Twitter 1, BBC 0: online videos show the real face of Ahmadinejad

June 22, 2009

* Roger Cohen and the Swiss president should be ashamed
* Many international media misreport the true nature and severity of the Iranian uprising
* "Opposition" candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is no Iranian Vaclav Havel or Aung San Suu Kyi

(For other comment on the Iranian uprising, please see "What Iran has been doing while you were watching the protests".)



1. Twitter's finest hour
2. Roger Cohen and the Swiss president should be ashamed
3. Videos: the real face of Ahmadinejad
4. So were the neocons right all along?
5. Failing to highlight Khamenei's central role in the terror
6. Mousavi is neither a liberal nor an opponent of the Islamist state
7. The true Iranian opposition is still being ignored
8. Khamenei at prayer, resting on the barrel of a gun
9. The List: Iran's worst clerics
10. Was Dennis Ross ousted as U.S. envoy to Iran because he refused to take anti-Israel stance?
11. British ambassador and Hizbullah deputy hold meeting
12. Peres, Merkel, McCain speak out strongly, while Obama's meek response is criticized
13. Hamas, Syria hail Ahmadinejad "victory"
14. Arab League chief congratulates Ahmadinejad
15. Pakistani leaders congratulate Ahmadinejad
16. Update: Roger Cohen on Roger Cohen
17. "Iran's worst clerics" (By Joshua Keating, Foreign Policy)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


Twitter was previously known as a website for celebrities, not revolutionaries. Now it has played a key role in enabling many around the world to show what is happening in Iran. A few media (such as Sky News) have shown video posted on YouTube via Twitter, while others, such as the BBC, have downplayed the full severity of what is happening in Iran, and not shown these videos.

(Indeed, as pointed out over the years on this website, the BBC and others have regularly failed to report on the Iranian regime's use of extreme brutality against political liberals, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals, instead preferring to incessantly criticize Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.)

With text messaging and internet sites such as Facebook, Skype, Flickr and YouTube blocked in Iran, Twitter has become a crucial tool enabling Iranians to communicate. Twitter users have played an electronic cat and mouse game to defy authorities, to post videos taken with mobile phones on YouTube abroad, and to organize protests. Twitter remains much more resistant to censorship than other websites because there are so many ways for users to post without using



Below I attach a few of the videos showing the reality of Iran's dictatorship, a reality that many international TV networks are refusing to show. Some of these videos make for gruesome viewing, though I have not included those which are too bloody to watch. Please do watch them. To state the obvious, this is not some video game or Hollywood movie. These events really happened, and they happened last week, and the leader of the free world, Barack Obama, has been extraordinarily slow to criticize them.

Those journalists who for months before the election were apologizing for Ahmadinejad and whitewashing him – journalists like New York Times and International Herald Tribune columnist Roger Cohen (and the Times editors who continued to publish him), or editors at meretricious publications like The London Review of Books – should be ashamed of themselves.

So too should the Swiss president, who only two months ago hosted a state banquet for Ahmadinejad, and the authorities at Columbia university in New York who graciously invited Ahmadinejad to address their students. (Please see previous dispatches on this list for details of the red carpet treatment Ahmadinejad has been given there and elsewhere.)



Some of these videos are disturbing but I feel they need to be watched to understand the true nature of Iran's regime and why it should never be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. You are seeing history instantly in front of your eyes.


Fascist blackshirts, Iranian-style. I suggest you watch this 93-second video through to the end. Remember the Iranian protestors are completely unarmed.


One's own home is no escape from the revolutionary guards and Basij militia. This 43-second video shows a man beaten unconscious in his own front yard. The video was shot from an upstairs neighbor's house.


Tehran, June 22. This 22-second video shows what the regime is willing to do to its own people. Imagine what it will do to the satanic "Jews and infidels".


A girl shot in the eye by security services. This 16-second video, taken at 1.42 pm on Saturday June 20, is particularly violent. It has been shown on Sky News, though not on other channels.

(The girl in the above video has been named as Neda Salehi Agha Soltan. In the above video, her father watches over as she dies, desperately asking her not to be afraid. Her funeral was supposed to be held today at Tehran's Niloufar Mosque. But the Iranian regime’s agents contacted the mosque this morning and ordered the funeral service cancelled. Other mosques have also been issued directives warning them not to hold a funeral for Neda. Thousands of her fellow students were expected to attend her funeral.)


