A federal appeals court in Washington today ruled that the U.S. State Department must reexamine the government's decision to designate the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran a foreign terrorist group.
The State Department has re-designated the PMOI a foreign terrorist organization several times since 1997, rejecting the group’s repeated assertions that it has disbanded paramilitary activity and disclaimed violence. The department in January 2009 denied the group’s latest petition.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a 22-page per curiam judgment today in favor of the PMOI. The court found the State Department did not give the PMOI due process protections that the circuit outlined in previous decisions.
The appellate panel—Senior Judge Stephen Williams, sitting with Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and David Tatel—said the State Department must give the PMOI a chance to rebut unclassified information the government used to justify its designation. The court's opinion is here.
Mayer Brown partner Andrew Frey, who argued for the PMOI in the appeals court in January, said he is hopeful the State Department will take a “fresh look” at the case. “It is totally unreasonable to keep them on the list at this point,” Frey said. “The PMOI stands for a democratic, secular, non-nuclear Iran. They stand for everything we’d like to see in Iran.”
Frey called the continued designation of the PMOI as a foreign terrorist organization “completely unreasonable.” Said Frey: “We live to fight another day.”
The Justice Department’s Douglas Letter, terrorism litigation counsel for the Civil Division appellate staff, argued for the State Department. PMOI retains the capability and intent to engage in terrorist acts, Justice attorneys said in court papers.
Viet Dinh of Washington’s Bancroft Associates submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of members of Congress in support of PMOI. The legislators on the brief, including Bob Finer (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA), are members of the Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus.