Alan, Haleh, and all others unjustifiably deprived of their freedom

It’s been more than two months of heart-rending uncertainty now, for Alan Johnston, the courageous and professionally talented BBC reporter who was abducted by persons unknown in Gaza back on March 12. Since then, Gaza has been wracked by very violent internal conflict and has been shelled by the Israelis several times. In Gaza there is almost no functioning civil administration, given the harshness of the siege to which the area’s people and their elected leadership have been subjected by the US, Israel, and other governments.
The elected leaders, and representatives of many civil-society organizations in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine, have all expressed great concern for Alan’s wellbeing. But the PA government still aparently remains powerless to free him.
I hope he’s still alive, and that he can be freed very very soon.
Now, many people in the US are becoming concerned about Iran’s recent arrest of the US/Iranian scholar Haleh Esfandiari. Haleh is a sweet and talented woman, very dedicated to exposing the US public to a broad variety of views about Iran. In her work at the congressionally funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars she has been able, in particular, to bring a broad range of Iranian voices to Washington DC, the vast majority of whom have spoken out strongly in favor of more dialogue, more understanding, and NO WAR.
There is some reason to be concerned about Haleh’s wellbeing. In 2003, Canadian-Iranian journalist Zahra Kazemi was beaten to death, apparently inside Evin Prison, the same notorious place of detention where Haleh is now being held. However, at least the identity of Haleh’s captors– unlike that of the shadowy grouplet that abducted Alan Johnston– is well known. The Iranian government has admitted it is holding her and is subjecting her to a judicial investigation on allegations that she has been involved in the Bush administration’s extremely hostile, illegal, and foolhardy program of “regime change through subversion inside Iran.”
People who know Haleh’s work find these charges ridiculous; and I hope the Iranian investigators rapidly discover that they are quite baseless, and free her.
Haleh had gone to Teheran back in December to visit her mother, who is 93. Since her arrest she has been allowed a few short phone calls with her mother; but her mom has not been allowed to visit her in the prison.
I know both Alan Johnston and Haleh Esfandiari a little– Haleh better than Alan. It makes me quite sick to think of the sadness and fear that they and their families must now be feeling.
Yet I have hesitated to write about either of them until now.
I know that in the Middle East there are many thousands of individuals– most of them probably just as humane, talented, and innocent as these two– who are being held as “bargaining chips” or for other quite illegal purposes in the various horrendous conflicts now affecting the region.
For example, the UN’s Assistance Mission in Iraq reported that as of March 31, “37,641 detainees were being held by Iraq and US-led forces.” The term “detainees” is usually used in these circumstances for people against whom no formal charges have been laid.
I believe the number of Palestinian detainees being held by Israel is around 7,000. There are hundreds or thousands of political prisoners in each of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran, and saudi Arabia, too…
So I personally believe that any pleas we make on behalf of Alan Johnston or Haleh Esfandiari should be tied very firmly to pleas of equal strength for the release of all people in the Middle East– and in Afghanistan and Guantanamo– who have been deprived of their liberty in a quite unjustifable way, and have been denied access to anything like due process in a fair tribunal.
For each of these individuals, and their families, the sadness and fear are just as real and just as intense as they are for Alan and Haleh. Free all the detainees! If there are people against whom there is solid evidence of wrongdoing, bring them to a fair and open trial.

10 thoughts on “Alan, Haleh, and all others unjustifiably deprived of their freedom

  1. Susan - NC

    I am more concerned for the hundreds (thousands? tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands? have we hit the million mark yet?) deprived of their freedom and human rights and civil rights and EVEN THEIR VERY LIVES by the US government and CIA and US military.

  2. Truesdell

    imo, Dr. Esfandiari’s detention in the notorious Evin Prison is an outrage and her immediate release should not be conditioned upon world peace.
    As Senator Lieberman put it:
    “Dr. Esfandiari has dedicated decades of her life to the cause of promoting the peaceful exchange of ideas between the Iranian people and the American people. She has inspired untold numbers of American students to study the Persian language and the rich culture and history of Iran.”
    Professor Juan Cole explained the cancellation of his plans to attend a conference in Teheran scheduled for July:
    I don’t see how normal intellectual life can go on when a scholar at the Wilson Center can’t safely visit Iran.

  3. Helena

    If Lieberman had ever even once spoken out about the abuses, closures, arrests etc to which Palestinian academics have been subjected by Israel he would have a bit more credibility speaking out about Esfandiari. His concern is always mighty selective.
    Juan Cole, by contrast, does speak out in an evenhanded way when freedoms are curtailed.

