Families Ask: Where Are the Iranian Diplomats ‘Disappeared’ by the US?

May 12th, 2008 - by admin

Iran Negah.com & Khody Akhavi / Inter Press Service & Scott Horton / Harpers – 2008-05-12 01:09:09


Tearful Iranian Families Ask Washington: Where Are Our Fathers? Where Are Our Husbands?
Iran Negah.com

The families of Iranian officials who were kidnapped by American militants in US raid on Iranian consular office in Arbil, Iraq are speaking about their capture. On November 9, 2007 the United States released two of the detainees after 305 days. The others remain “disappeared.”

• Watch the Video of the families’ appeal here.

[Rough transcript of videotape.]
Woman: In the name of God, I am Moosa Chegeni’s wife. He is one of the five Iranian diplomats who were captured as hostage in the consulate of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Erbil (Iraq). As the cartridge shells and the broken doors and the destroyed sofa revealed, the American forces had assaulted against them and had taken my husband and four other Iranian diplomats as hostages.

Small Boy: I ask the Almighty God to return back my dad to me as soon as possible. My brother and me miss him very much.

Daughter: I ask all children throughout the world to pray for my father as well as the other four diplomats to be released from the cruel hands of the oppressors. I would like to ask them whether they have treated my father and other diplomats in the same condition which we treated with 15 British Navy? [Videos, released publicly, showing British sailors chatting, dining, smiling, waving at camera.] As we have seen, they have tortured the prisoners in Abu Ghraib very cruelly. Do they torture my dad in the same way?

Woman: I am Mr. Abbas Hatami’s wife. He is one of the five diplomats who were captured as hostage in the Iranian consulate in Erbil, Iraq. As their office was in complete disorder, we found out they had been captured savagely [Photos of broken door, smashed glass windows, furniture up-ended and torn.] After watching the pictures, I realized that the American forces had treated him very badly.

[Daughter begins weeping.] What we see in Iraq and Any Ghraib jail makes me quite worried about my husband. I do not know how he is doing now. We have no information about him. There has neen no calling and no letter from him. We have sent letters but we have received no answer. They don’t let us meet him. Neither do they let the Iranian Consular Officials to meet him.

Daughter: How can the Americans answer to my sad heart? What is their answer to my tears?

Mother: I ask the conscious people of the world and international institutions to help these children to see their father, to help me see my husband and to help my husband see his family.

Daughter: Why should I be deprived of seeing my father for about five months? Why should we be deprived of hearing his voice?

Woman: I am Mr. Heidari’s wife. He is one of the Iranian diplomats who were taken as hostage in the Iranian consulate in Erbil. The harrowing pictures of the destroyed office with broken glass and cartridge shells made me worried and upset about how the American forces had assaulted on them.

Heidari’s Son: I have a question. Why don’t the Americans respect international laws and political immunity? They have come to a country and they take the diplomats of another country as hostage. This indicates that they do not observe any international law and do not respect political immunity. Are the Americans trying to lead the world according to the law of the jungle?

Heidari’s Wife: I would like to speak with the people of the world, especially the people of America. You saw that the British Navy trespassed into Iranian territorial waters. Although they had clearly trespassed into Iranian territory, the Islamic government treated them humanely.
[Videos of British sailors, comfortably dressed, chatting; feasting in clean, well-lit restaurant dinning rooms].
They publicized pictures about them which declared that they were health and they were able to have connection with their families, Their ambassador came to meet them.
[Video of British ambassador sitting in lounge with sailors, chatting with them.]
Yet the American government, which claims that it is going to promote democracy in Iraq, is treating so savagely that we have received no news of my husband. We have no picture from him.

Daughter: I want to speak with the member of the American Congress. Hasn’t the time yet reached you to resist against the evil deeds of Bush by making him release the Iranian diplomats and maintain the respect of the American people” Isn’t it a proper time to oppose against the Evil Diplomacy of Bush and not let him disgrace the American people any more?

Mother with boy sleeping in her lap: We, as the people who work for the cause of peace and compassion for mankind demand the immediate release of the Iranian diplomats and call on human rights organizations and humanitarian institutions to make every effort to change the minds of the American officials to rescue the release of the five Iranian diplomats arrested so that we can dispel their children’s round-the-clock worries and bring about, instead of hatred and grudge, justice and the people’s regular rights.

Fate of Five Detained Iranians Unknown
Khody Akhavi / Inter Press Service

WASHINGTON (Mar 29, 2007) — As the Western media turns its attention to the fate of 15 Britons detained for allegedly trespassing into Iranian waters over the weekend, the status of five Iranian officials captured in a US military raid on a liaison office in northern Iraq on Jan. 11 remains a mystery.

