Thursday, September 07, 2006

Torture Victims Blast Khatami Visit

Kenneth R. Timmerman,
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., introduced legislation Thursday that would refocus U.S. government-funded broadcasting into Iran to "stand with the people of Iran."

The Iranian regime's record of "repression, oppression, beatings and abuse ... was "a story that has been told too little," Brownback told reporters and Iranian-American activists. His "Iran Human Rights Act" would also appoint a "special envoy" to pro-democracy groups in Iran and in exile.

"While we are focusing on [Iran's] nuclear weapons development, as we should, we cannot deny the human suffering of the Iranian people," Brownback said. "This story needs to be told."

As a backdrop to the new Brownback bill, former Iranian political prisoners and their relatives gave grisly testimony Thursday of torture under the regime of former president Mohammad Khatami, who is currently visiting the United States. READ MORE

They were introduced by Reza Pahlavi, son of the former shah of Iran, who called the meeting "an unprecedented gathering" and applauded his compatriots for setting aside partisan political differences to work together to "liberate" their country from clerical rule.

He blasted Khatami "who for eight years personally forwarded the agenda of the regime that has inspired, funded, directed, and sponsored militancy internationally and suppression at home."

Nasrine Mohammadi, sister of political prisoners Akbar and Manoucher Mohammadi, described how her father received a phone call from the prison where her brothers had been jailed for helping to lead a massive student protest in July 1999.

"The man from the prison said, ‘the more we torture them, the less they respond. They are like stones,'" she recalled.

Akbar Mohammadi was murdered in jail this July, after prison officials refused to give him medicine during a hunger strike. When he continued to shout defiantly at his torturers, they taped his mouth shut for two days, eventually torturing him to death. "They told him, ‘you are going to die like a dog,'" Nasrine Mohammadi said.

Hamid Alireza Behbahani thanked the United States for helping secure his freedom, after he was imprisoned in Iran. "I was a physician in Iran and only work as a laborer here," he said. "But I am much happier here because I am free. Today I am happy because my children start school, and I know that no one will steal my wife and threaten my children because of my beliefs."

Amir Abbas Fakravar, another student leader who recently arrived in the United States, said he was tortured for 222 days in Iran.

Minou Khomeili, who heads a nonprofit organization in Canada that provides aid to Iranian refugees, said she personally witnessed the rape and murder of a 14-year old girl by Iranian regime prison officials. "I will never forget the way [prison officials] washed the blood off their hands after they killed that girl," she said.

"If Iran were a democratic country, Khatami would have been arrested for these crimes," she added.

Javad Amini told the story of his brother, a medical doctor, who documented torture and helped expose the regime's involvement in distributing heroin and opium in Iran, where non-governmental groups estimate there are now several million young addicts.

"My brother, Jamshid, was arrested on his way to work in Feburary 2000," Amini said. "He was handcuffed and blindfolded by an unknown group wearing no uniform or official ID documents. They took him to a prison belonging to the intelligence branch of the armed forces and tortured him for a full year."

Seven years later, Jamshid Amini is still in prison in Iran. Repeated beatings have left him with an enlarged liver, internal bleeding in his eyes, total hearing loss in one ear, broken teeth, memory loss, and several broken bones in his palms and the soles of his feet.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., blasted the Bush administration for giving Khatami a visa to the United States and providing him security at taxpayer expense during his stay.

"Both before and after Sept. 11, the Khatami regime provided safe harbor and safe passage to al-Qaida," Sherman said. Holding up a copy of the 9/11 Commission report, he said it provided "clear documentation that when al-Qaida operatives transited Iran, they received special treatment and no visa stamp by an Iranian government dedicated to helping al Qaeda."

It was "an insult" to those who died on Sept. 11 that American taxpayer dollars "are being used to promote a terrorism-promotional tour," he added.

Referring to a demand by Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that America "bow and surrender" to Iran, he called the Bush administration approach to Iran "a bow-and-surrender policy."

Sherman accused the Bush White House of "refusing to enforce the law" by allowing multinational corporations to invest in the Iranian oil and gas sector without incurring the penalties required under the Iran Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA).

Sherman's harsh partisan attack was out of step with the rest of the meeting, which was devoted to firsthand testimony of torture, political conditions inside Iran, and which ultimately became a workshop on Iranian democracy as Pahlavi fielded questions from supporters and critics.

Pahlavi called on the international community to adopt a three-fold policy toward the Iranian regime: to "confront" the regime politically and diplomatically, to "pressure" it through international economic sanctions, and to "support" the pro-democracy forces in Iran.

Asked why he was not playing a more forceful role in leading the opposition, Pahlavi said, "I don't think this is the moment to give somebody a title." Then he laughed: "Trust me: it's much easier said than done to provide such leadership. I have been witness to that for many years."

Recalling the revolution that overthrew his father and brought "27 years of living hell" to Iran, he cautioned Iranians to think through the type of future they wanted.

"This is not just about changing the regime. We want to make sure that the result of such change is truly what the people want," he said.

"All I care is that it is secular and democratic in nature," he insisted.