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"October Surprise" and "Argo"

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Source: Consortium News


Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. (Photo credit: Peter Weis)

In a commentary on "Argo" winning the Best Picture Oscar, former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr has provided new details about how Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign obstructed resolving the Iranian hostage crisis to prevent President Jimmy Carter's reelection.

Bani-Sadr's commentary focused mostly on historical inaccuracies in "Argo," which depicted how six U.S. Embassy staffers made their escape when the embassy in Tehran was overrun by Iranian militants on Nov. 4, 1979, in protest of the U.S. government admitting the deposed -- and widely despised -- Shah of Iran for medical treatment.

In the commentary published by the Christian Science Monitor on March 5, Bani-Sadr, now 79 and living outside Paris, said the movie ignored the fact that most government officials favored freeing all the American personnel quickly. He criticized "Argo" for portraying Iranian officials of that time as radical and irrational.

The ex-president noted that "Argo" did quote him accurately as saying he expected the Americans to be freed within a few days -- revealing that he based that comment on a conversation he had had with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- but Bani-Sadr criticized the movie for leaving "the impression that the Iranian government supported the occupation of the embassy and that I was a lone voice in opposing it. This could not be further from the truth."

Bani-Sadr said he and all other major candidates for the Iranian presidency supported releasing the hostages. He noted that after taking that position, he won the election with 76 percent of the vote. He added:

"Overall, 96 percent of votes in that election were given to candidates who were against [the hostage-taking]. Hence, the movie misrepresents the Iranian government's stand in regard to hostage-taking. It also completely misrepresents Iranians by portraying us as irrational people consumed by aggressive emotion."

The October Surprise

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However, after becoming president on Feb. 4, 1980, he found his efforts to resolve the hostage crisis thwarted. Bani-Sadr said he discovered that "Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the 'October Surprise,' which prevented the attempts by myself and then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 U.S. presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan."

Though Bani-Sadr has talked and written about the Reagan-Khomeini collaboration before, he added in his commentary on "Argo" that "two of my advisors, Hussein Navab Safavi and Sadr-al-Hefazi, were executed by Khomeini's regime because they had become aware of this secret relationship between Khomeini, his son Ahmad, the Islamic Republican Party, and the Reagan administration."

Bani-Sadr wrote that after he "was deposed in June 1981 as a result of a coup against me [and] after arriving in France, I told a BBC reporter that I had left Iran to expose the symbiotic relationship between Khomeinism and Reaganism."

Over the years, Republicans have adamantly denied that Reagan or his campaign struck a deal with Iranian radicals to extend the hostage crisis through the 1980 election. But substantial evidence has built up supporting Bani-Sadr's account and indicating that the release of the 52 hostages just as Reagan was taking the oath of office on Jan. 20, 1981, was no coincidence, that it was part of the deal. [For the latest summary of the evidence, see Robert Parry's America's Stolen Narrative.]

In December 1992, when a House Task Force was examining this so-called October Surprise controversy -- and encountering fierce Republican resistance -- Bani-Sadr submitted a letter detailing his behind-the-scenes struggle with Khomeini and his son Ahmad over their secret dealings with the Reagan campaign.

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Bani-Sadr's letter was dated Dec. 17, 1992, and was part of a flood of last-minute evidence that implicated the Reagan campaign in delaying the hostage release. However, by the time the letter and the other evidence arrived, the leadership of the House Task Force had decided to simply declare the Reagan campaign innocent.

Lawrence Barcella, who served as Task Force chief counsel, later told me that so much incriminating evidence arrived late that he asked Task Force chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, a centrist Democrat from Indiana, to extend the inquiry for three months but that Hamilton said no. (Hamilton told me that he had no recollection of Barcella's request.)

Burying Bani-Sadr's Letter

In the Task Force's final report, issued on Jan. 13, 1993, Barcella's team simply misrepresented Bani-Sadr's letter, mentioning it only briefly, claiming that it was hearsay, and then burying its contents in a little-noticed annex to the report along with other incriminating evidence. (I discovered additional evidence of Republican guilt when I gained access to boxes of the Task Force's unpublished files.)

Bani-Sadr's letter described the internal battles of the Iranian government over the Republican intervention in the 1980 hostage crisis. Bani-Sadr recounted how he threatened to expose the secret deal between Reagan's campaign officials and Islamic radicals close to Ayatollah Khomeini if the hostage-release delay wasn't reversed.

Bani-Sadr said he had first learned of the Republican "secret deal" with Iranian radicals in July 1980 after Reza Passendideh, a nephew of Ayatollah Khomeini, attended a meeting with Iranian financier Cyrus Hashemi and Republican lawyer Stanley Pottinger in Madrid on July 2, 1980. Though Passendideh was expected to return with a proposal from the Carter administration, Bani-Sadr said Passendideh instead carried a plan "from the Reagan camp."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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