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Courting Disaster, A response to Rand report on People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran

the Iraqi forces attacking Camp Ashraf in July 2009
the Iraqi forces attacking Camp Ashraf in July 2009

The RAND National Defense Research Institute published in July 2009 the report The Mujahedin-e Khalq: A Policy Conundrum for the Multi-National Force-Iraq, Task Force 134 (Detainee Operations). The report focuses on the circumstances surrounding the detention of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK) at Camp Ashraf and “whether MeK members were taken into custody and detained under the appropriate terms . . . .”

The Mujahedin-e Khalq (People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran) is a major Iranian opposition group, whose members primarily reside in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. The Camp is situated northeast of the Iraqi town of al-Khalis, approximately 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, and 50 miles west of the Iran-Iraq border. It has been in existence since 1986 and covers a 15.5 square mile area. There are about 3,400 residents at Camp Ashraf, of whom 1,000 are women. Most of the residents of Ashraf City are Iranian citizens – and a large number are political refugees.

The RAND report presents a highly flawed assessment of issues and policies related to the MeK. The authors of the report appear to lack the necessary experience and core knowledge to properly evaluate policies. The report fails to contains biased and pejorative characterizations, and utilizes sources of dubious credibility.

The authors of the report conclude that the United States should encourage the government of Iraq to involuntarily deport (refoule) the entire population of Ashraf to Iran, in violation of international law and without making reference to the fact that membership in the organization is a longstanding capital crime in Iran and is likely a death warrant for those forced to return.

Following are the main conclusions from the analysis of the RAND report:

  • QUESTIONABLE  EXPERIENCE– The  government- funded report on the MeK was assigned by RAND to authors with virtually no experience researching and writing about  Iran. This  decision  is  unconscionable given that the lives of 3,400 people at Camp Ashraf are at stake.  Subject matter of this importance requires the very highest scholarship and objectivity by individuals having a deep historical background and a thorough, unbiased understanding of complex political issues.
  • PROPAGANDISTIC ATTACK – More than half of the monograph focuses on delegitimizing the MeK by repeating long-discredited claims about its leadership and history. The report makes no effort to present a comprehensive understanding of the MeK or offer a balanced view on critical issues. The section on the MeK is essentially a political “hit piece” that could have been produced by the government of Iran.
  • CRITICAL MATERIALS ABSENT – In presenting facts, analysis, and conclusions, the RAND authors omit materialinformation, fail to present    conflicting viewpoints, and exclude relevant and credible information readily available from two former U.S. military commanders of Camp  Ashraf that directly contradicts the main recommendations of the report.
  • DUBIOUS CITATIONS – Numerous citations referred to in the report are highly biased and cite individuals known to be supporters of the Iranian government. Assertions are advanced without citations and many of the report’s findings are contradicted by publicly available mainstream news sources that the authors failed to present.
  • VIOLATES INTERNATIONAL LAW – Recommendations presented in the monograph are in clear violation of international law.

SUMMARY – The RAND monograph is based on a deeply flawed “factual” foundation that undermines the credibility of its recommendations. The document is highly polemical and one-sided, violating RAND’s standard of “objective analysis.” The report urges the U.S. to engage in the breach of international law norms that the U.S. has vowed to uphold as a matter of its fundamental policy. In doing so, it posits conclusions that clearly endanger the lives of Camp Ashraf residents.

RECOMMENDATIONS – Executive Action recommends RAND conduct an independent investigation to determine how the report on the MeK, which violates basic scholarship standards, could have been produced and distributed by the Corporation. RAND, which employs about 950 researchers, publishes hundreds of books, reports and articles that are distributed to senior executive branch officials, U.S. legislators, state and local decisionmakers, and private executives. RAND, in its preface to the MeK report, states, “All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.” If RAND views its report on the MeK as legitimate scholarship by the Corporation, it calls into question the veracity of all its publications.

The U.S. Congress, in its oversight duties, has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure public funds are properly expended and not used to produce propagandistic reports.  RAND's annual budget totals about $225 million, of which about 78 percent derives from the U.S. government. Executive Action recommends Members of Congress task the General Accountability Office to conduct an investigation of the report and to examine the processes in place at RAND Corporation to ensure its publications attain “high standards for research quality and objectivity.”

Finally, Executive Action urges the Secretary of Defense, which commissioned the report, to discount the misguided recommendations in the monograph and commission a new impartial study that includes authors with respected and appropriate expertise to properly address the issues in question regarding the MeK.


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