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No Moral Standing to Complain about Iranian Conviction of American

Amir Mirzaei Hekmatiby Jacob G. Hornberger

U.S. officials are objecting to Iran’s criminal conviction of an American for spying on behalf of the CIA. The Iranians have sentenced the American, 28-year-old Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, to death.

Unfortunately, however, the U.S. government has no moral standing to object to the conviction, given its longtime policy of foreign interventionism in Iran as well its own judicial misconduct since 9/11.

Consider the judicial proceedings in which Hekmati was convicted. His trial was conducted in secret and undoubtedly he was denied a jury trial and independent counsel to defend himself. U.S. officials claim, with justification, that Hekmati has been convicted and sentenced without due process of law.

But wait a minute! Isn’t the Iranian judicial process a mirror image of the U.S. government’s judicial process in terrorism cases, at least those in which the defendant is relegated to the Pentagon’s post-9/11 judicial system at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?

Indeed, doesn’t any criticism leveled by U.S. officials against Iran’s judicial system apply equally to the Pentagon’s judicial system at Gitmo, given the similarities of the two systems?

The U.S. government’s initial plan for its prison camp in Cuba was that it would be a Constitution-free zone, one in which the federal judiciary would have no jurisdiction. The idea was that the military would have omnipotent power to run things on its own, without outside interference. While U.S. military personnel take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, the last thing they wanted in their system at Gitmo was to have to apply the principles of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They were going to run their system the same way that the Iranians run their system, without having to bother with silly constitutional technicalities.

Until the U.S. Supreme Court put the quietus to its plans, the military denied suspected terrorists incarcerated at Gitmo access to attorneys, families and friends, and the press. Suspects were presumed to be guilty of the terrorism-related crimes for which they had been arrested. The prisoners at Gitmo were subject to being tortured, incarcerated indefinitely without trial, and even executed.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court dashed the Pentagon’s hopes and dreams of having Gitmo be a Constitution-free zone, ruling that the Pentagon would ultimately have to give the prisoners a trial.

Thus, two competing jurisdictions to try people suspected of having committed terrorist acts were now in existence — the federal court system, in which the Constitution and Bill of Rights applied, and the Pentagon system, which was essentially a duplicate of the judicial system in Iran.

Terrorist suspects at Gitmo are presumed guilty and are treated accordingly. There are no jury trials. The judges consist of military personnel belonging to the same institution that is responsible for arresting, incarcerating, and punishing them. Proceedings are often in secret, just as Hekmati’s trial was. There is no right to speedy trial, which means that people can be held for decades without trying them.

In fact, I could be wrong but in the 10 years that Gitmo has been operating, I don’t think there has been one single trial that has been held there. People just continue languishing there indefinitely, with the hope that one of these days the Pentagon will finally give them a trial, even if it is before a kangaroo tribunal whose verdict will be preordained by higher officials, just like in Iran.

U.S. officials are mocking the fact that Hekmati has openly confessed to spying for the CIA. Why are they mocking the confession? Because they say that undoubtedly it has been coerced.

But wait a minute! Ever since 9/11, U.S. officials have secured plenty of coerced confessions, especially through waterboarding. If it turned out that the Iranians waterboarded Hekmati into confessing his crime, would U.S. officials still be mocking the confession? Let’s keep in mind also that ever since 9/11 U.S. officials have themselves relied on evidence acquired by torture (i.e., coercion) to justify their indefinite incarceration of prisoners suspected of terrorism.

U.S. officials are denying that Hekmati is a CIA spy. But how credible is that denial? If Hekmati really is working for the CIA, does anyone really think that the CIA is going to admit it? That’s ridiculous. Even the CIA would admit that it would lie about it.

Moreover, who doubts that that the CIA does have agents operating within Iran, just as it did in 1953 when CIA agents operating within Iran destroyed Iran’s experiment with democracy by ousting the democratically elected prime minister of the country and installing a brutal unelected pro-U.S. dictator, the Shah of Iran, in his stead?

Those recent mysterious assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists have all the earmarks of CIA hits. And it’s not as though the CIA’s international assassination program is a secret. Why, they’re even now openly assassinating Americans without providing any reason or justification for the hits.

Moreover, can anyone blame the Iranians for being even more paranoid than U.S. officials when it comes to “national security”? Wasn’t it the CIA that brought about regime change in Iran in 1953? Wasn’t it the CIA that worked closely with the Shah’s domestic intelligence force to brutalize, torture, and oppress the Iranian people for the next 25 years, until the Iranians ousted their CIA-installed dictatorship in a violent revolution?

It may well be that Hekmati is innocent of the spy charges leveled against him. Unfortunately, however, given the U.S. government’s longtime history of meddling in Iran and its decision to impose an Iranian-like judicial system at Guantanamo, U.S. officials are not in a very solid moral position to demand his release.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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