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Lifting the Lid on Iran : Arms Deal Creates a Moral Debt to Protest Reign of Terror

May 17, 1987|GEORGE WALD | George Wald is professor emeritus of biology at Harvard University and a 1967 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine.

In contrast to our national fascination with how profits from the Iran arms scandal were spent, little concern has been voiced regarding how the arms are being used within Iran.

In prisons, on street corners and along the borders, the Ayatollah Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards reign through terror. Nowhere else in the world today do human-rights violations occur in such a systematic and institutionalized manner. Thousands of Iranians have been executed for their political or religious beliefs. Tens of thousands are imprisoned in deplorable conditions on a variety of charges that, when disencumbered of their canonic hyperbole, boil down to one unforgivable sin: dissent.

Distributing an anti-government leaflet may be listed in the books as "waging war against God" or "corrupting the earth," charges for which judges have delivered verdicts of "torture unto death."

If one is unfortunate enough to be female, a myriad of added restrictions apply. Not only is one's style of dress dictated; even the color of one's shoes and socks is specified. Women's professional and educational opportunities are severely limited, and many fields, such as law and agriculture, are taboo.

Those who refuse to relinquish personal, political and religious freedoms risk dire consequences. Women who do not conform to the nationwide dress code are flogged and may be sent to "rehabilitation" work camps for the "degenerate."

Gangs of thugs roam city streets in search of hapless victims. Their hideous reprisals for infractions, such as an improperly worn head scarf, include nailing the garment to the offender's forehead.

Torture, inconceivably crowded cells, and routine sexual and physical abuse are dominant in political prisons throughout Iran. Inmates are denied access to their families, legal counsel, knowledge of the charges against them and virtually every other dimension of due process as defined by international law. Some prisoners are kept in confinement after their sentences have expired. Others have been summarily executed rather than released.

Yet the worst of the many horrors in sheer numbers of victims is the slaughter caused by the Iran-Iraq war. The Iranian government's stubborn insistence on continuing this most destructive conflict since World War II has devastated vast areas of the country, rendered millions homeless and sent hundreds of thousands--a great many of them teen-agers and even younger--to their deaths.

Iranian President Ali Khamenei has denied that his government "will back down and stop mobilizing children." He brazenly insists that "the youngsters cry and beg to be sent to the front lines."

Boys and men are rounded up at movie houses, athletic events and on public transportation and shipped off to fight. Draft evaders, reportedly numbering in the hundreds of thousands, are hunted down by mobile patrol units.

Anti-war protests regularly erupt in spite of immediate and violent reprisals, adding still more victims to the totals. Indifferent to high casualty figures and public and international calls for an end to the bloodshed, the mullahs have issued new demands for troops and staged yet another attack.

This internal genocide presents a moral and practical challenge, particularly to those nations that purport to champion human rights. We cannot remain silent in the face of the atrocities in Iranian prisons. Nor can we stand by as the Iranian government continues to promote turmoil and terrorism in the Middle East.

Have we learned nothing from our ill-fated wedding with the Shah? Clearly, the very magnitude of the Iranian repression reflects the intensity of discontent. When the pot inevitably boils over, are we going to be caught unprepared again?

In supplying arms to Khomeini's men to secure the release of American hostages, the Reagan Administration has overlooked the fact that the entire nation of Iran also has been taken hostage.

If the American people are not to participate in this domestic terror, we must break the silence condemning us to complicity. The international community, with our government at the forefront, must convince the Tehran government that an end to the bloodshed along the borders and the butchery in the jails is of our utmost concern.

Our first step is an Iran policy that neither cooperates in nor condones the war and repression. Only when we have distanced ourselves from Khomeini and his men can we realistically respond to the aspirations of the people of that nation.

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