Two senior US officials were questioned on Thursday November 18th during a congressional hearing on Iraq about the situation in Camp Ashraf, near Baghdad, where about 3,400 Iranian political dissidents and refugees, members of the main opposition People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), reside.
Assistant US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, and Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary, Colin Kahl, testified before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on November 18 about the US role in Iraq during the period of transition.
A ranking Republican member of the committee, Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, and a number of other senior members asked the two officials about the rights violations committed by the Iraqi government against Ashraf residents, including restrictions on access to medical care, psychological torture and other restrictions and pressures imposed by Baghdad at the behest of the Iranian regime.
The committee members called for immediate measures by the US government to end the unjust restrictions against the camp.
A number of committee members also pointed to the Iranian regime's meddling in Iraq and underscored the imperative to counter the regime's pressures against its opponents in Ashraf.
In her remarks, Republican Ros-Lehtinen called on Washington to ensure protection of the residents. The current committee chairman, Rep. Howard Berman, backed Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's call for the protection of Ashraf residents.
Below is an excerpt of the transcript of the hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee on November 18:
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen:"... Mr. Chairman, I would like to express concern regarding the plight of the residents of Camp Ashraf. Mr. Chairman, last year you and I issued a joint statement urging the Iraqi government to live up to its commitment to ensure the continued well- being of all who live in Camp Ashraf. However, reports indicate that medical care, including vital treatment for cancer patients, are still being denied to the residents of Ashraf.
And, Secretary Feldman, I would urge the Department of State to please intervene more proactively to ensure that the humanitarian protection, to which Ashraf residents are entitled and were promised, are going to be upheld.
Chairman Berman:Well, thank you very much, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. ... I want to reaffirm the notion that the commitments on Camp Ashraf that were made by the Iraqi government and all that, I share the concerns that those are kept and that we don't forget about that issue.
... The gentleman from California, Mr. Rohrabacher, is recognized for one minute.
Rep. Rohrabacher:Thank you very much. I won't be able to attend the whole hearing because of a speech on the floor of the House that I am working on for about an hour from now.
But, Mr. Chairman, I just would like to note that as we go into this phase where American troops are withdrawing, we cannot throw out those people who are our friends, as if they meant nothing to us.
And those people who are currently allied with us in the war against radical Islam, especially against the mullah regime in Iran, should not be taken for granted.
We should not be put in a very dangerous situation. I talked specifically about Camp Ashraf. These are protected persons by our own definition. We should not try to placate or let the Iraqis build some sort of cordial relationship with the mullah dictatorship in Iran by the sacrifice of these freedom-loving people....Mr. Kahl:... We agree with you and the chairman 100 percent that the Iraqi government needs to live up to its commitments to protect the human rights of the residents of Camp Ashraf. The -- and we agreed 100 percent. And it's been something that we are watching, monitoring extremely closely and it's not only us. This is an international effort as well. The U.N. and others are also involved in encouraging the Iraqi government to live up to its commitments.
Basic food -- basic food, basic medical supplies, basic fuel are getting into Camp Ashraf. There's a lot of mutual provocations between the Iraqis and the residents that aren't particularly helpful. We've told everyone you need to lower the rhetoric because this could -- this could quickly lead to a miscalculation to get out of control. When there have been incidents reported to us, we have engaged with the committee and the Iraqi government that's in charge of this portfolio and I think that our engagement has had some success in the mind of the Iraqis of their -- of their obligations under (inaudible) military law to provide for the human rights of the residents of Camp Ashraf.
So we agree with you. We need -- and we need to keep watching this and we're glad that we have international partners that are involved....
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen:Thank you.
I now yield five minutes to the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Poe.
Rep. Poe:Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Thank you both for being here.
I want to zero in on, first, Camp Ashraf and the situation as it is today and what's taking place there. I personally am concerned about the residents of Camp Ashraf, the 4,000 people that are in there, have received information from the residents about several -- several things that are taking place.
Here are some photographs taken by residents of Camp Ashraf. And I'll have to let these get closer to you all. And their concern is about the 112 loudspeakers that are posted around about the entire camp that are blaring into Camp Ashraf at all times of the day and night, apparently comments such as: "We're going to set Ashraf on fire. Ahmadinejad is a great president and all of you should follow him. You will soon see how the Iraqis are going to attack and destroy this camp, and we will hang every one of you."
It seems to me to be some type of psychological torture, torment, whatever you want to call it, to the residents of Camp Ashraf. First of all, I'm not sure who's doing this. Is it -- is it Iranians with the permission of the Iraqis? Is it Iraqis? Is it both? Do either one of you know about this?
Secretary Feltman?Mr. Feltman:The residents of Camp Ashraf and their family and family members here have certainly been -- have certainly told us about this. We're aware of this, yes.
Rep. Poe:And what's your opinion of it? Do you think that's the way we ought to be treating folks in Camp Ashraf?
Mr. Feltman:What -- first, Congressman, Camp Ashraf is under Iraqi sovereignty. That's -- that's just a fact. We have to accept the fact that Iraqi...
Rep. Poe:I understand that, but do you think these are Iranians or Iraqis that are making these -- blaring these loud...
