Tortured Confessions in Iran (& in the U.S.)

In another disturbing development, Iranian leaders have managed to torture confessions of a “conspiracy” behind the Iranian people’s popular uprising against a blatantly stolen election.  Meanwhile the U.S. still hasn’t closed Guantanamo, Obama’s administration is considering indefinite detention for those we’ve tortured (who at least this administration acknowledges we can’t fairly try), and there are even reports of torture in the form of “extraction teams” continuing since the administration change.

First, on Iran.  According to the New York Times:

Iranian leaders say they have obtained confessions from top reformist officials that they plotted to bring down the government with a “velvet” revolution. Such confessions, almost always extracted under duress, are part of an effort to recast the civil unrest set off by Iran’s disputed presidential election as a conspiracy orchestrated by foreign nations, human rights groups say.

As a human rights observer, I am not reassured about the truthfulness of confessions like this one:

Alef, a Web site of a conservative member of Parliament, referred to a video of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who served as vice president in the reform government of former President Mohammed Khatami, as showing that he tearfully “welcomed being defrocked and has confessed to provoking people, causing tension and creating media chaos.”

or this report:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, Mojtaba Zolnour, said in a speech Thursday that almost everyone now detained had confessed — raising the prospect that more confessions will be made public. Ayatollah Khamenei is supreme religious leader.

According to another article by the New York Times, “A high-ranking Iranian cleric said Friday that Iran planned to put some of the detained British embassy staff members on trial”  claiming that “the embassy employees had ‘made confessions’ and would be tried for their role in inciting protests after last month’s disputed presidential election.”  Authorities claim to have video showing “evidence of some embassy employees at the protests” (as were a great many other Iranians).

This BBC video also paints a chilling portrait of the repression.  TV commercials to turn in your own family and robo-calls warning you not to participate in public protests.

Of course, the US (and Britain) have a bad track record with Iran, including their support of the Shah and his repressive SAVAK security, who the CIA helped put in power in the first place.  Leading many on the American left to claim there must be American involvement, and giving the Iranian authorities a convenient scapegoat (with the same kind of “you’re either for us or against us” mentality the Bush administration tried to make popular here).

Certainly, even if there was US involvement, it couldn’t explain (nor negate) the genuine, popular uprising first over a blatantly stolen election, then over the brutal repression of the protests.

In her article Iran and Leftist Confusion on Truthout, Reese Erlich, returning from covering the Iranian elections and protests, responds to claims that the U.S. is orchestrating the uprising.

When I returned from covering the Iranian elections recently, I was surprised to find my email box filled with progressive authors, academics and bloggers bending themselves into knots about the current crisis in Iran. They cite the long history of US interference in Iran and conclude that the current unrest there must be sponsored or manipulated by the Empire.

    That comes as quite a shock to those risking their lives daily on the streets of major Iranian cities fighting for political, social and economic justice.

Some of these authors have even cited my book, “The Iran Agenda,” as a source to prove US meddling. Whoa there, pardner. Now we’re getting personal.

To the claims that President Ahmadinejad actually won the election (one that seems to me to be really stretching it, given that the New York Times reported that Iranian authorities themselves admitted “ that the number of votes recorded in 50 cities exceeded the number of eligible voters there by three million”), Erlich cites:

A study by two professors at Chatham House and the Institute of Iranian Studies at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, took a close look at the official election results and found some major discrepancies. For Ahmadinejad to have sustained his massive victory in one-third of Iran’s provinces, he would have had to carry all his supporters, all new voters, all voters previously voting centrist and about 44 percent of previous reformist voters.

Then to the assertion that “[t]he US has a long history of meddling in Iran, so it must be behind the current unrest,” Erlich notes that:

All the arguments are by analogy and implication. Neither the above two authors, nor anyone else of whom I am aware, offers one shred of evidence that the Obama administration has engineered, or even significantly influenced, the current demonstrations.

Then her observations, from being inside Iran while this was all happening.

Let’s look at what actually happened on the ground. Tens of millions of Iranians went to bed on Friday, June 12, convinced that either Mousavi had won the election outright or that there would be a runoff between him and Ahmadinejad. They woke up Saturday morning and were stunned. “It was a coup d’etat,” several friends told me. The anger cut across class lines and went well beyond Mousavi’s core base of students, intellectuals and the well-to-do.

    Within two days, hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating peacefully in the streets of Tehran and other major cities. Could the CIA have anticipated the vote count, and on two days notice, mobilized its nefarious networks? Does the CIA even have the kind of extensive networks that would be necessary to control or even influence such a movement? That simultaneously gives the CIA too much credit and underestimates the independence of the mass movement.

    As for the charge that the CIA is providing advanced technology like Twitter, pleaaaaaase. In my commentary carried on Reuters, I point out that the vast majority of Iranians have no access to Twitter and that the demonstrations were mostly organized by cell phone and word of mouth.

Umm, you mean Twitter has been overrated by the mainstream media? ; )

Frankly, based on my observations, no one was leading the demonstrations. During the course of the week after the elections, the mass movement evolved from one protesting vote fraud into one calling for much broader freedoms. You could see it in the changing composition of the marches. There were not only upper middle class kids in tight jeans and designer sun glasses. There were growing numbers of workers and women in very conservative chadors.

    Iranian youth particularly resented President Ahmadinejad’s support for religious militia attacks on unmarried young men and women walking together and against women not covering enough hair with their hijab. Workers resented the 24 percent annual inflation that robbed them of real wage increases. Independent trade unionists were fighting for decent wages and for the right to organize.

    Some demonstrators wanted a more moderate Islamic government. Others advocated a separation of mosque and state, and a return to parliamentary democracy they had before the 1953 coup. But virtually everyone believes that Iran has the right to develop nuclear power, including enriching uranium. Iranians support the Palestinians in their fight against Israeli occupation, and they want to see the US get out of Iraq.

 So if the CIA was manipulating the demonstrators, it was doing a piss poor job.

So now Iranian authorities are torturing confessions to “prove” the demonstrations are all the work of the U.S. and other foreign nations.   Of course, this is what torture is used for – to extract forced confessions.  Which makes you wonder about the U.S. use of torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere.  We’re using methods that were used against American soldiers during the Korean War to extract false confessions for show trials.  Great if we wanted show trials (well, not great, but the logic would be).  Isn’t what we want real information on terrorists, so we can stop whatever they’re planning next?  Am I missing something here?

It’s not un-patriotic to question America’s use of torture, even on the Fourth of July (in fact, what better day to question it – we’re talking about our Constitution, we’re talking about what America is).  Listen to what some in the military have to say about our use of torture in this video by the ACLU (Warning: this video does contain photos from Abu Ghraib):

Torture is wrong and immoral, and must be confronted, whether it’s being done by the Iranian government or the U.S. government. It is un-American (and I’m sure the Iranian people would agree, if they could, that it is also un-Iranian).

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