Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 21, 2007

A Question On Haleh Esfandiari

Juan Cole, various organizations and editorials are up in arms over Haleh Esfandiari.

She is an Iranian living in the U.S. and working for the Woodrow Wilson Center's Middle East program. Esfandiari was recently detained while visiting Iran.

The center explains her side of the story as does her husband. Iran has not yet published any formal charges.

But Cole and others are demanding her release because they assume she is innocent.

That may well be, but how do they know?

Posted by b on May 21, 2007 at 01:35 PM | Permalink


Here is what Iran does to people they don't like.

Azam listed the injuries he discovered on Kazemi:
 A broken nose.
 A large bruise on the right side of her forehead extending to the side of her head.
 A bloody lump on the back of her head.
 Evidence of internal bleeding of the brain.
 A ruptured left ear drum.
 Deep, long scratches on the back of her neck and calves.
 Evidence of broken ribs.
 Bruises on her abdomen and on her knees.
 Evidence of flogging on her back.
 Broken fingers and nails missing.
 A smashed toe.
 Bruised and swollen feet, possibly the result of a flogging.
As a male doctor, he was not allowed to examine her genitals, but a female nurse who did told him of "brutal damage."
Azam said a neurosurgeon said a brain scan showed she had a skull fracture and extensive injuries to her brain tissue.
Doctors were unable to operate because her condition was too unstable. Kazemi had a respiratory arrest the next day and later died.


I don't really have time to go back and research it, but I believe that Iran does not recognise duel citizenship. Guilty or innocent - it does not matter. Pressure needs to be put on now.

When looking at the war on terror, we need to reject the black and white slogans of Bush and realise that on both "sides" oppose freedom and human dignity.

Posted by: edwin | May 21, 2007 4:03:12 PM | 1

Yeah Edwin - when I read about and saw the photo-shop'ed pictures of you on the Internets forcefully penetrating that eight year old (boy?/girl?) I said:

I don't really have time to go back and research it, ... Guilty or innocent - it does not matter. Pressure needs to be put on now.

I was a bit reluctant though, so I added:

we need to reject the black and white slogans ...

Nice to see you agree there too ...

I also agree that Iran is not up to the "western" standards of prisoner wellfare. Unlike the U.S., they seem to lack in waterboarding practice.

That said - how about answering my question?

Posted by: b | May 21, 2007 4:46:11 PM | 2

as always, the question is who benefits from this?

I spoke to an Iranian who lives nearby some time ago and quizzed him about his life in Iran and outside. He now lives in Germany and will probably never return to Iran because all of his family has left. The ones in the US, especially California are all gung ho for invading and destroying the mullahs.

anyway, he told me that he was in Germany studying when Khomeini returned to Iran with the fall of the Shah. He protested at the Iranian embassy here in Germany and pretty much made a nuisance of himself. Then he started getting messages from relatives in Iran telling him that someone had come by and told them to tell him to knock it off. He did.

from what I am reading about this woman, it seems she is very active in working to overthrow the present government of Iran. I doubt that the Woodrow Wilson Institute is entirely benevolent. Links to Israel are not that unlikely either if what I heard about Savak being trained and equipped by Israel in times of the Shah. she probably is a nuisance to the Iranians. so they arrested her, it probably would have been easier to arrange an accident for her but maybe they are trying to let others know that they can reach out and touch....should they need to.

please, these are only wondering musings......nothing concrete

Posted by: dan of steele | May 21, 2007 5:06:26 PM | 3

I hate to play the victim-blaming game, but really, anyone from the "Woodrow Wilson Institute" is asking for it.

Posted by: Rowan | May 21, 2007 6:18:36 PM | 4

I'm pragmatic, if I had just emigrated from Iran and was offered a good-paying job at the Wilson Center I would take it. However, considering the fact that the center was established in 1968 by an act of Congress, is partially funded by the US Government, the board of trustees is appointed by the US President (Condoleezza Rice is a board member), and Wilson Center lecturers and authors has been advocating regime change in Iran for years... I would not return to Iran with that on my resume.

Posted by: skeeter | May 21, 2007 6:35:02 PM | 5

How do they know?.. Well, they are in the "knowing" business. They always *know*, and tell us, and we are supposed to nod and be enlightened.

Here is tomorrow's news about Iran, and this isn't the Daily Telegraph, mind you, this is the Guardian.

Iran's secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq

Iran is secretly forging ties with al-Qaida elements and Sunni Arab militias in Iraq in preparation for a summer showdown with coalition forces intended to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full military withdrawal, US officials say.

Posted by: Alamet | May 21, 2007 9:03:46 PM | 6


their ignorance is total

Posted by: remembereringgiap | May 21, 2007 9:12:12 PM | 7

Guardian's been doing the unsourced leak bs. sad.

