June 18th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

1979: I Will Never Forgive, Never Forget

Watching a little television last night, I caught a couple of showings of an ad for a TV special scheduled for next Saturday, a one hour documentary on the Discovery Channel based on the new book by the author if Blackhawk Down, Mark Bowden, called Guests of the Ayatollah. It's about the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 to 1981, and the video for the ad consists of 30 seconds' worth of news footage from the hostage crisis. And I was simply not prepared for my emotional reaction to seeing 30 seconds of that footage at a time: pain, and rage. I felt as if I had been kicked in the testicles. I felt as if somebody's hands were around my throat. And black, palpable rage boiled up in me from depths I barely know that I have, and that rage took a long time to simmer down. Nor, hours later, has it fully gone away; the memory of that rage is enough to bring back a fair amount of it, and a the memory of a fair amount of the pain. Upon reflection, I think I know why. You see, with the exception of the hostages themselves, and a few of the journalists who covered the crisis (most notably Ted Koppel, who made his career by keeping this story in front of the American public night after night on his then-new show Nightline), virtually everybody who touched this story in any way was absolutely monstrous, totally beastly. Unforgivable? It's not for me to say, but to say this: I feel no inclination to forgive anybody on any side, because nobody who did monstrous things in the 1979-1981 Iran Hostage Crisis has ever shown the slightest remorse.

Backstory, for those of you too young to remember (and because I'll bet good money that a fair amount of this doesn't make it into the TV show): From the end of World War II until 1951, Iran was governed by a pro-western puppet dictator installed by Great Britain, the self-styled "Shah" Reza Pahlavi. In 1951, the country had its first free elections, and to the embarrassment of the CIA team who were sent in-country to prevent just this outcome, the Communist Party won. The Shah, following US and CIA orders, refused to cede power to the newly elected Prime Minister Mossadeq, and had him executed in 1953. Over the next 25 years, as the Shah tried to turn Iran into a copy of America, a powerful alliance of two separate revolutionary groups, the Islamist "Party of God" (Hezbollah) and the Iranian Communist Party, conspired to restore democracy to Iran. Per CIA advice, the Shah instituted an all-out reign of terror, having everybody suspected of even knowing anything about the resistance seized without indictment or trial and tortured to death. Unsurprisingly, this made him as popular in his own country as a leper on fire. But the CIA team in charge, being the same morons who had previously given the same stupid advice in places like Vietnam and Nicaragua and Cambodia, told him the only reason the crackdown wasn't working was that he wasn't torturing the Communists to death fast enough or brutally enough. When Jimmy Carter was elected President on a campaign of supporting human rights around the globe, the Shah asked him repeatedly, via diplomatic cable, if this meant that he should stop listening to the CIA, should stop sending secret spy squads to round up and brutally slaughter suspected Communists and Islamists? Carter, who was far too stupid to make his own decisions on the subject, trusted the CIA when they told him that if the Shah backed down now, he'd be overthrown. So Carter went to the Shah's multi-million-dollar birthday party and praised him, in public, as "an island of stability" -- which the Shah, not unreasonably, took as orders to continue and step up the crackdown. This final step-up of the crackdown was the straw that broke the camel's back, especially when the people realized that America was publicly supporting the slaughter of untold thousands of innocent Iranian civilians, and the whole country rose up in revolt. The Shah and a few members of his family barely escaped, and took refuge in America, which gave him "temporary" asylum for "medical reasons."

