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An American Spy in Iran?

I wouldn’t want to be Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, the 28-year-old former US Marine just recently sentenced to death by a court in Iran after being convicted of being an American spy.

Hekmati, who was born in Arizona to Iranian exile parents, and who grew up in Michigan, is being defended by President Obama, whose White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, declared, “Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are false.” The White House, not content with that denial, went on to trash the Iranian government and legal system, with Vietor adding, “The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”

This spirited high-level defense of Hekmati, who was arrested in late August shortly after he entered Iran, would carry a bit more weight though, if President Obama himself hadn’t lyingly made the same statement in person at a press conference last spring, in reference to Raymond Davis, the man Pakistani police arrested after he had slaughtered two young men (later identified as Pakistani intelligence personnel) on a crowded Lahore street in broad daylight. Despite weeks of insistence by the White House and the State Department that Davis was, variously, a consular or embassy employee in Pakistan, and threats to cut off US aid to the country if he were prosecuted, the US was eventually forced to admit that Obama had lied, and that he was in truth a contract worker for the CIA.  (An investigative report by this author, funded by Counterpunch magazine and run shortly after the shooting incident, first outed Davis as a US intelligence operative.)

 

Davis, who was suspected by Pakistani prosecutors of actually being involved in a campaign of terror bombings in Pakistan, also faced a possible death penalty for murder and espionage, but was ultimately released and deported from Pakistan after pleading guilty to the shootings and paying (with funds provided behind the scenes by the US) blood money to the families of his victims, in a back-room deal worked out with the Pakistani government.

Vietor’s second assertion in the Hekmati case, that the Iranian regime routinely makes false accusations of spying against people, is laughable, coming as it does from a US government that tortures captives, that has been bringing false terrorism cases against people at a prodigious rate, and that is currently holding, in Guantanamo, at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and in US prisons, literally hundreds of people who  have been falsely accused of being spies and terrorists.

A videotaped confession released by the Iranian government shows Hekmati, who also holds an Iranian passport and speaks fluent Farsi, confessing to working as a spy for the CIA. In that confession, which was broadcast in Iran, he says he was trained in intelligence work in the Marines and later at Bagram and by the giant military contractor BAE Systems, and was to have been maneuvered into a position inside the Iranian Intelligence Ministry. That confession tape is being condemned as a sham by the US. But State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland’s statement saying, “Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA, are simply untrue. The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons,” sounds almost comical coming from a government that for many months tortured Army Specialist Bradley Manning, first in a military jail in Kuwait where he was prevented from contacting anyone, including a lawyer, and then at a military prison in Quantico, VA. Manning’s prolonged torture, which included being kept stripped naked 24 hours a day, having to stand naked at attention for inspection outside his cell each day, being sleep-deprived for days on end, and being held in solitary, all of which treatment was condemned by a former Marine commander of Quantico, were all in an apparently unsuccessful effort to get him to “sing.”  The government is desperate to get Manning to implicate Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange as the instigator who got Manning to allegedly provide Wikileaks with hundreds of thousands of embarrassing secret Pentagon and State Department cables, documents and videotapes, exposing US war crimes and diplomatic bullying.

It doesn’t help Hekmati’s case either that President Obama, a former Constitutional Law professor who as president is also the commander in chief of the US military, months ago publicly declared Pvt. Manning guilty or treason, though Manning had yet to face a military court, and is supposed to be presumed innocent.

While Hekmati’s family, the US government, and the Iranian exile community in the US are all declaring Hekmati’s innocence on the charge of spying, claiming he had innocently entered Iran to visit his two grandmothers, both of whom live there, his case does seem a bit peculiar. This is not just another college professor, journalist or wayward hiker mistakenly crossing the border into Iraq, caught up in some political game.

According to the Associated Press, records show Hekmati served in the Marines from 2001 to 2005, trained in Arabic at the Army’s language school in Monterey, California, was deployed to Iraq from April to November 2004, where he reportedly worked in intelligence, and later, in 2010, worked for BAE Systems Inc, US subsidiary of BAE Systems PLC, a UK-based military contractor that on its website describes itself as a “global defense and security company.” The BAE site says the company delivers a “full range of products and services for air, land and naval forces, as well as advanced electronics, security, information technology solutions and support services.”

BAE is heavily involved in the military intelligence field.

AP also reported that Hekmati left BAE after his surprisingly short tenure there to go to work in some “unspecified capacity” for the U.S. government–a vague terminology that is usually used for intelligence agency work. His father, a community college professor in Flint, Michigan, reportedly told AP that before going to Iran, reportedly to visit a grandmother who lives there, his son had been working in Qatar for a company “that serves the Marines.” No further information about that company or the nature of its work was provided.

The US maintains a huge military base and airfield in Qatar, which, of course, is ground zero for US military planning for any future attack on, or conflict with Iran. The US Central Command (CENTCOM), which would be the command center in any war with Iran, is also located in Qatar. More to the point, perhaps, Qatar is also where the US Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) is located, which oversees the secret operations of US Army Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Force, Marine Corps, US Navy SEALS and pilots of the US Air Force.  Various journals have quoted US government sources as confirming that the US is engaged in secret operations against Iran, including sabotage and spying, and the US has also been sending spy drones over the country, one of which was recently captured by Iranian forces.

Certainly there is good reason to believe that the Iranian legal system, like the US legal system, is corrupt and unfair, particularly when it comes to cases involving national security. And I’m not saying Hekmati is a spy, based on either his conviction by an Iranian court or on his videotaped “confession.”

I am saying that the denials by the US are every bit as unreliable, even to the point of being laughable, as are any claims being made by Iran.

The sad reality is that the US government has become such a cesspool of lying and disinformation, of torture and forced confessions, and of corrupted courts and prosecutors, that it no longer has the capacity or the image of integrity to convince other nations or the people of the world of the innocence of those American citizens who get caught up in international spying charges.

If Hekmati is innocent of the crime of spying, he will have to count on some kind of a Cold War-type spy-swap deal, or on some kind of diplomatic deal in which the US agrees to stop threatening to bomb Iran, and agrees to keep Israel’s war-mongers at bay, to deliver him from lengthy imprisonment or execution. He sure can’t count on moral suasion from Washington winning his release!

Meanwhile he has to hope that a cynical group of neo-cons and neo-libs in Washington aren’t merrily plotting to use his execution as an excuse to do what they’ve been angling at for years: attack Iran.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new Project-Censored Award-winning independent online alternative newspaper. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.


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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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