Posted by: slothrop | May 21, 2007 10:36:13 PM | 8

The Guardian and not the Daily Telegraph????!!!

Have you noticed who wrote it : Simon Tisdall
This sounds a little bit too much jewish to me.
That will certainly diminish the credibility of what is written in this article :
"Iran's secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq".
Obviously the US does not know what lie to invent to accuse Iran and find an excuse to attack it.

Posted by: anon_imus | May 21, 2007 11:00:30 PM | 9

I would not return to Iran with that on my resume.

Not even to see your 93-year-old and ailing mother?

This is a remarkably cold-blooded post. Holding someone for six weeks without charges, without access to a lawyer, without communication with the outside world -- that's just fine? If you're not fine with the U.S. government doing it, why is it okay for the Iranian government?

Is it so hard to grasp that just because the criminal regime running our country now wants to undermine or overthrow the Iranian government, that doesn't wash out that government's human rights abuses?

Posted by: Nell | May 21, 2007 11:37:34 PM | 10

I agree anon_imus

Two weeks ago all that weekend the AIPAC website ran a lead article claiming that Iran was refusing to let the IAEA inspecters in to inspect its Nanatz facility. Meanwhile, the IAEA was attempting to expose the deception by issuing public statements that they did in fact already have a team at the Nanatz facility, and Iran had engaged in no such blockage of the inspection process.

Instead of a retraction, AIPAC, sometime the following Monday morning, removed the article, and interestingly enough, did not archive it. It simply disappeared.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | May 21, 2007 11:40:08 PM | 11

Not sure whether this counts as formal charges, exactly. This story ran about two hours after the post was put up:

Iran Charges Scholar With Trying to Topple Regime:

Iran's Intelligence Ministry accused Esfandiari, director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, of trying to foment a soft revolution by setting up a network "against the sovereignty" of Iran. ... This is an American-designed model with an attractive appearance that seeks the soft-toppling of the country," state TV reported ... In a statement published by Iran's ISNA news agency, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security charged that Esfandiari had received money from George Soros's Open Society Institute.

"The long-term and final goal of such centers is to try to enable this network . . . to confront the ruling powers. This model designed by the Americans . . . is following the 'soft revolution' in the country," the statement said.

Posted by: Nell | May 22, 2007 12:18:12 AM | 12

@Neil - Holding someone for six weeks without charges, ...

According to the Woodrow Wilson Center "On Monday, May 7th, she was summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence once again. When she arrived for her appointment on Tuesday morning, she was put into a car and taken to Evin prison."

On my calendar today is May 22. So where did you pick that additional month from?

Just asking.

And thanks for the link in 12.

Posted by: b | May 22, 2007 12:34:42 AM | 13


By your own second post (#12) she is rather openly a traitor to her country. Visit her grandmother? She gave that up when she joined the American Cabal.

Cold blood or warm, defection to an enemy has a price. Only a fool ignores this.

Posted by: Gaianne | May 22, 2007 2:33:58 AM | 14

@b: I was mistaken about the time involved. This is the sentence in the Robin Wright story that misled me:

originally in Iran to take care of her 93-year-old mother when her passport was taken in a robbery as she was en route to the airport Dec. 30. When she went in to get a replacement, she was put under interrogation for six weeks.

Esfandiari was functionally under house arrest for the four months preceding her jailing. Without a passport she was unable to leave the country.

Noam Chomsky has apparently joined this vast conspiracy to overthrow the mullahs by way of academic exchanges. Who knew he was part of The Cabal?

Posted by: Nell | May 22, 2007 10:22:27 AM | 15

@Nell - I am just wondering how Chomsky and others know that Esfandiari is not CIA or some other agency. It certainly wouldn't be the first time those people would have used some institute like WWC as cover.

This may well be trumped up charges by Iran, but it could just as well be something else.

I don't know so I wonder how Chomsky or Cole know.

Posted by: b | May 22, 2007 11:10:20 AM | 16

Ok - it is a fair question.

From Cole's web site: I know Haleh and have enormous respect for her

Maybe you take a chance based on a number of factors including past history of all parties involved. Perhaps it is akin to religion - a matter of faith.

Look at Hurricane Carter for further confusion on how does one know.

Perhaps that is partially why we reject torture and capital punishment - because there is no complete answer to the question of how does one know.

Posted by: edwin | May 22, 2007 5:41:40 PM | 17

Iran Isolates Jailed U.S. Scholar Charged With Revolution Plot

Swiss diplomats seeking to visit Haleh Esfandiari, a leading Iranian-American academic jailed in Iran, have not been given access to her, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars said yesterday.

