A half dozen high-profile U.S. politicians demanded during a Tuesday conference call the immediate evacuation of Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) members from Iraq after a weekend attack killed more than 50 people at the Iranian opposition group's Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., former Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., former Department of Homeland Security Secretary and Gov. Tom Ridge, R-Pa., former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former ambassador Mitchell Reiss and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., each passionately demanded the evacuation of MEK members.
And then loud elevator music started blaring.
"Is someone trying to sabotage this?" asked one of the participants. "It's incredibly rude," said another, as the music's volume increased. Confused participants dropped off, with Mukasey the last high-profile participant on the line.
After the caller exodus an operator entered the conference line and provided one of the call organizers with the last four digits of the guilty party's phone number: 6161.
"I muted the line that was playing the music here," the operator said. She declined to provided the culprit's full phone number on an open line.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Wesley M. Martin, one of the call organizers, believes the music was deliberately used to force an end to the conversation.
"When I came online I was identified [as] caller number 6," Martin emailed participants after the call ended. "Taking roll only Patti, Nicole, and Jackie identified themselves. The announcement of the call was posted to gain as much media coverage as possible as it should have been. I cannot help believe our communication was monitored and selectively jammed."
In a follow-up email, Martin told U.S. News, "[t]he fact that the music got even louder at one point makes me believe it was no oversight."
The MEK is a highly controversial group. It was responsible for killing several Americans in Iran during the 1970s. In 1992 its members allegedly attempted an attack on Iran's U.N. delegation in New York. Less than a year ago it was removed from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations after an intense lobbying campaign that included paying retired U.S. government leaders, some of whom were on the Tuesday call. Its supporters say the MEK has been an essential conduit for sensitive information about Iran's nuclear program.
MEK members within Iraq were largely disarmed after the 2003 American invasion. The group had been granted protection by Saddam Hussein before the invasion and lived at Camp Ashraf for two decades. After the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2009, many group members moved in 2012 from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, an abandoned U.S. military base. As Iraq spins yet again into regular violence, the disarmed militants and their families are among the victims.
"We have asked Secretary Kerry for one and only one remedy," Rendell said on the Tuesday call. The two-term governor wants an airlift of MEK members out of Iraq. "We could take them even to Guantanamo where they would be better off because their lives wouldn't be taken," he said.
"It is easy to dismiss more carnage in Iraq. Iraq is a sea of carnage, [but in this instance] there is a significant difference," said Torricelli, who dropped out of his Senate re-election campaign in 2002 after a donor scandal. "They were assured protection, these were innocent, unarmed refugees. ... The wounded fled to a hospital and they were killed on hospital gurneys."
According to Torricelli, "it is clear Iraqi forces were involved" and also likely that Iran's government took part, he said, because "many of the people who were involved spoke Farsi."
"This is about murder, but it's also about the credibility of the U.S. government," he said.
Ridge praised the MEK as "a group that has the undying enmity and hatred of the mullahs in Iran." He lamented that "the mullahs [of Iran] have perhaps more influence in Iraq than the country that lost several thousand" troops to depose Hussein.