moon of alabama on new iranian president

Leaving Out Context To Vilify Iran’s New President
Moon of Alabama, Jul 31 2021

The NYT is using a dubious criminal case in Sweden to vilify president-elect of Iran Ebrahim Raisi over his alleged involvement in the execution of prisoner. The smear works, but only because the NYT decided to leave out the historical context. First some details on the trial in Sweden:

Murder Trial in Sweden Could Shine Unsavory Light on Iran’s New President
NYT, Jul 30 2021

He was a 28-year-old student and member of a communist group in Iran serving a 10-year prison sentence in 1988 when, according to his family, he was called before a committee and executed without a trial or defense. The student, Bijan Bazargan, was among an estimated 5k prisoners belonging to armed opposition and leftist groups in Iran, who Amnesty International and other rights groups say were executed in the summer of 1988. Now, a Swedish court will prosecute a former Iranian judiciary official for war crimes and murder in connection with Mr Bazargan’s death. The case carries some notably public and damaging implications for Iran’s president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, who helped decide which prisoners lived or died during those mass executions. The defendant, Hamid Noury, 59, was indicted on Tuesday in Sweden. Mr Noury served as an assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison where Mr. Bazargan and hundreds of prisoners were sent to the gallows. The mass executions represent one of the most brutal and opaque crackdowns by the Islamic Republic against its opponents. International rights groups say they amount to crimes against humanity.

Some assistant to a deputy prosecutor of some prison, who was at that time 26 years old, is accused of alleged involvement in the trial by committee and execution of a prisoner who had previously been sentenced to 10-years. To accuse some minor assistant over this sounds a bit fishy to me but is for the Swedish courts to decide. The NYT is tying to tie that case with Ebrahim Raisi who is at center of the second half of the NYT piece:

Mr Raisi, 60, was a member of the four-person committee that interrogated prisoners and issued execution orders. Mr Raisi has said he was acting under the direction of the founding father of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had ordered a committee be formed to facilitate the executions. Allegations of Mr Raisi’s work on that committee have shadowed him through his ascent in Iran’s hierarchy, where he had been the head of the judiciary before the June election that vaulted him to the presidency. Amnesty International has called for a formal investigation of Mr Raisi’s past.

Raisi was indeed part of such a committee but the prisoners standing in front of it were of a very special type. This was in summer of 1988. The Iran Iraq war was coming to an end. Iraq had attacked Iran in 1980, shortly after Iran’s revolution. The war took eight years and ended in a draw. It was an extremely brutal war as Iraq fired hundreds of missiles against Iranian cities and used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and civilians. Up to a half million soldiers died on each side. Iraq had at the time the full support of the ‘west.’ On Jul 20 1988 Iran accepted a ceasefire under UNSCR 598. The war was over. But one group, an Iranian cult that had fought on the Iraqi side and was backed by the CIA, decided to fight on:

Operation Mersad (مرصاد “ambush”) was the last big military operation of the war. Both Iran and Iraq had accepted Resolution 598, but despite the ceasefire, after seeing Iraqi victories in the previous months, Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MeK) decided to launch an attack of its own and wished to advance all the way to Tehran. Saddam and the Iraqi high command decided on a two-pronged offensive across the border into central Iran and Iranian Kurdistan. Shortly after Iran accepted the ceasefire the MeK army began its offensive, attacking into Ilam province under cover of Iraqi air power. In the north, Iraq also launched an attack into Iraqi Kurdistan, which was blunted by the Iranians. On Jul 26 1988, the MeK started their campaign in central Iran, Operation Forough Javidan (Eternal Light), with the support of the Iraqi army. The Iranians had withdrawn their remaining soldiers to Khuzestan in fear of a new Iraqi invasion attempt, allowing the Mujahedeen to advance rapidly towards Kermanshah, seizing Qasr-e Shirin, Sarpol-e Zahab, Kerend-e Gharb, and Islamabad-e-Gharb. The MEK expected the Iranian population to rise up and support their advance; the uprising never materialised but they reached 145 km deep into Iran. In response, the Iranian military launched its counter-attack, Operation Mersad, under Lt-Gen Ali Sayyad Shirazi. Iranian paratroopers landed behind the MeK lines while the Iranian Air Force and helicopters launched an air attack, destroying much of the enemy columns. The Iranians defeated the MeK in the city of Kerend-e Gharb on Jul 29 1988. On Jul 31, Iran drove the MeK out of Qasr-e-Shirin and Sarpol Zahab, though MeK claimed to have “voluntarily withdrawn” from the towns. Iran estimated that 4,500 MeK were killed, while 400 Iranian soldiers died.

It were mostly the prisoners taken during the MEK attack on Iran that the committee Raisi belonged to had to handle. These prisoner were not part of a regular army. They were not Iraqis but Iranians who had fought against their own country. They had invaded Iran after a ceasefire had been declared. These were not regular prisoners of war but quite arguably captured terrorists. As the retired Indian Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar wrote in a piece on Raisi:

Iran smashed the MEK assault and that set the stage for the so-called “death commissions” of the prisoners, terrorists and others. Inevitably, those executed included agents of the western intelligence. The executions couldn’t have been carried out except on Khomeini’s orders. Now, Raisi was a young man of 27 when he reportedly served on a revolutionary panel involved in sentencing Iran’s enemies to death.

Wikipedia notes of those who were executed:

The majority of those killed were supporters of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, although supporters of other leftist factions, including the Fedaian and the Tudeh Party of Iran (Communist Party), were executed as well.

While the commissions who decided these cases were not full courts, were at least stacked with jurists. Raisi had previously been a deputy prosecutor in Tehran. For many years the MEK continued to launch terror attacks within and outside of Iran. The US eventually designated the MEK a terrorist organization. I am personally against the death penalty. But I find it hard to believe that anyone who puts himself into the historic context will find much fault with what Raisi and other members of such commissions have done at that time. The NYT though will not even let you know that context.

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