Even though high-level Iraqi officials have publicly called for their release, for all practical purposes, the Iranians have disappeared into the US-sanctioned “coalition detention” system that has been criticised as arbitrary and even illegal by many experts on international law.

Hours before President George W. Bush declared that they would “seek out and destroy the [Iranian] networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq,” US forces raided what has been described as a diplomatic liaison office in the northern city of Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and detained six Iranians, infuriating Kurdish officials in the process.

The troops took office files and computers, ostensibly to find evidence regarding the alleged role of Iranian agents in anti-coalition attacks and sectarian violence in Iraq. One diplomat was released, but the other five men remain in US custody and have not been formally charged with a crime.

“They have disappeared. I don’t know if they’ve gone into the enemy combatant system,” said Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University who served in the White House under former President Jimmy Carter. “Nobody on the outside knows.”

A spokesman for the Multinational Forces Iraq (MFI), Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, told IPS this week from his office in Baghdad, “They are still in ‘coalition detention’ in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1546, 1637 and 1723.” He provided no further information regarding their status or treatment.

The resolutions endorse the transitional government of Iraq and extend the mandate of the US-led coalition force into 2007.

The continued detention of the Iranians has escalated tensions between the US and Iran and may even have set the stage for the seizure by Iranian forces of 15 British sailors and marines who allegedly crossed into Iranian waters over the weekend.

“The Iranian group in Iraq was arrested by American forces, and we have been asking continuously for their release,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh this week, “but this is something different from the British sailors.”

A State Department official with knowledge of the situation said the Iranians were informed of the status of the diplomats after their detention through the Swiss government, which represents US interests in Iran in the absence of any US diplomatic presence. He referred all additional questions to MFI in Baghdad.

Washington severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 1979, after Iranian students sympathetic to the Islamic Revolution took 52 staffers hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran.

During this month’s regional meeting in Baghdad in which US officials also participated, the Iranian delegation requested the release of the five men, according to a State Department spokeswoman. In response, the Iraqi government asked the US-led coalition to investigate the circumstances involving their detention, she told IPS, adding that “the investigation is not complete, and we don’t comment publicly with respect to ongoing investigations.”

The UN Security Council resolution that officially marked the end of the US occupation and transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi government retains the US military’s right to implement “security detentions”. However, any such detentions should be subject to Iraqi law, according to Scott Horton, who teaches international law at Columbia University School of Law.

“The Iranians who are being held as ‘security detainees’ are not being charged with anything, and so are being held unlawfully,” he told IPS.

Under Iraqi law, detainees identified as insurgents who are “actively engaged in hostilities” — those implicated in attacks on coalition forces and innocent Iraqi civilians — are supposed to be charged in civilian courts. They may be held up to 14 days before being brought before a magistrate and either charged with a crime or released. In order to hold detainees longer without charging them, detention authorities must provide justification for doing so, according to Horton.

That such requirements appear to be systematically ignored by US forces not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan and the broader “war on terror”, has fueled criticism of Washington’s detention policies and practices by human rights groups and legal experts around the world.

“The US hasn’t articulated the legal grounds under which it detains ‘combatants’,” said John Sifton, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “They regularly conflate criminal terrorism, innocent civilians, and real combatants on the ground, and throw them all into the same pot.”

“The vagueness of the war on terror has supplied the soil under which all this has flourished,” said Sifton.

US detention camps in Iraq currently hold more than 15,000 prisoners, most of whom, like the Iranians, have been held without charge or access to tribunals for months, even years, in some cases, according to a recent New York Times investigative report.

“It’s an exercise of raw power by the US that’s not backed by any legal justification,” said Horton. “Legally, it doesn’t pass the ‘ha ha’ test.”

The UN secretary-general’s office has not commented on the detained Iranians or Iran’s detention of the 15 British sailors, describing both incidents as “disputes between individual states”.

“We’ve left it to the respective countries to work it out among themselves,” said Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman. “Ultimately it’s up to Security Council members themselves to determine how its resolutions get implemented.”

The legal fate of the captured Iranians turns in part on the issue of whether the two-storey building in Arbil that was the target of the Jan. 11 raid was, as Iran claims, an official consulate, in which case its premises and staff are entitled to diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, or rather a liaison office, as US officials contend, which would not be entitled to the same protections.

Both Iran and the Kurdish regional government have agreed that consular activities — such as the issuance of visas — had been carried out by office staff since 1992.

But the US State Department insists that it was not an accredited consulate and that the five detainees are members of the Quds force, an elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) described by spokesman Sean McCormack as specialising in “training terrorists and those sorts of activities”.

