By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 17, 2010; A02
A federal appeals court Friday ordered the State Department to review its decision to label an Iranian opposition group as a foreign terrorist organization, strongly suggesting the designation should be revoked.
The ruling by the three-judge panel hands yet another foreign policy hot potato to the Obama administration.
The People's Mujaheddin Organization of Iran, also known as Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK), has for years fought its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, contending that it was only labeled as such by the Clinton administration in 1997 to curry favor with the Iranian government, which views the group as a threat. The 22-page ruling said the group's due process protections were violated because the State Department did not give it a chance to rebut unclassified information used to justify the designation.
The designation was reaffirmed at the end of the George W. Bush administration, even though the top State Department counterterrorism official at the time, Dell L. Dailey, had pushed to remove the group from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist groups.
The group's cause has also been taken up by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
MEK has said it ceased its military campaign against the Iranian government in 2001, voluntarily handed over its arms to U.S. forces in 2003 and provided a flood of information to U.S. intelligence about Iran's nuclear programs. It has also convinced Britain and the European Union to delist it as a terror group. The State Department rejected its efforts, largely on the basis of classified information.
During the court proceedings, some of that information was declassified. The department asserted that the group has not ended its military operations, still intends to use violence to achieve its political goals and has trained females to be suicide bombers. It also said that much of the information the group has provided on Iran's nuclear program has been wrong.
The court cast doubt on some of those assertions and said the group must be given the opportunity to rebut the allegations.
"This is a great opportunity for [Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton] to correct a wrong. She would have the backing of Congress," said Alireza Jafarzadeh, a former spokesman for the group.
On Friday, the State Department said it would study the court opinion "carefully."