U.S. Justice Department lawyers today urged an appeals court in Washington to shut down a legal dispute over the government's designation of a fringe Iranian resistance group as a foreign terrorist organization.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2010 asked the State Department to take another look at the designation of the group, called the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
Since then, State officials have not publicly said whether the government will revoke the designation. Lawyers for the Iranian group in February said they were tired of waiting for the State Department to make a decision.
The attorneys, including Viet Dinh of Bancroft and Andrew Frey of Mayer Brown, petitioned the D.C. Circuit to force the State Department to rescind the PMOI terrorist designation or to compel the State Department to act one way or the other within 30 days.
Justice Department lawyers Douglas Letter and Matthew Collette of the Civil Division said today in a court filing (PDF) that the appeals court should deny the PMOI’s petition.
“Secretary Clinton is assiduously carrying out the remand from this Court, which requires the State Department to analyze highly classified and complicated information, and make an extremely challenging, expert predictive judgment about whether the PMOI retains the capability and intent to continue to engage in terrorism, as it has done to deadly effect on many occasions in the past,” Collette wrote.
The decision to revoke the terrorism designation involves “extremely sensitive national security judgments and difficult decisions concerning the best way to avoid possible serious human rights violations,” Letter and Collette said.
The DOJ lawyers said a successful petition demanding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to act on the PMOI designation raises “serious concerns given her unique international responsibilities.” Clinton travels the world, Letter said, to be on the ground to handle rapidly changing events.
“Any interference by a court with the Secretary’s ability to carry out these absolutely critical duties would set a seriously troubling precedent,” Letter said.
The PMOI attorneys said in their petition that the State Department has had sufficient time to make a determination of whether to revoke the group from the terrorist list, a designation that comes with support and finance restrictions.
The attorneys contend that PMOI, thousands of whose members and supporters are exiled at a camp in Iraq, has disavowed terrorism and advocates for a secular, democratic Iran. Removal from the foreign terrorist list is a major impediment to the ability to operate in the United States.
DOJ lawyers said Clinton “must make an extremely delicate decision…about the impact of the national security of the United States of the actions of the PMOI, including its capabilities and intentions.”
Clinton’s review of the PMOI designation is in “consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury, against the backdrop of this nation’s dealings with both Iraq and Iran.”
The D.C. Circuit earlier agreed to expedite the review of the PMOI dispute. PMOI's attorneys had asked the appeals court to speed up its review, saying that quick consideration is necessary "to prevent the Iraq government from continuing to endanger the lives" of PMOI members.