In the middle of the revolution, a group of college students only vaguely associated with the underground came up with a plan for a publicity stunt to make themselves look important, to get them the recognition they'd need to get government jobs in the new revolutionary government. They planned to storm the US Embassy, no matter how many college students died in the process, and offer to return it (and the people inside) to the US in exchange for the Shah. Knowing that what they were planning to do was very, very illegal, not just under international law but under the law of every nation (including their own) plus the word of the Koran, they knew they wouldn't really get away with it. They made their plans around the assumption that within 3 days the new leader of the country, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, would order them to give it back and punish them for having broken every law in the world -- but they'd still be Revolutionary celebrities, so they figured public pressure would cause the government to give them jobs afterwards. Instead, their plan succeeded so wildly that they flailed around for days trying to figure out what to do. For one thing, nobody died -- that idiot Carter had (treasonously, if you ask me) ordered the Marine Corps not to defend the Embassy. As a result, they captured the Embassy and everybody inside with barely a shot fired. What's more, the Khomeini government was nervous enough about their own hold on power (they were busy planning their betrayal of the Communists at the time, and were worried about whether or not they could hold power without them in the coalition), so Khomeini tacitly endorsed the occupation of the US Embassy. And for the next 444 days, for the first and only time in the history of the United States, thanks to the flagrant incompetence of the man who swore to protect us, our Commander in Chief, and with the tacit approval and quiet support of the new Iranian government, a foreign military force, Hezbollah, captured and held American soil for almost a year and a half.

Oh, but it gets worse. Carter, despite his own years of military service, couldn't decide which of three competing anti-terrorism task forces inside the military should get the job of rescuing those hostages. He ended up choosing the least experienced, least trained, least equipped of the three forces, despite the fact that their plan was horribly incomplete and ridiculously impractical, and over the objections of all of his senior advisers. Why? Because of the three, they "promised" the lowest death toll among the hostages. Which, I suppose, in a backwards kind of way came true: because they screwed up the plan in mind bogglingly stupid and horrific ways before they even got halfway to Tehran, no hostages died at all. But none were rescued, either, and the US looked even more like a laughing-stock; any idea that anybody should take the US military seriously had to wait until Reagan's ridiculous invasion of Grenada, years later. Oh, but Carter's perfidious and moronic behavior doesn't end there. Having failed to rescue the hostages and the embassy by force, he sent morons (and I mean that, morons) to Iran to negotiate the release of the hostages, offering Iran weapons to use against Israel if they would release the hostages ... but (and here's the part that I will never forgive Carter for, beyond all of his various screw-ups) if and only if they held them until October, so that their release would help Carter in the 1980 presidential elections. The CIA, who had defected to Reagan (over the fact that Carter had fired some of the most notorious screw-ups in the agency's operations division) got word of this offer through their old contacts in the region. But rather than expose Carter's treason, they managed to exceed it -- they offered Hezbollah an even better deal, doubling the amount of weapons to be delivered, for them to not release the hostages until after Ronald Reagan was sworn in. And sure enough, right in the middle of Reagan's taking the oath of office, Hezbollah loaded the hostages onto planes and sent them back to us. Israel, persuaded that Iran was going to use the weapons to attack their mutual enemy Iraq, cooperated with the Reagan administration to deliver weapons to Hezbollah, most of which were eventually turned over to Palestinian militants who used them to murder Israeli civilians.

Did the CIA apologize for supporting murder and torture squads in every screwed-up right-wing dictatorship on the planet? Absolutely not; everybody involved seems to be quietly proud of what they did to "defend the world from communism." Has Carter ever apologized for giving the Shah the order to step up the torture and murder? Absolutely not, nor did the Shah show more than the shallowest of token remorse before he died. Has Carter ever come clean about October Surprise and faced trial for betraying his country? Absolutely not. Was anybody in the Reagan administration convicted of their treason and brought to justice? Absolutely not. Did the Iranian government ever apologize and offer reparations for the illegal seizure of an American embassy? Absolutely not. Were the students who planned that occupation, who held American diplomats and other citizens at gun-point under threat of summary execution any old day now for 444 days, ever brought to justice? Fat chance; the current President of Iran was one of them, and so was the Vice President. And so I feel no inclination, now 25 years later, to forgive a single one of them, and may the Judge of gods and men set aside a sufficiently horrific place of eternal torment in Tartarus for every depraved, treacherous, barbarous, conscience-deprived monster among them.

Yeah, I guess I'm still angry.