Lobbyists labor to get Iranian group taken off of U.S. terror list

Two lawyers well-known for their intelligence and national security work in Washington are lobbying to remove an Iranian group from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

On behalf of the Iranian-American Community of North Texas, Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing of DiGenova & Toensing have registered to lobby for removing the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) — otherwise known as the People's Mujahedin of Iran — from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, according to lobbying disclosure records released last week.

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Frequent media commentators, husband and wife DiGenova and Toensing were members of the Reagan Justice Department and have worked for prominent Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill in the past.

“They are not a terrorist organization. It's that simple,” Toensing told The Hill.

Homeira Hesami, a member of the group that hired Toensing, said she wanted to spread the message that the MEK is not a terrorist group.

“We believe the listing of the MEK is not just,” he said. “We are trying to make sure that is known and make sure that the truth comes out.”

Removing the MEK from the terrorist list has become a cause célèbre among some former Clinton and Bush administration officials as well as some current lawmakers in Congress.

Washington heavyweights like former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Clinton UN Ambassador and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge have attended conferences in the United States and overseas to support removing the MEK off the terrorist list.

Many see delisting the group as a way to strike back at the Iranian regime, who they believe threatens the Middle East’s stability by pursuing its nuclear program.

Toensing is pushing for Congress to pass a non-binding resolution sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) that would urge Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to remove the MEK from the State Department’s terrorist list.

Introduced earlier this month, the resolution has garnered 23 co-sponsors so far.

In her lobbying campaign, Toensing is sharing with lawmakers a collection of quotes from prominent names like Mukasey and Ridge in support of the MEK.

“Certain people are upset with them because they supported Saddam Hussein. My reaction is, so did we,” Toensing said. “They opposed the Iranian regime. They also opposed the Shah. They are pro-democratic.”

Founded in 1963, the MEK was a group of college-educated Iranian Marxists who opposed the Shah of Iran.

According to the State Department, the MEK is credited with several terrorist attacks that killed Americans in the 1970s and later found itself in conflict with the new Iranian regime after the Shah was deposed. The group would go on to support Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War and base its operations there in Camp Ashraf, often launching terrorist attacks against Iranian interests.

The MEK was designated a terrorist group by the Clinton administration in 1997 in what MEK supporters argue was a goodwill gesture to soften relations between the United States and Iran.

“The label is bogus. The label was a political move,” Hesami said.

She said keeping the MEK on the terrorist list is hurting the Iranian opposition movement. Since the June 2009 presidential election — considered fraudulent by many in and outside of Iran — the country has been rollicked by protests, as recent as this week.

Hesami said MEK members who participated in the June 2009 protests surrounding the election in Iran were later arrested and, because of their membership in the group, were executed by the regime in December 2010 and January this year.

“One of the reasons the government is executing these people is because they are on the U.S. terrorist list,” she said.