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Remembering Our Past of Torture In Iran


 There is now quite a bit of hand-ringing about the past of Iran’s president-elect, especially as to whether, as a youth, he participated in the hostage taking of the 52 Americans who were held for 444 days, beginning in 1979.  While this is certainly fair game for consideration, it is my belief that, from a moral and even practical perspective, it is more important to examine our own collective conscience about the U.S.’s long-time role in Iran, particularly for the three decades leading up to, and indeed largely precipitating, the 1979 Iranian revolution.   For it is from our own history in Iran that we will gain some perspective about why the Iranians feel the way they do about the U.S., and why, in my view, the U.S. should rightfully take a much more measured and gentle approach with Iran and with the Middle East in general.

On June 11, 1979, the New York Times published an article entitled "Torture’s Teachers."  In this article, which dealt with the varied misdeeds of the CIA, the author, A.J. Langguth, discussed a conversation with a CIA operative in Iran who revealed "that the CIA sent an operative to teach interrogation methods to SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, that the training included instructions in torture, and the techniques were copied from the Nazis."  None of this is much of a secret anymore, though it is rarely discussed in the media even in the context of our musings over what transpired in Iran in 1979.  This is incredible in that this history is so vital to understanding these events.

 GlobalSecurity.org, a fairly conservative website which provides information relating to U.S. national security concerns, has a whole section on Iran’s "Ministry of Security SAVAK."  In this section, the website soberly describes the fact that it was the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency which helped to install the "one-party rule" of Shah of Iran in 1953.  As the website relates, the "CIA mounted a coup against the left leaning [and democratically-elected] government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, which had planned to nationalize Iran’s oil industry."  Further, the "CIA subsequently provided organizational and training assistance for the establishment of an intelligence organization for the Shah."  This intelligence organization, as the website tells us, was indeed the SAVAK, which, with CIA support and instruction, went on for the next thirty-some years to engage in the "torture and execution of political prisoners, suppression of dissent, and alienation of the religious masses."  Globalsecurity.org, relating all of this to national security, then goes on to explain that "The United States reinforced its position as the Shah’s protector and supporter, sewing the seeds of the anti-Americanism that later manifested itself in the revolution against the monarchy" in 1979.

Placed in the context of these undisputed facts, the U.S.’s incessant and incendiary rant, about Iran’s shortcomings in democracy, about the possibility that Iran would seek a nuclear deterrent against aggression, and about the current president-elect’s conduct in 1979 seems ill-informed, unnecessarily aggressive and indeed downright hypocritical.  The media’s publication of these rants, devoid of any criticism or any mention of the aforesaid shameful conduct of the U.S. in Iran which largely brought about the fundamentalist government the U.S. now fears, is even more troublesome.  With the U.S. now involved in an unpopular and clearly unnecessary war in Iraq – another war made possible by a compliant media – it would seem that pointing out the above facts is critical at this time when the U.S. is poised for its next failed and misguided foreign military venture.  By familiarizing ourselves, and our elected officials about this history, it is my hope that we can greatly subdue the unjustified righteous indignation many in the U.S. feel about Iran, and, as a consequence, avoid the next war before it starts.          

Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights attorney living in Pittsburgh

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