Another murdered protestor (a two-second video):


This 23-second video shows what it is like when a pro-democracy student has been shot. Where are all those British academics and students who are constantly calling for a boycott of Israeli students and academics? Their silence now is deafening.


This 41-second video shows the murder of another student:


Ahmadinejad's thugs smash up student dorms and cars:


Doctors and nurses protest the regime. Their placards read (in Persian) that they don’t want to treat any more victims killed and injured by the "dictator Ahmadinejad".


Another dead protestor carried by the crowd:


There are hundreds of videos like this coming out of Iran. The brutality in cities other than Tehran where there are fewer cameras is said to be much worse.

CNN put the death toll from last Saturday alone at 150. The BBC, taking a more conservative estimate than even the regime, said only 10 innocents died that day.

A picture of one of last week's demonstrations before the Iranian revolutionary guards and Basij militia broke it up:



President Bush said liberating Iraq would have a regional domino effect and give people a taste for freedom and democracy. Is this what we're seeing now in Iran?

As Bush said, liberty isn’t American, or British, or French. It is human. No, the morality police in Iran are not just "part of Iranian culture" as some critics of Bush have claimed. Nor are public hangings. Nor are arbitrary detentions of doctors, or Holocaust denial conferences, or the public flogging and hanging of homosexuals.

Peace comes through the spread of liberalism and democracy. Whatever the "foreign policy realists" or "regime apologists" might claim, there is little doubt in my view that should Iran become a liberal nation the world will be a safer place for all, not just a better place for Iranians.



Just as mainstream left-leaning media such as the BBC, have failed to report properly on the central role that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei plays in crushing dissent in Iran, they have also misled viewers by telling them that all in the vast crowds protesting the regime last week were supporting the "moderate reformer" Hossein Mousavi.

Pictures of Khamenei, 70, are pasted across Iran. He has maneuvered against reform, promoted the nuclear program, is close to the feared and ruthless revolutionary guards, and has ordered increased money and weapons be provided to Hizbullah and Hamas for use against Israel.



The "opposition" candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is one of the fathers of Iran's nuclear program, and was prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war, directing his army to send waves of teenage suicide bombers against Iraqi forces. (He is incidentally a cousin of Ayatollah Khamenei.) He is almost as much a hardliner of the regime as the "victor" President Ahmadinejad is. That is why he was one of just four candidates (out of over 4000 people who applied) allowed by the regime to stand in this stage-managed presidential election.

All four regime-approved candidates have long been involved in the regime's reign of terror. For example, Mousavi was responsible for ordering the execution of 30,000 Iraqi prisoners.



The BBC and others continue to ignore real opposition to the dictatorship, supported by many of the demonstrators, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political umbrella coalition of five Iranian opposition political organizations, including secular democrats, led by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi from exile in Paris. Several times last week, the Supreme Leader acknowledged this in his public statements. But the Western media has hardly mentioned the NCRI, even though in Paris on Saturday, tens of thousands of its supporters staged the largest ever demonstration by Iranians outside Iran.

As usual, the BBC, the world's largest news broadcaster, gets so much of its Middle East reporting wrong. This is not a battle between a hard-line reactionary Ahmadinejad and a "moderate reformist" Mousavi. It is a battle between rival factions of a ruthless and dangerous regime.



Here is a small detail from Saturday's coverage of Khamenei's Friday sermon in the 23rd paragraph of a story in The Washington Post:

"But Khamenei's comments rejecting significant irregularities appeared to preempt the council's probe. As Khamenei arrived to lead the Friday prayers, a sea of fists punched the air, and thousands of supporters roared their greetings: 'Our blood in our veins is for you, O Leader!' Khamenei smiled, raising his hand, which was resting on the barrel of a gun, to calm the audience."

It is in fact common for Khamenei to do this, although the Western media usually avoid mentioning or showing pictures of it. Here, as an exception, is a picture from two years ago.

Of course, in the context of this past Friday's sermon, for Khamenei to do so is particularly chilling.



At the end of this dispatch, I attach a list of "Iran's Worst Clerics": five hard-line mullahs who stand in the way of any liberalization.

Here are extracts for those who don't have time to read the item in full:

* Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, Chairman of the Guardian Council, the 12 member group that oversees elections and is tasked with ensuring Iran's government complies with the principals of the Islamic state. The 82-year old Jannati regularly uses his Friday sermons to call for the destruction of Israel and the United States and to encourage Iranians to support Hizbullah in Lebanon and an Islamic state in Iraq.

* Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the group that chooses Iran's supreme leader. Yazdi has publicly supported the use of suicide bombing against the enemies of Islam and the use of death squads against political reformers. He is often described as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor, though at times, even the incumbent president has been too moderate for him. When Ahmadinejad tried to change the law to allow women to attend soccer matches, he was publicly rebuked by Yazdi.

Yazdi, like Ahmadinejad, believes in the return of the 12th Imam as the final act in the preparations for the end of the world. There has been speculation that Yazdi will succeed Khamenei as supreme leader.

* Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi. A grand ayatollah, the highest rank for Shi'ite clerics, Shirazi was very politically active before and during the 1979 revolution and played a key role in writing the Islamic Republic's constitution. He's written that men should be permitted to beat their wives for failing to perform their sexual obligations.

* Ayatollah Qorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, Iran's prosecutor general. He earned some ridicule in the West for calling Barbie dolls and Harry Potter a "Zionist plot to undermine Islam" (as reported previously on this email list) but in Iran he is known and feared for his brutality and is said to have had a hand in many major atrocities over the years.

* Hojjatol-Islam Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, the Minister of intelligence and security. He played a key role in the trial and brief imprisonment recently of American journalist Roxanna Saberi. He has been equally prominent in quashing dissent during the current unrest.



On February 24 this year, Dennis Ross was appointed as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's advisor on the Persian Gulf and as special envoy to Iran.

In the coming days, he will abruptly be relieved of his duties, sources in Washington have confirmed to the Israeli paper Ha'aretz. An official announcement is expected shortly.

The Obama administration will announce that Ross has been reassigned to another position in the White House, reports the paper. In his new post, the former Mideast peace envoy under President Bill Clinton will deal primarily with regional issues related to the peace process.

Washington insiders speculate that Ross is being reassigned because he is regarded as too fair to Israel and he argued with others in the Obama administration against a linkage between the Palestinian issue and America's policy against Iran's nuclear ambitions. Ross maintains contacts with senior officials in Israel's defense establishment and the Israeli government. (Ross is also a subscriber to this email list.)

It is possible, however, that if Ross is based in the White House in future, he will gain better access to Obama.



In spite of, or perhaps because of Supreme Leader Khamenei's attack on Britain, the British government continues to appease the Iranian-created Lebanese Shia terror group Hizbullah. The British are making a nonsensical distinction (denied even by Hizbullah itself) that the "political wing" and "military wing" of the organization are separate.

The London based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Friday that:

"Almost three months after Britain announced it would pursue a more open policy toward Hizbullah, the first public meeting took place yesterday between the two sides. British Ambassador to Lebanon Frances Mary Guy visited Hizbullah Deputy Muhammad Raid in his office in parliament in central Beirut.

"A Hizbullah official told Asharq Al-Awsat that the meeting was held at Britain's request while a British Foreign Office source said the timing after the [Lebanese] elections was a coincidence and that the two sides had agreed to hold a meeting some time ago but did not have the time for this until now and referred to Hizbullah's preoccupation with the preparations for the elections."



Israeli President Shimon Peres, commenting on the unrest in Iran, said yesterday that he hoped the current Iranian government would be ousted from office.

"Let the young people raise their voice of freedom for a positive policy. Let the Iranian women, who are a very courageous group of people, voice their thirst for equality, for freedom," Peres said in a meeting with visiting American Jews in Jerusalem.

"I really don't know what will disappear first, their enriched uranium, or their wretched government," Peres continued. "Hopefully, the wretched government will disappear."

Conservative politicians, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, have been outspoken in their criticism of Iran's government and elections, and on behalf of human rights.

By contrast, U.S. President Barack Obama is coming under increased criticism, even from members of his own Democrat party, for his extremely mild response. Others in his administration have also, on Obama's instructions, given only very cautious responses.

Even after many unarmed peaceful Iranian protestors had been murdered, Vice-President Joe Biden said "We're going to withhold comment... mean we're just waiting to see." And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran but we, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide."

On the other hand, U.S. Senator John McCain, last year's defeated Republican presidential candidate, made strong comments calling the Iranian government a "brutal dictatorship" which "orchestrated this sham election" and saying that "America should be acting as a symbol of hope for the Iranian people."



The brutal regime of Syria (which some Western governments are trying to fool themselves is a force for moderation in the Middle East) and the Islamist group Hamas, have hailed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "victory".

"The results of the elections in Iran show the wide public support for Iran's policy of challenge [to the United States, to the existence of Israel and to the truth about the Holocaust]," Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in a statement.