According to a knowledgeable source at the Iraqi Embassy here, the five were not accredited diplomats, although they had submitted documents for accreditation before the raid was carried out. Their applications were being processed at the time, said the source, who asked not to be identified. The source also said that the Kurdish regional government had treated them as if they were indeed accredited.

The raid on the Arbil liaison office was the third in a series of episodes that targeted Iranian officials operating in Iraq. On Dec. 20, US forces stopped a car carrying two Iranian diplomats and their guards. The next morning, soldiers raided the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the largest political party in Iraq, and detained two Iranians who turned out to have been members of the Revolutionary Guard.

After a tense nine-day political standoff, the Iranians were released from US custody and were ordered by the Iraqi government to leave the country.

As part of extensive review of its diplomatic relations with Iran, the Iraqi foreign ministry plans to turn all liaison offices in Iraq into consulates, giving them official diplomatic status, according to the New York Times.

There are 36 Iranian diplomats currently based at Iran’s embassy in Baghdad, as well as 11 at its consulate in Karbala and nine more at another consulate in the southern city of Basra.

The Hostage Drama in Iran and Iraq
Scott Horton / Harpers

(June 21, 2007) — A dangerous game of chicken is being played out today in Iran and Iraq. It involves political figures whose behavior pattern comes closer to that of elementary school children than sober adults. In Tehran, four and possibly five Americans have been seized and are being held–most of them in a prison associated with torture–and a well-known Canadian journalist has died in detention.

In Baghdad, over the strong protests of the host government, American forces continue to hold five Iranian diplomats who were dispatched to the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Arbil to do advance work for the opening of a consulate. They are “Cheney’s hostages,” one diplomat recently told me. Orders had been given to seize two prominent Iranian political and state security figures who went on a mission to visit with Iraq’s Kurdish leadership. They escaped. Instead the mission came up with the small fry, five members of their logistical support team. “This was done expressly to embarrass the Kurdish leadership, including President Talabani, and to tell them ‘if you have dealings with the Iranians behind our backs, we’ll burn you.’ It was, strictly speaking, illegal from many different angles, but more importantly it reflects the attitude of a colonial overlord from the nineteenth century, hardly reconcilable with America’s promise to ‘build democracy’ in Iraq.”

The United States will not release five Iranians detained in a US military raid in northern Iraq until at least October, despite entreaties from the Iraqi government and pressure from Iran, US officials said. The delay is as much due to a communication and procedural foul-up within the US government as a policy decision, they added. During his Washington visit this week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari appealed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to free the Iranians, who were arrested in Irbil in January, US and Arab officials said.

Zebari told US officials that the release would help the new US-Iran dialogue on Iraq, which brought diplomats from the two nations together last month in Baghdad at their first public meeting in almost three decades. Iran has become pivotal to US efforts to stabilize Iraq because Tehran exerts great influence in Iraq with a wide cross-section of parties and has armed and trained many militant groups. Zebari also warned that Tehran might not attend a second session unless the Iranians are released, the sources said.

The US raid on Iran’s northern liaison office Jan. 11 was designed to detain two senior Iranian officials who were visiting Iraq, US officials said. The two escaped arrest, but US commandos did detain five mid-level operatives working with Iran’s elite Quds Force, which is the foreign operations wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and is tied to arming, training and funding militants in Iraq.

Wright reports that they are subject to a six-month review process. She fails to make clear exactly what is meant, but this is a reference to the Combined Review and Release Board–an internal administrative board operated by US Forces in Iraq whose sole function appears to be to allow Pentagon PR personnel to say that those held in arbitrary detention and in violation of Iraqi and international law (and in violation of Security Council Resolution 1546) have their cases “reviewed by a panel every six months.”

As a member of the CRRB told me “there is nothing independent about this process. Our role is to direct the continued detention of anyone the command authority wants to detain. There is no review of claims, defenses or evidence–no hearing of witnesses. Justice has nothing to do with it.” Similarly, the six month period is a joke–they can and do review cases whenever it suits them, which is usually when journalists are asking pesky questions.

What does the detention of the Arbil Five have to do with the detention of the Americans in Tehran? Everything. If you look at the Iranian statements, you’ll see that both the number and the accusations against the Americans have been carefully made to parallel what happened in Iraq. This is a simple case of one gross injustice being countered with another one. Of two nation-states behaving like schoolyard bullies.

And who suffers? Well, my sympathies are with the Americans in captivity in Tehran, of course. Some of these folks are well-respected scholars, voices of moderation–voices that are badly needed just now. But I can’t deny being a bit angry about what has been done in America’s name with the Arbil Five. It’s an outrage, and it’s shameful. This elementary-school situation cries out for the principal to come and intervene.

• Robin Wright offers an important update on the hostage drama in this morning’s Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/20/AR2007062001456.html?hpid=moreheadlines

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