In addition, Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and lawyer who has taken on Ms. Esfandiari’s defense, confirmed yesterday that two lawyers from her office had been denied permission to visit their client but she said that they would continue their efforts.
Tehran habitually denies political prisoners the right to see a lawyer and prohibits lawyers from even reviewing case files, Ms. Ebadi said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. She has been on a book tour in the United States and expects to return to Iran on June 8.

She said that two lawyers from her office in Tehran would continue to press the Revolutionary Court but that in the past it had taken up to a year, until interrogations were over, before permission was granted. She called it a typical case in which the judiciary demands that citizens obey the law but ignores the law itself.

At bo point does the above NYT article mention, that the "U.S. scholar" is an Iranian national.

If the U.S. detains a U.S. national, will it allow Swiss ambassadors for a visit?
Does the U.S. allow political prisoners to see lawyers in all cases?

Glasshouse situation ...

Posted by: b | May 23, 2007 12:52:28 AM | 18

Tehran Detains 4th Iranian American Before Talks

Iran has imprisoned a consultant for philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Institute programs, according to sources who work with the Columbia University-educated social scientist. Kian Tajbakhsh becomes the fourth dual U.S.-Iranian national to be incarcerated, detained or put under house arrest in recent weeks.

Tajbakhsh was picked up around May 11, although relatives and colleagues learned of his imprisonment only this week, the sources said.
Tajbakhsh, 45, has worked with the Open Society Institute in Iran since 2004 and also has done work for the World Bank in Iran, colleagues said. An Iranian government official said yesterday that Tajbakhsh had also advised Iranian ministries and was widely respected as a social scientist.

His arrest came about three days after the May 8 imprisonment of Potomac resident Haleh Esfandiari of the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Esfandiari received funding from the Open Society Institute to sponsor Middle East programs in Washington.

This is weird - the headline speaks of the 4th imprisoned but it only names Esfandiani and Tajbakhsh. Who are the other two? Do they exist?

Posted by: b | May 23, 2007 2:12:17 AM | 19

Soros was behind a lot of the 'freedom' movements in Eastern Europe that have led to misery and privation for the majority.

Posted by: folkers | May 24, 2007 3:24:49 AM | 20

Glass houses??!!

Wouldn't you give a prisoner of the U.S. the benefit of presumption of innocence in an analogous situation? Why, then, do you assume that Esfandiari is guilty?

Noam Chomsky, to his credit, does not need to know that Esfandiari is innocent of any of the charges made against her to demand that she be given her rights. Holding persons incommunicado without charges is wrong, period.

Your position is the obverse of those Americans who feel that kidnaping and holding people without charges or lawyers on the basis of suspicion is just fine.

Posted by: Nell | May 24, 2007 9:11:29 PM | 21

Wouldn't you give a prisoner of the U.S. the benefit of presumption of innocence in an analogous situation? Why, then, do you assume that Esfandiari is guilty?

I would, but the U.S. doesn't in all cases. Especially not with "enemies of the state" (Padilla).

I don't assume Esfandiari is guilty. I just wonder why some believe that she is absolutly not guilty. How do they know?

The U.S. even points out that the CIA has now the official task to overthrow the Iranian government (see recent ABC docu) and people wonder why Iran is suspicious of bi-national U.S. scholars?

Posted by: b | May 25, 2007 2:36:26 AM | 22

Dual American-Iranian National Believed Detained in Iran, Sources Say

Human Rights Watch today reported the disappearance of another U.S. citizen believed to have been detained during a visit to Iran.

Ali Shakeri, a businessman from Irvine, Calif., who has lived in the United States since he graduated from University of Texas in the 1970s, was due to leave Tehran to return to the United States in early May after a visit to his ailing mother, who died while he was in Tehran. But he has not been heard from since he left for the airport, according to Human Rights Watch and two Iranian friends who expected him in London en route home.

Shakeri, who is in his late 50s, would be the fifth dual American-Iranian national to have been imprisoned, detained or prevented from leaving Iran in recent weeks. "We have every confidence that Shakeri is in detention," said Hadi Ghaemi, Iran analyst for Human Rights Watch.
Paula Garb, co-director of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California at Irvine, said the center had expected him back about three weeks ago. Shakeri is a founding member of the center's advisory board.
Only three of the four other dual nationals who have been imprisoned, detained or prevented from leaving Iran have been publicly identified. They include Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda, and social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh. The fourth person has requested not to be identified by The Washington Post.

A sixth American, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, has been missing in Iran since he disappeared on Kish Island in early March.

The center is partly financed by USAID

Posted by: b | May 25, 2007 4:45:46 AM | 23

b, irvine is an extremely rich rightwing enclave.