Syrian President Bashir Assad sent Ahmadinejad a cable in which he offered Ahmadinejad his "best wishes for progress and prosperity," AFP reported, quoting the Syrian news agency SANA.

Hamas, like Hizbullah in Lebanon, is widely viewed as an Iranian client militia, receiving financial and military support from the Islamic Republic.



Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, also congratulated Ahmadinejad on his victory, but voiced Arab concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

"We hope that the next term would witness progress on the relations between Iran and the Arab world and cooperation in establishing peace in the Middle East," he said.

"Also that the security, regional security in the region will be paramount in working together to free the region from all weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons."



Iran's state-controlled Fars news agency reports:

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in separate messages extended their congratulations to the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his landslide triumph in 10th presidential election in Iran.

"This is indeed testimony of the confidence of the people of Iran in your leadership qualities and an acknowledgement of your outstanding services," Pakistani President Zardari said in his message.

He also wished further expansion for Tehran-Islamabad ties in a near future based on close, brotherly relations. "I wish you every success and ever greater prosperity for the brotherly people of Iran. Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration," he reiterated.

Meantime, Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani said in his message, "It gives me immense pleasure to congratulate you on your well deserved re-election as the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

"On behalf of the government and people of Pakistan, I wish to convey to you and our Iranian brothers every success, peace, happiness and prosperity."

Pakistan's Prime Minister also said, "We are determined to further strengthen our cooperative ties in a comprehensive manner. I have no doubt that our close brotherly relations will strengthen and attain new heights in the years ahead."

Ahmadinejad won a second term in office after gaining 24,527,516 votes from a total number of 39,165,191 ballots cast in the boxes, which accounts for 62.63% of the votes. His main rival Mir-Hossein Mousavi could secure only 13,216,411 (33.75%) of the votes. The ministry's election headquarters also put the rate of public participation at 85%.

[Tom Gross adds: The above item comes from Iranian government sources and has not been independently verified.]



Roger Cohen has now demonstrated a small glimmering of self-awareness:

He wrote in The New York Times: "I’ve argued for engagement with Iran and I still believe in it, although, in the name of the millions defrauded, President Obama’s outreach must now await a decent interval.

"I’ve also argued that, although repressive, the Islamic Republic offers significant margins of freedom by regional standards. I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness."

[All notes above by Tom Gross]



Iran's Worst Clerics
By Joshua Keating
Foreign Policy
June 2009

As the Iranian opposition takes its case to the country's religious leader, here's a look at five hard-line mullahs who could stand in the way.


Position: Chairman of the Guardian Council, the 12 member group that oversees elections and is tasked with ensuring the government complies with the principals of the Islamic state. He also holds seats on the Assembly of Experts and Expediency Discernment Council, two other top regime bodies. Jannati frequently acts as "substitute imam" for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei by delivering the Friday prayers in Tehran.

Worldview: "He's considered a real hardliner. Way, way, way on the right. He's a real dying breed," says Geneive Abdo, a Middle East expert at the Century Foundation who has reported extensively on Iran's clerics. The 82-year old Jannati has used his Friday sermons to call for the destruction of Israel and the United States and encourage Iranians to support Hizbullah in Lebanon and an Islamic state in Iraq.

Possible election role: The Guardian Council vets candidates before they can run, generally weeding out unacceptable reformists and women. As chairman of the council, the hard-line Jannati wields enormous influence over Iran's political process. At the same time, experts say, his influence has been somewhat diminished lately.

"Jannati is old and he's an idiot," says Rasool Nafisi of Strayer University. "He was put in his position only because of his absolutely loyalty [to Khomeini]." Jannati has been eclipsed somewhat by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, his more politically shrewd and ideologically promiscuous rival within Iran's clerical establishment, according to Nafisi. But given his revolutionary credentials, powerful office, and nearly blind devotion to Khamenei, it would be a mistake to write him off completely.



Position: Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the group tasked with selecting Iran's supreme leader

Worldview: Nicknamed "professor crocodile" by reformists, Yazdi (not to be confused with fellow Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi of the Guardian Council) is the hard-liner's hard-liner. "He speaks only in rhetoric," says Abdo, who has interviewed him. "When you ask him questions, you don't get answers, you get slogans."

Yazdi has publicly supported the use of suicide bombing against the enemies of Islam and the use of death squads against political reformers. He is often described as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor, though at times, even the incumbent president has been too moderate for him. When Ahmadinejad tried to change the law to allow women to attend soccer matches, he was publicly rebuked by Yazdi.

