Saturday, September 17, 2005

Former Hostages ID Ahmadinejad

Kenneth R. Timmerman, NewsMax:
A group of former hostages from the U.S. embassy in Tehran reaffirmed today there was "no doubt" that the lead interrogator during their ordeal was the current president of Iran.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied he personally took part in the hostage-taking, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York today for five minutes, despite a finding by the U.S. Department of State that he was a "terrorist" and was ineligible for a visa.

Before he spoke, the former hostages and their supporters held a vigil in front of the Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran at 3rd avenue and 40th street.

"For twenty-six years, the government of Iran has not been held accountable for their violation of international law," said Kevin Hermening, who at 21 was a freshly-arrived Marine guard at the Embassy and the youngest hostage. "Despite our political differences as individuals, we all agree as a group that it is time to seek remedy. Ahmadinejad and his government need to be treated as a pariah."

Barry Rosen, now a professor at Columbia University, agreed. "We have lived with this for the rest of our lives," he said. "We were treated like animals."

He said the group of former hostages had resolved to talk anew about their ordeal in order to put a human face on victims of torture. "We are talking about the lives of millions of human beings who are living in pain on a daily basis."

Hermening identified Ahmadinejad as the lead interrogator for the military and security personnel at the embassy. "He was not an English speaker, but directed the interrogations. He told [the interpreters] what to ask. He ordered me to open safes," Hermening said.

He said he had spoken to other security officers at the embassy, including Tom Ahern and Colonel Charles Scott, and that all agreed there was "no doubt" the lead interrogator was Ahmadinejad.

Hermening recounted the story of Colonel David Roeder, who has spoken to reporters but was unable to travel to New York. "Colonel Roeder's interrogator was the current president of Iran. He told Rader, 'we know where you live. We know that you have a handicapped child. We know what time he gets picked up for school. We know where. If you don't answer our questions as we like, we are going to chop off his fingers and his toes and send them one by one to your wife in a box.'"

Iranian human rights activist Dr. Manoucher Ganji helped convince Hermening, Scott, and fellow hostage William Daughterty to speak to National Iranian TV (NITV), which broadcasts into Iran from Los Angeles. In separate interviews this summer, each described his encounter with the current Iranian president while being held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Personally Conducted

Roeder said that out of his 51 interrogations, Ahmadinejad personally had conducted one-third of them. READ MORE

The former hostages said they had recognized Ahmadinejad even before photographs of the hostage-takers resurfaced in U.S. newspapers last June, at the time of the first-round of the Iranian presidential elections. "We knew the man from the movement of his eyes, his lips. We knew him," Hermening said.

Before the NITV interviews, the U.S. Department of State had not sought out the former hostages, although they knew that Ahmadinejad would be applying to travel to the United States to address the UN General Assembly this week.

"After their statements to an international television audience, the State Department couldn't do anything else but recognize him as a terrorist," Ganji said.

Ganji also presented to reporters the former head of a taxi company in Tehran, who said he was personally assaulted and tortured by Ahmadinejad in 1981.

Joseph Pirayoff's company was based in the Hotel Intercontinental in Tehran and provided long-term rentals to U.S. defense contractors, in addition to taxi services.

During the 1979 revolution, he received a phone call from a U.S. military attaché at the embassy, asking him to secretly transport family members of U.S. diplomats to evacuation flights at the Tehran airport at night.

Nearly two years later, Pirayoff said Ahmadinejad and 25 revolutionary guardsmen stormed his apartment looking for president Abolhassan Banisadr, who was ousted by Ayatollah Khomeini in a coup in June 1981. "I told them I didn't know Banisadr," he said. Ahmadinejad hit him so hard in the face he broke his jaw.

Ganji himself was “on an Iranian government hit list for eighteen years” while organizing opposition to the regime from Paris, he said.

Some of the former hostages were so upset that the State Department had failed to contact them to confirm the reports about Ahmadinejad that they wrote to Congress last week.

In a letter addressed to the chairman and ranking member of the House International Relations Committee, Rosen, Doughterty, Roeder, and Paul Lewis recounted the latest chapter of their saga.

"To our consternation, the administration waited six weeks [after the election of Ahmadinejad] before contacting ajy former hostages and then only to arrange future appointment times for interviews. The State Department began conducting the very first debriefings on Wednesday, 10 August. Then - incredibly - the very next day, with the debriefing process scarcely begun. the government leaked to the media a CIA report that the investigation had already been concluded that our stated concerns were a case of mistaken identity."

Initial media reports with the leaked CIA report appeared on Friday, August 12, just two days after the first debriefings of former hostages were held. The former hostages have worked with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R, Fla), who has introduced legislation that would provide payment to the former hostages and their families.

The new bill, HR 3358, would abrogate the Jan. 19, 1981 Algiers Accords that prohibited U.S. persons from suing the government of Iran. The Algiers accords required the United States to release frozen Iranian government assets in exchange for the hostages, and sheltered the Iranian government from lawsuit.

More than twenty-four years after their release, the ordeal the hostages underwent remains with them.

Barry Rosen still recalls with shame signing a "confession" after his captors threatened to kill him. "I was thinking of my two young children," he recalled.

Kevin Hermening recalls the day his captors threatened to execute him, holding him blindfolded and handcuffed while they shouted execution commands and poked him repeatedly in the back with automatic rifles. "It was the most frightening experience of my life," he said.