Iraqis acting on behalf of Tehran. Machine guns remain focused on the camp and additional force-protection measures for the dissidents, especially sandbags, are being denied.

The good news is that the Obama administration is considering whether to resettle a number of the Iranian dissidents as refugees in the United States. Such news is consistent with King’s view that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

Tanter is president of the Iran Policy Committee and was a member of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration. His latest book is "Arab Rebels and Iranian Dissidents."

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