  4. Christiane

    The problem with US academic defending human rights in Iran is that they would be so much more credible is the US wasn’t breaching these rights herself : what about the transfert of secrete prisonners by the CIA ? What about the prisonners in Guantanamo who are substracted to the Geneva Conventions by the US ? What about the justification of torture by Gonzalez ? and last but not least what about the invasion of Iraq, a country which was not representing any threat to the US ? What about the new theory of pre-emptive action issued by the neocons and which constitute a fundamental blow to the UN charter ?
    Also concerning Juan Cole calling for the Europeans to demonstrate in front of Iranian ambassies : I find it very weird; why does he have to tell the Europeans what to do ?
    IMO, it’s clear that the Iranians accused her of spying just like the US captured these five Iranians diplomates in Erbil (who were there at the invitation of the Kurds), accusing them of spying. The Iranians have tried to negotiate their release in different ways, even the Iraqi puppet government called for their release, to no avail.
    So I’d rather call people to demonstrate in front of US ambassies or in front of the White House so that they free the Iranian diplomates, in the idea that their liberation will help the case of Haley.
    That said, of course Haley is victim of a flagrant injustice and the international human right laws have to be applied by all countries. The fact that another country breach them isn’t an excuse for you to breach them too.
    Nevertheless given the way the US has been acting with prisonners, I simply don’t feel much motivation to defend her citizens. There is this precept : don’t do to the others what you don’t want the others to do you. Given what the US does to the others, it has become hard to feel sorry for the Americans.

  5. Roland

    “Same old, same old” as we say down here. You either believe a crime is a crime is a crime, or you believe there are good crimes and bad crimes, but you and your lot in your glory “know” the difference. The balance are sociopaths. There is no difference between the importance of the end and the means, it’s a false dichotomy. There is simply a continuum of human actions and consequences. We are responsible for OUR OWN actions. All human beings are equally human, we are a single species, but our mutated tribal instincts blind us to that fact. Science does progress, but wisdom apparently cannot, in which case the result is clearly inevitable.

  6. Christiane

    Scott,
    Thanks for the link, although, the reading didn’t change my inner feelings. Given the accusations faced by Haleh second her husband’s statement to the LAT :
    (..) The only explanation I’ve been given came in a statement issued Monday by the Ministry of Intelligence, a fantastical accusation that reveals the imaginary web Tehran wants to weave to entrap my wife and others.
    It goes like this: American think tanks such as the Wilson Center are advancing a U.S. government plan for a “soft toppling” of Iran, creating “links” between Iranian intellectuals and U.S. institutions and forming “informal communication networks” that can then be used “against the sovereignty of the country.” In effect, in the eyes of the Iranian government, any exchange among scholars is tantamount to treasonous conspiracy.
    (..)
    It is preposterous that she is accused of conspiring to overthrow the Iranian government by organizing conferences and encouraging dialogue between Iranians and Americans.

    it is interesting to learn from the International Herald Tribune that :
    The Bush administration has dismantled a special committee that was established last year to coordinate aggressive actions against Iran and Syria, according to State Department officials.
    (..) The committee, the Iran-Syria Policy and Operations Group, met weekly throughout much of 2006 to coordinate actions such as curtailing Iran’s access to credit and banking institutions, organizing the sale of military equipment to Iran’s neighbors and supporting forces that oppose the two regimes.

  7. Scott

    Thank you Christiane for that fascinating Herald-Tribune link. In case it doesn’t stay up, here’s the original from the Boston Globe.
    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2007/05/26/us_unit_created_to_pressure_iran_syria_disbanded/?page=full
    I also recognize your point about, in effect, the US hasn’t been very good at the golden rule, especially under the Bush years….. (never mind that it surely parallels the centuries old ideas behind international law — that we shall agree to do or not to do x, y, and z because we expect that you shall also do unto to ours in similar manner…..
    Then too is the unfortunate historical fact that all too many top flight US Iran specialists indeed did use their academic stature as cover for CIA service, especially back in 1953 amid the CIA orchestrated overthrow of Mussadiq…. (This in no way is an “excuse” for what’s happening now, but alas, it’s tragically part of the context)
    More immediately, with the US gov’t now throwing tens of millions for “regime change” and other “black ops,” today’s US academics visiting Iran (and arguably having done nothing other than “good thoughts, words, & deeds”) are now brutally targetted from multiple directions….
    And then we get various neocon outlets taking on their causes…. and that could only make matters worse I’m afraid for them…. (If I ever get detained inside Iran, the last thing I’d want is Michael “faster please” Ledeen coming to my “defense.” That’d be more like a death sentence….)
    And so it goes.

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