Former FBI Director
Louis Freeh testified in court Tuesday against the government of Iran on
behalf of victims' families in the bombing of a U.S. military apartment building
in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Air Force personnel. A U.S. criminal case
is pending against 14 individuals for the bombing of the Khobar Towers, in
Dhahran. In 2002 congressional testimony, Freeh said direct evidence strongly
indicated that the 1996 bombing was sanctioned, funded and directed by senior
officials of the government of Iran. The Ministry of Intelligence and Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Corps were culpable for carrying out the operation, Freeh
testified. The conspirators were "acting on orders from the highest levels
of the regime in Tehran," Freeh wrote in a Wall Street Journal article introduced in the lawsuit. Those indicted in the case remain fugitives, some of whom believed to be in Iran.
Louis Freeh's mammoth task of more than four years can only be praised. Yet
the most painful part of his odyssey was not shuttling between Saudi Arabia
and the U.S. for the delicate coordination, but to clear hurdles back home
in the path of the investigation. When he finally had all the evidence he
needed for indicting the terrorists, the administration refused to support
a prosecution. He had to wait for the new administration to obtain the criminal
indictment, only four days before the charges would have become barred by
the five-year statute of limitations.
The history of the war against terrorism is dotted by acts of appeasement
towards state sponsored terrorism, and the Khobar case is one among several.
The recent feud between Iran and Britain after the latter arrested Iran's
former ambassador to Argentina was just another example. The man was studying
calmly for a Ph.D. in Britain, when an international warrant of arrest was
issued by an Argentine judge, charging him with involvment in a deadly bombing
in 1994 of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The explosion had
killed 85 people and injured 200. Before supporting evidence from Buenos
Aires reached London, Tehran's blackmail machine got on the move. Lucrative
trade agreements between the country and a badly-in-need Argentina were the
first carrots to be waved, and shots fired at the British embassy in Tehran
were additional sticks.
The same arrest warrant involved twelve other Iranians along with the "ambassador,"
two of whom were arrested in Brussels shortly after the arrest in Britain,
while the row went on in London. The Belgians were keen to learn from the
British story: they let the two slip away in a few hours before news of the
arrest hit the headlines.
Argentina was given time to produce proof. After a couple of months, the
British home secretary concluded that the Argentines could not provide convincing
evidence that the "diplomat" was actually implicated in the bombing, and
until the day they did, he could stay at large, and even finish his Ph.D.
(He actually got the first plane to Tehran, where he received a hero's welcome.)
But if the British courts were reluctant to allow an extradition, French
courts were not, when in December of 1992 they authorized, by virtue of international
conventions for combating terrorism, the extradition of two Iranian terrorists
badly wanted by the Swiss in relation to the assassination on Swiss soil
of an Iranian dissident.
In April 1990, Professor Kazem Radjavi, Iranian human rights activist and
outspoken critic of rights violations in Iran, was assassinated by a terrorist
commando group in Geneva, a few steps from the UN Human Rights Commission's
headquarters. The judicial investigation concluded that "one or more Iranian
official services were directly involved in the assassination." The magistrate
in charge stated that the 13 persons implicated in that assassination "were
all issued with official Iranian passports stamped 'chargé de mission.'" All 13 had left Switzerland on an Iran Air flight on the day of the assassination, of course.
November 1992, two of the thirteen individuals, against whom an international
arrest warrant had been issued, were apprehended in Paris. A few days later
Switzerland officially requested the French authorities to proceed with an
extradition. The court authorized the extradition.
However, on 30 December, to general surprise and indignation, it was announced
that the two men implicated in this crime, whom the Swiss authorities were
preparing to receive, had been sent back to Tehran. New Year's holidays provided
perfect cover from public opinion for authorities brandishing la raison d'état, state interest, as an excuse for the act.
It is not a question of ethics not to appease terrorists. It is a bad, and
at times, dangerous policy, especially when at stake is a global war against
terrorism, a war fought on so many fronts, in so many places, by so many
people. It is of fundamental importance to understand that no single state
can have any legitimate interest in kowtowing to terrorism. Others, elsewhere,
may have to pay the price. When the Clinton administration tried to mollify
a regime they themselves justly called the most active state supporter of
terrorism, others worldwide paid a price, and continue paying to this day.
So is the case with other countries, whose own territory has time and again
been the scene of acts of terrorism exported by rogue states.
Abedian is an Iranian engineer based in Germany, and a former lecturer at
Tehran University. He writes from time to time on Iranian issues and politics.