Possible election role: The current turmoil should be a test of Yazdi's true loyalties. In recent years, there has been speculation that Yazdi has been eyeing Khamenei's position. If true, Yazdi could exploit the current turmoil to move against the supreme leader, but Nafisi thinks the rumors are overblown. "He's on Khamenei's payroll," he says. "[Khamenei's predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini hated Yazdi. It was Khamenei who lifted him up and gave him his position."

On the other hand, Nafisi also believes that the relationship between Yazdi and Ahmadinejad has been exaggerated, noting that in the run-up to the election Yazdi "said nothing in support" of the president. But if Yazdi is not overly fond of Ahmadinejad, he absolutely despises Iran's reformists and is unlikely to favor concessions to them.



Position: A grand ayatollah, the highest rank for Shiite clerics, Shirazi was very politically active before and during the 1979 revolution and played a role in writing the Islamic Republic's constitution.

Worldview: Shirazi is among the most conservative of the Iran's ayatollahs and one of the most influential. His views on gender roles are particularly extreme; he's written that men should be permitted to beat their wives for failing to perform their sexual obligations. He is a "major player in terms of advocating the authority of the supreme leader from a religious point of view," says Nafisi.

Possible election role: Shirazi, who can be relied upon to go to bat for Khamenei in any potential power struggle, came to his position of influence within the clerical establishment through a somewhat unusual route. After the revolution, Shirazi was given control of Iran's sugar exports and became very wealthy in the process. "Today, Shirazi is powerful in Qom [Iran's center of religious scholarship] because he is the man the other clerics go to when they need money," Nafisi says. The "Sultan of Sugar" has more than a few favors to call in if his friend Khamenei needs it.



Position: Iran's prosecutor general

Worldview: Dorri-Najafabadi has earned some ridicule in the West last year for calling Barbie dolls and Harry Potter a "destructive culturally and a social danger," but his role in stifling dissent in Iran is deadly serious. In his former post as minister of intelligence, Dorri-Najafabadi was implicated in the murders of numerous reformist politicians and journalists.

He was forced to resign that post under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, but under Ahmadinejad he has reemerged as a major player in the Iranian state's security apparatus. "He's a very brutal guy," says Nafisi. "He's involved in nearly every atrocity." Dorri-Najafabadi also spoke out shortly before the election to emphasize that whoever won, they should continue the struggle against Zionism.

Possible election role: Dorri-Najafabadi's political influence is limited, but he can still make life miserable through his influence in Iran's security and legal systems. He has described pro-Mousavi marchers as "opportunists" who are "engaged in criminal activities."

But Dorri-Najafabadi has been sending mixed signals recently. He chastised election authorities for not allowing Ahmadinejad's opponents equal time during televised debates and the Association of Combatant Clerics, a leading group of reformists, has asked that he be invited to participate in the Guardian Council's deliberations on whether to hold an election recount. It would be the ultimate irony if this longtime scourge of Iran's reformist movement emerged as a key ally.



Position: Minister of intelligence and security

Worldview: A member of the infamous Ministry Of Intelligence and Security since its creation, Mohseni-Ejei is dedicated to protecting the Islamic Republic from enemies foreign and domestic. He has on numerous occasions accused the United States and Israel of spying inside Iran and has routinely blames domestic unrest on foreign involvement. Even after Iranian courts cleared U.S. journalist Roxanna Saberi of any wrongdoing, Mohseni-Ejei publicly maintained that she was a spy.

Mohseni-Ejei has a reputation, like Ahmadinejad, who appointed him to his current post, for being tough on corruption and brought prosecutions against a number of government officials in his former post as prosecutor general. However, reformists point out that he has almost never prosecuted clerics suspected of corruption, earning him a reputation as an enforcer for the ayatollahs. (Mohseni-Ejei is not an ayatollah himself but a hojjatol-Islam, a middle-ranking cleric.)

Possible election role: Since Iran's election crisis began, Mohseni-Ejei has followed his usual habit of blaming the unrest on international actors. His ministry has carried out numerous arrests of "provocation agents" and he has warned that if demonstrators disturb the peace, they will "not only be arrested… their identities will be made public."

Like Dorri-Najafabadi, Mohseni-Ejei is one of the most influential clerics in Iran's security establishment, but unlike him, "he remains quite active politically," according to Nafisi. He can be expected to lobby the state to resist reform and quash dissent.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.