WASHINGTON, May 9 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court in Washington Friday refused to review the State Department's official designation of an Iranian resistance group as a "foreign terrorist organization."
The ruling came as the Bush administration reportedly has decided to seek the surrender of the group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which has thousands of fighters, armored vehicles and artillery in Iraq along the Iranian border.
The group enjoyed the protection of the Saddam Hussein regime until the Iraqi government fell to coalition forces last month.
United Press International's State Department correspondent, Eli Lake, reported Thursday that the United States has been engaged in secret negotiations with Iran for the return of al-Qaida operatives who fled northern Iraq just before the U.S. invasion.
In return, the Iranians have asked the United States to turn over members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, known as both MEK and PMOI. Other names for the organization, according to the State Department, are the National Council of Resistance and the Muslim Iranian Student's Society.
Complicating the negotiations is a cease-fire deal between the U.S. military and the group which allowed it to keep weapons and defend itself from attacks by Iran.
Friday, The Washington Post reported that the Bush administration has decided to "actively seek (the PMOI's) surrender" to U.S. forces in order to improve relations with Iran.
Friday's ruling was the third time the PMOI has unsuccessfully asked the U.S. courts to remove the State Department's designation.
The current U.S. law on the matter, the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, gives the secretary of state the authority to designate a group as a "foreign terrorist organization."
The designation blocks any funds which the group has on deposit with any U.S. financial institution, excludes group representatives from the United States and makes it a crime for anyone to "knowingly" provide "material support or resources" to the group.
In its ruling Friday, the federal appeals court panel noted that the 1996 law also makes no provision for the targeted group to comment on the process, and also allows the secretary of state to use classified information in reaching a finding that the group is a foreign terrorist organization.
All that is necessary for a group to receive such a designation is that it be foreign, it participate in terrorist activity and that the activity threaten "the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States." The acts of terror do not have to be aimed at a U.S. target.
The State Department designated the PMOI as a foreign terror organization in 1997, 1999 and 2001.
Each time the group petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which reviews the regulatory actions of U.S. agencies.
In the 1999 process, the appeals court ordered the State Department to give the group a chance to comment on the non-classified evidence against it, a chance to file evidence showing the group was not a terror organization and a chance to be "meaningfully heard" in the process.
However, even with those concessions, the department again found the PMOI to be a foreign terrorist group, imposing the designation for a two-year term, and the PMOI again asked the appeals court for review.
U.S. lawyers for the group argued that the State Department designation procedure violates the due process, or fair treatment, clause of the Fifth Amendment because the secretary is allowed to rely on secret evidence that the PMOI could not review.
The appeals court panel rejected that argument, saying that the concessions in 1999 more than satisfied the due process claim.
In addition, the appeals court panel said the group could be classified as a terror organization based solely on non-classified evidence, even disregarding the classified information.
By its own admission, the court said, the PMOI attacked the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office in Tehran with mortar fire; assassinated a former Iranian prosecutor and killed his guards; killed the deputy chief of the Iranian Joint Staff Command, and launched other mortar attacks on the Iranian Central Command Headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, the Tehran headquarters of the Iranian State Security Forces and other official sites.
(Nos. 01-1465 and 01-1476, PMOI vs. DOS and Sec. Powell.)