Mr. Feltman:I don't know who's -- I don't know who's blaring it in, but the commitment that we have from the Iraqis that they must live up to, that we will be working to make they live up to is that they do not deport them to a -- to a country where they could be tortured for their political beliefs, where they could be arrested or detained for their political beliefs.And that's -- and that is a commitment that the Iraqis have given us. It's part of an international understanding. It's what the Iraqis...
Rep. Poe:Excuse me, I'm just limited on time. Do you think that that is a commitment that they can -- are going to live up to? Or do we just hope they're going to live up to?
Mr. Feltman:We're watching this all the time...
Congressman Poe:I know where they came from. I know they're Iranians. ...Well, do you think that setting up 112 loudspeakers that are going off all days and nights, saying all kinds of propaganda things against the Camp Ashraf residents is something that should be of concern to the United States?Or we should forget this, because now it's not our problem?
Mr. Feltman:No, I think that these -- I think all of these basically dangerous versions of name-calling provocation, et cetera, should all be stopped, because you don't know when things are going to get out of control there.You don't know when they're -- when someone's going to cross a line that leads to violence.Congressman Poe:Exactly. Are you concerned, as a representative of the United States about the Iranian influence in not only Camp Ashraf, but Iraq as well?
Mr. Feltman:Yes. Of course. We're concerned about Iranian influence across the region. I'm the assistant secretary for NEA. We see Iran's bad behavior in a lot of different places.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee:... Let me give my bias. We went into Iraq, looking for weapons of mass destruction and all we did is destroy and make worse, to a certain extent.
I'm not a fan of the present government. I'm not a fan of al- Maliki, Shiites and al-Dawa (ph), who is a Sunni, whose name I may not have pronounced correctly. But I know him when I see him.
And it is a constant continuous contact sport of who can have the upper hand, who can fill their pockets even more.
So we have less troops there, but I don't think the United States can abandon its responsibility concerning human rights.So let me pointedly ask the question about the people in Camp Ashraf.
Not only do they have loud noises and torture and afraid of their life and the people in this country, Iranian-Americans, whose families were left behind or whose families went to be able to save the lives of other family members, are living in utter fear.
Can you tell me what humanitarian act is it to let sick and dying people die because they have no access to medical care? Elham, Mehdi, both suffering massively from cancer, being denied the opportunity, one with thyroid cancer, one with acute kidney cancer, in a critical state, already lost of one their kidneys, and they need to undergo an operation.
And they can't seem to get into a hospital. Where is our stand on human rights? We are continuing to plow investment into Iraq -- and let me be very clear -- I hope we have a pathway of economic opportunity.
I hope there is a pathway for businesses in the United States. After all, look at the enormous measure of blood that we've shed in that place. And what do we have to show for it?
I believe if we do not leave behind a civilized society that, in their own way -- they don't have to follow the American way. They don't have to have the Harris County Public Health System.
But in their own way, cannot treat people in a humanitarian way, if they cannot form a government in less than 100 years, which it appears to be, that still is not stable and still we have not agreed to, then we have failed.
And if we keep continuing to say they're a sovereign nation, sovereign about what? They're not a sovereign nation. They're a collapsed government.There's nothing positive going on there, other than the massive new embassy that we have and the hard working State Department employees that ground out their lives there every single day.
Thank them for their service. But, Mr. Feltman, I can't let you leave this room without telling me what are you going to do in our State Department about the conditions in Camp Ashraf?
I come here every time there's a hearing and say the same things. And what we understand is the Iraqi soldiers are the ones that are intimidating these people.
Now if you can prove that there are five, then it is something else. May I yield additional minutes? Well, let me yield for him to answer the question.
Chairman Berman:Yes. I will -- unanimous consent to an additional minute to answer?
Rep. Lee:Thank you. If there are five, Mr. Feltman, let us know that because that is a sovereign issue.But I want the State Department to act. Thank you.
Mr. Feltman:I will -- we have looked into the individual cases you raised.
I, as Jeff Feltman, am not familiar with the individual cases you raised. But I will tell you that every time I have gone to Iraq -- and I was going to Iraq on a fairly regular basis, a week a month for a long time.
I didn't right now. I go see the minister of human rights.
And I go to see the minister of human rights because I care about the same values that you have described and because it's part of our policy to be promoting universal standards and adherence to human rights.
And so it's an important -- it's an important part of our dialogue to keep in touch with the minister of human rights.
And, yes, we talk about Camp Ashraf with the minister of human rights. We talk about the prison. Iraq has a long way to go.
Rep. Lee:What are we going to do?
We need to go to Camp Ashraf. We can't listen to the human rights director. He's not telling the truth. What can we do? The U.S.?
Mr. Feltman:I think that she, the human rights minister, who's a woman, has actually been very effective in working with us on some of the issues dealing with Camp Ashraf.
And I think she's also been a very good advocate for the very values that you're describing across Iraq.
Rep. Lee:I need a report in writing, because my time is up, a report in writing, not on these cases, but the conditions in Camp Ashraf and what the United States and she, director, secretary of human rights, is actually doing regarding the ceasing of torture of these people in Camp Ashraf.
She's doing nothing. And I yield back. Thank you