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Famous Last Words

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Message Jayne Stahl

"The CIA does not conduct or condone torture," or so they, U.S. intelligence officials, say but try telling that to an Iranian diplomat, Jalaf Sharafi, who was abducted, in Baghdad, in February, and just released last week. Only hours after statements made by the 15 British sailors captured by Tehran alleging that they were blindfolded, and subjected to physical, as well as psychological abuse by their Iranian captors, come allegations by an Iranian official held in Baghdad that he was tortured by his CIA captors.

Mr. Sharafi, on Saturday, told Iranian state television that, while he was captured by the Iraqi military, his abductors were "driving U.S. coalition vehicles," (AP) and that he was interrogated by the CIA about his country's relationship with Iraq. After he told his captors that "Iran merely has official relations with the Iraqi government and officials, they intensified tortures," and tortured him "through different methods days and nights" over a two month period. The diplomat's body still shows signs of torture. What's more, proof that Sharafi's arrest, and subsequent questioning were covert operations, and not above board exists insofar as he was dumped at the back of the Baghdad airport as if he were little more than a mob informant.

This capture, and abuse of an Iranian government official is startling, because he is a diplomat, but is nothing new in these days of extraordinary rendition. What is different is that the CIA has now openly inserted itself into the process by which captives are subjected to ongoing abuse. Sharafi's contention that he was abducted by an Iraqi group that is controlled by the CIA now introduces a different factor into the equation. As a consequence of the Bush administration's so-called war on terror, and laws that have been passed that compromise the integrity of due process, habeas corpus, and redefine torture itself, those in American intelligence who feel compelled to raid, seize, and harass Iranians, or anyone else they deem to be "enemy combatants," may now do so with impunity.

While a U.S. embassy spokesman, in Iraq, repeatedly insists that the U.S. had no part in the abduction, or detention of the Iranian diplomat, bear in mind that legislation passed by Congress, last year, the Military Commissions Act, allows for what it calls "alternative interrogation techniques," some of which may well have been used by those holding Sharafi. And, as the Washington Post reported several months ago, even the president acknowledges the presence of secret cells, as well as the practice of outsourcing torture, which has euphemistically come to be known as "extraordinary rendition."

One of the inherent expediencies of the Military Commissions Act is that our government no longer has to enlist the aid of countries where torture is routine, and can now carry out practices, in defiance of Geneva Conventions, that were once synonymous only with regimes like those of Augusto Pinochet and Edi Amin. Thanks to the Military Commissions Act, torture is now in the eye of the beholder, subjective, and no longer defined by international law. Indeed, it is as if this administration has fashioned its own private language with newfangled phrases like "enemy combatant." What's more, while the U.S. denies any complicity with the Iraqis in capturing Mr. Sharafi, keep in mind that the U.S. military denied any role in the hanging of Saddam Hussein, too.

An event preceding Sharafi's capture, and which received little notice by the American media, may have precipitated the taking of fifteen sailors by Iran earlier this month. On an official visit to Baghdad in mid-January, two high ranking Iranian security officers came dangerously close to sharing the same fate as their colleague when American helicopters raided an Iranian security office, in Kurdistan, and took five junior Iranian officers hostage. (Independent U.K.) The U.S. accuses the five men of working in Iranian intelligence and, to this day, is still holding them. This under-publicized, and bungled raid by our government may well have been the catalyst for the seizing, by Iran, of the fifteen British marines. But, the underlying, and galling question is: who is holding the American press, and media hostage, and why is the January raid, and ongoing detention of five Iranian officials receiving little, if any, attention? Have the press and media, in this country, been coopted by the same propaganda machine that brought us into the Persian Gulf in the first place?

While the U.S. mission flagrantly failed in its efforts to seize, and detain Mohammed Jafari of the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, it did succeed in capturing five Iranian officials from whom nothing has been heard since. What is the official party line on that one? American officials claim that the five currently held are believed to be "closely tied to activities targeting Iraq and coalition forces." But, by way of contrast, a senior Iraqi official asserts that the goal of the Americans was to capture Iranian officials whose only plan was to work towards a climate of cooperation, and "bilateral security."

That a raid on an Iranian security office, in Iraq, was carried out by our own forces, and not by Iraqi puppets, is further proof of just how far over the line the foreign policy of this administration has gone; the concept of preemption no longer applies to those states our commander-in-chief and his advisors have deemed the "enemy," but those who have nothing more than the mere potential for being enemies.

At some point, these five Iranian officials currently detained, in Iraq, since January, will also be released . One wonders if, like Mr. Sharafi, they, too, will attest to "alternative interrogation techniques," and acts of torture. And, if so, then the rubric, "The CIA does not conduct or condone torture," can only be seen as famous last words as, sooner or later, evidence to the contrary can no longer be denied.

It is no secret that the CIA has a long, and distinguished career of meddling in the internal affairs of foreign countries but, in the past, few of their victims have survived to tell about what they have done. Thanks to the "terrorists," and our current president's hubris, we now have an infrastructure in place, as well as a sympathetic Congress, to look into the bold transgressions of those who'd like us to think they have right, and might on their side. So, it is now time that American intelligence investigate itself to get to the truth, and bring those responsible for giving the  command to torture, as well as those who carry out that heinous command, to justice. There can be no glass ceiling for acountability, and those investigations into criminal misconduct must not be allowed to surrender to claims of executive privilege. There is but one way that history can interpret our apathy, and silence, as complicity in these crimes.

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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