teleSUR, 11 September 2014 **** Front Page

The Mythistory of US-Iran Relations

By Airin Bahmani

The role of the U.S. in Iran's modern history has been decisive. First, the U.S. successfully circumvented the democratic process through the 1953 coup, then proceeded to assist Shah in carrying out large-scale internal repression.

When the 2011 United States' Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was published, U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton sent a touching message to human rights abusing governments around the world, as well as to "activists everywhere" who were fighting for an improved human rights climate. Her message was that Country Reports on Human Rights Practices "make clear to governments around the world: we are watching, and we are holding you accountable. And they make clear to citizens and activists everywhere: You are not alone. We are standing with you."

In February 2011, Hillary Clinton spoke more specifically. Clinton stated that the United States "remains deeply concerned by the persecution of Iranian citizens at the hand of their government." A month later, Clinton gave a speech at the UN Human Rights Council, asserting, "[t]he denial of human dignity in Iran is an outrage that deserves the condemnation of all who speak out for freedom and justice."

In the real world, U.S.-Iran relations are quite different. The U.S.-U.K. alliance with the Shah regime was one of exceptional coziness. For Washington and London, the Shah administration was perceived as an indispensable cornerstone for their influence in the Middle East.

The then President of the U.S., Jimmy Carter, didn't hold back when singing the praises of His Imperial Majesty. Carter stated, "Under the Shah's brilliant leadership Iran is an island of stability in one of the most troublesome regions of the world. There is no other state figure whom I could appreciate and like more."

Iranian human rights activist and an opponent of the Islamic Republic, Azizeh Lotfollahi, describes life under the Shah regime: "Critics of the administration were systematically repressed and lived under immense pressure. The gap between the rich and poor was enormous and kept growing. There was no freedom of expression. If you said a bad word about the Shah you had to be prepared for a visit be by the SAVAK in the immediate future."

The Organization of Intelligence and National Security, or SAVAK, was established by Shah Pahlavi with the help of the CIA. The CIA sent its officers to Iran to train SAVAK personnel and SAVAK interrogators also traveled abroad to learn new methods. In a 1976 report, Amnesty International dubbed the Shah regime as one of the worst human rights violators in the world.

Amnesty International's briefing from November 1976 points out that prisoners were interrogated and harassed using extreme forms of torture: "Alleged methods of torture include[d] whipping and beating, electric shocks, the extraction of nails and teeth, boiling water pumped into the rectum, heavy weights hung on the testicles, tying the prisoner to a metal table heated to white heat, inserting a broken bottle into the anus, and rape".

Reza Baraheni, a prisoner under the Shah's regime told Amnesty International that "[f]irst [the prisoner] is beaten by several torturers at once, with sticks and clubs. If he doesn't confess, he is hanged upside down and beaten; if this doesn't work, he is raped; and if he still shows signs of resistance, he is given electric shock which turns him into a howling dog; and if he is still obstinate, his nails and sometimes all his teeth are pulled out, and in certain exceptional cases, a hot iron rod is put into one side of the face to force its way to the other side, burning the entire mouth and the tongue. A young man was killed in this way."

Similar methods of torture have since been employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Lotfollahi was arrested by the Islamic Republic in the mid-1980's for her political activism. "Whipping, beating, rapes, extraction of nails, bastinado, cigarette burns were all used by the Islamic Republic in a same way that SAVAK used to use them. Usually they tied our body on an iron bed and usually one of the interrogators sat on our back holding us still and putting some wet cloth to our mouth to silence us. The others started whipping our feet to get confessions or to get more information on activists and our friends. We couldn't walk for days after interrogation", Lotfollahi specifies.

According to Amnesty International, the number of political prisoners in Iran during the Shah regime fluctuated between 25,000 and 100,000. Washington's ostensible concern for Iran's human rights situation under the Islamic regime rings hollow when one keeps in mind that the Iranian regime prior to the Islamic Revolution - the regime whose policies Washington was able to influence - was indeed one of the worst human rights violators in the world.

Notwithstanding all of this, the White House professes on their website that "[t]he United States is deeply troubled by human rights abuses committed by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, including its discriminatory practices against members of the country's ethnic populations, including Azerbaijanis, Baluchis, Kurds, and Arabs". In the 1970's, the United States had no problems backing the Shah policy of imprisoning members of ethnic minority groups such us Kurds, Azerbaijanis and Baluchis.

Only denial and ignorance of the history of U.S.-Iranian relations can enable Washington's continued abuse of Iran's human rights situation. In 2005, the US funded around $1.5 million for "democracy promotion" in Iran. In 2008, Iranian groups received $75 million under the same banner. The then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice emphasized that the U.S. is "going to work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom in their own country". According to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, "no truly democratic groups will accept such funds".

A complete lack of democratic process and constant human rights violations by key U.S. Middle Eastern allies, say, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are not interesting nor important. "Democracy promotion" in Iran, on the other hand, is of paramount importance. Perhaps the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 also a manifestation of the US "democracy promotion" paradigm?

The overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 was orchestrated with crucial involvement of the administrations of the US and the UK. In August 1953, the Shah fled from Iran, yet, after only a week in exile the Shah was able to return to Iran with the help of the CIA and MI6.

One of the aims of the Mossadegh government was to nationalize Iranian oil industry which was controlled by the British owned Anglo-Persian Oil Company. In addition to nationalizing the country's oil industry, Mossadegh urged political and social reforms in Iran.

Sixty years after the fact, in August 2013, the CIA confirmed its role in the 1953 coup. A document written in March 1954 by Donald Wilber, one of the architects of the CIA project for overthrowing Mossadeq, highlights that the aim of the coup was to cause the fall of the Mossadeq government and to re-establish the prestige and power of the Shah. The Mossadeq was to be replaced with "a pro-Western government" as the CIA document put it.

The CIA replaced the elected Iranian Prime Minister Mossadeq with Farzollah Zahedi since Zahedi "stood out as the only person of stature who had consistently been openly in opposition to Mossadeq". Among other things, Farzollah Zahedi was a known Nazi sympathizer.

Multiple studies have shown that the US-imposed sanctions have targeted ordinary Iranians. The standard of living for the general public in Iran has decreased enormously. Raising Their Voices , a report released by International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran argues that any "attack on Iran, no matter how limited in scope, would have ruinous consequences for Iranian society by entrenching the authoritarian regime, intensifying human rights abuses and likely thwarting the democratic aspirations of a large portion of the populace".

The role of the U.S. in Iran's modern history has been decisive. First, the U.S. successfully circumvented the democratic process through the 1953 coup, then proceeded to assist Shah in carrying out large-scale internal repression. And after losing their key Middle Eastern ally, the U.S. has attempted to present itself as a force for democracy while maintaining a sanctions regime that has destructive consequences for Iranian civil society. Meanwhile, and despite the sheer absurdity of their coverage, the docile and obedient U.S. media keeps toeing Washington's line.


The archive: Airin Bahmani, Iran, United States, Middle East


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