by Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The human toll of Obama's appeasement of the mullahs.
President Obama had several key opportunities to put pressure on the ruling mullahs in the Islamic Republic to free the three American citizens (pastor Saeed Abedini, journalist Jason Rezaian and US Marine Amir Hekmati) who have been held for years in one of Iran’s notorious jails on bogus and baseless charges.
Last week, Jason Rezaian, the Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, who has been behind bars in Iran since July 2014, was convicted. An Iranian court has finally handed down a verdict, but it is vague. The verdict comes after 447 days of Mr. Rezaian being in jail -- that is three days more than the 444 days that American diplomats were held hostage. For those who argue Iran of 2015 is far different from the revolutionary Iran of 1979, this is a clear-cut example that the Islamic Republic is still the same: Islamist, anti-American, and oppressive.
The Iranian Students’ News Agency quoted Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, a hardliner who is a spokesman for Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, as stating that Rezaian had been found guilty. Interestingly, Mr. Mohseni-Ejei, who was the minister of intelligence from 2005 to July 2009, insisted that he did not know the details of the sentence. Really?
The trial was held behind the scenes and Mr. Rezaian was allowed access to his attorney only one time throughout the span of the trial. Mohseni-Ejei stated that "this person has been sentenced, but I don't know the details of the verdict." The verdict will most likely be appealed as Mr. Mohseni Ejei added that the ruling is not final and it can be appealed by Rezaian or his lawyer in the next 20 days.
The major controversies concerning this sentencing include lack of due process, forced confessions, and lack of judicial transparency. Nevertheless, one other vital issue when it comes to American citizens held in Iran is the intersection between Iran’s judiciary decisions and Tehran’s power and political objectives on the global stage. It goes without saying that although Iran claims that its government exercises separation of powers, there exists no separation among Iran’s Judiciary, legislative, and executive branches.
In other words, the policies behind detaining, incarcerating, and sentencing American citizens becomes a complicated political game in Iran’s labyrinth of power and Islamist political machinations.
In such cases, as part of an orchestrated plan, the government (Iran’s intelligence: Etela’at) might randomly choose an American citizen to detain in order to use him/her as a tool for advancing Iran’s theocratic political objectives. The foreign prisoners are utilized as pawns and negotiating chips to score political points. Since Mr. Rezaian holds citizenship from the United States, he has inevitably become an instrument to advance Tehran’s political goals.
President Obama could have utilized the nuclear negotiations and Iran’s desperate hope for the removal of financial sanctions to bring those three Americans back home. But he was concerned that bringing up this topic would backfire and upset Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.
But, Iranian leaders played the game well. They unfolded Mr. Rezaian’s trial against the backdrop of the nuclear negotiations between Tehran and five world powers, which finally resulted in a deal full of rewards for the mullahs.
After Iranian leaders used the American citizens to seal the nuclear deal, they are now using them as part of the outrageous agenda to swap 19 Iranian criminals held in custody in the US with the three Iranian-Americans citizens held in Iran. As Mr. Rouhani stated, "If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set them free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well."
Making an analogy between the Americans who are detained in Iran based on questionable charges and those Iranians who are detained in the US based on serious crimes is absurd. As Naghmeh Abedini, wife of pastor Saeed pointed out, "President Rouhani's demand that America release 19 criminals in exchange for his consideration of releasing individuals like my husband, imprisoned solely for his faith, demonstrates that the Iran of today is no different than the Iran who took Americans hostage during the Iranian revolution."
An example of the premeditated plan is the fact that the sentencing came some weeks after President Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Javad Zarif sealed the nuclear deal with six world powers (known as P5+1: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany) which lifts political and financial sanctions against the Islamic Republic. This proves that President Obama's theory that the deal would force Iranian leaders to liberalize their domestic politics and loosen the grip on freedom of expression, press, assembly, is nothing more than a delusion. Iran is sending a clear message that it will not do anything of the kind.
Although it is the first and foremost priority of the president to protect American citizens, it appears that Obama's main objective for dealing with Iran was to add points to his questionable Middle East “accomplishments” by signing a nuclear deal, rather than making genuine efforts to protect American citizens. Capitalizing on Obama’s weakness, Iran will continue to detain American citizens and use them as pawns and bargaining chips to achieve Khamenei’s objectives including securing the release of the 19 Iranian criminals held in the US.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a former senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington, DC and is a member of the Gulf Project at Columbia University. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu. Follow Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.