Posted by: annie | May 25, 2007 5:46:39 AM | 24

Okay, I'll stop commenting on this post after this, but:
Those of us who are actively protesting the treatment of Haleh Esfandiari are not "wonder[ing] why Iran is suspicious of bi-national U.S. scholars" or, in fact, necessarily convinced that she is absolutely not "guilty" (where 'guilty', in the view of most MoA participants, seems to mean, 'responsible for activities that might in any way strengthen the hand of internal opponents of the regimr': women, homosexuals, those seeking more popular control over who becomes candidates for office, etc. etc.).

Iran is not merely 'suspicious' of binational U.S. scholars, it is holding one incommunicado and without charges.

To use your own analogy, why are you so convinced that Jose Padilla is absolutely innocent? See, isn't that an offensively missing-the-point question? Isn't it completely irrelevant to your outrage about the U.S. government's treatment of him?

Posted by: Nell | May 26, 2007 8:07:07 AM | 25

To use your own analogy, why are you so convinced that Jose Padilla is absolutely innocent?

I am not. I don't know if he is guilty or not. I don't know if Esfandiani is guilty or not of whatever. Charges against her might be trumped up or are not. The point is I don't know.

And I'd certainly ask the Iranian government to handle the case with care and in a humanitarian way and to give her all the rights a human deservse including access to a lawyer and a fair process.

But I don't claim that she is innocent because I don't know if she is. Still wondering how some people claim to know.

Posted by: b | May 26, 2007 9:09:10 AM | 26

I swore I was going to let this go, but I can't. I should have included your own words in the post in my first comment, because there is the heart of my objection:

Cole and others are demanding her release because they assume she is innocent. That may well be, but how do they know?

Cole and others are not demanding her release because they assume she is innocent, but because she is being held illegally and denied communication with counsel or with her family or anyone in a position to help her.

Cole doesn't claim to know she's innocent, but he does presume so. Chomsky and other academics who have joined the campaign to release Esfandiari are doing so not on the basis of knowledge or even presumption of her absolute innocence of efforts to support political opponents of the ruling government, but on the basis of human rights concerns. It is also the case that this kind of action by the Iranian government puts U.S. opponents of a military attack on Iran at a severe disadvantage.

It's yet another case of the worst elements in the U.S. and the Iranian government reinforcing each other.

Posted by: Nell | May 26, 2007 2:22:33 PM | 27

& given the prison population of the empire of a little over 3 million - how many innocents amongst them

intellectuals are responsible for what they do & say - that is to the benefit of civil societies

i too know neither the innocence or the guilt of this person but when it is used as yet another attempt to besmirch the iranians it is difficult to understand its relative importance

since the illegal & immoral occupation of ira - there has been a systematic & wide campaign of murder against intellectuals by the u s, by those instrumentalised by the us & other common criminals & the word weeps not one word, not one word

nell, i have not noticed you here decrying that situation

no person needs to be imprisoned unjustly but please please - the context here is everything

Posted by: r'giap | May 26, 2007 2:35:42 PM | 28

are doing so not on the basis of knowledge or even presumption of her absolute innocence of efforts to support political opponents of the ruling government, but on the basis of human rights concerns.

Ok - well, they certainly are busy than.

Look, Esfandiari has Iranian nationality and an Iranian passport. Iran has certain laws. Iran has certain legal procedures. We don't know these in any detail.

There are lots of curious laws and procedures around the world.

In Germany, if you publicly refute that us Germans did a genozide on Jews, you go to jail.

In Turkey, when you publicly confirm that Turks did a genozide on Armenians you go to jail.

In Japan any police station can legaly keep you in their "investigation jail" for some four weeks and interogate you 12 hours a day without ever seeing a counsel.

In Poland discussing homosexuality in schools will get you some prison time.

Now I find all of these laws/procedures above stupid, inherently illegal and violating various human rights (and I did spare you the U.S. examples here.)

Still I don't see anyone calling for immediate release of prisoners in Germany, Turkey or Japan or Poland. I wonder why.

An Iranian-American scholar from the Congress funded "spread democracy" circus gets jailed in her own country. It is somehow by far the most democratic country around the Persian Gulf. At the same time there are several public reports that the U.S. is secretly financing the overthrow of the government of Iran through influence agents form its "spread democracy" circus.

I am quite certain that Iran has, like any country, laws against the overthrough of its government.

It might be or might not be that Esfandiari has done something against such Iranian laws. We don't know. It might be that her imprisonment in Iran is legal and normal under Iranian law. We don't know.

We should assume she is innocent like we should with anybody under investigation. We should ask for fair handling under the rules of law.

We do not know if she is innocent. Again, why call for her unconditional release without knowing any facts instead of letting the legal process take its way?

Why do so in her case and not in thousands or millions others of maybe dubious law enforcement?

What is the last time Chomsky and Cole asked for clemency for some Saudi wife that gets stoned for alleged unproven unfaithfullness?

Posted by: b | May 26, 2007 3:44:32 PM | 29

skeeter #5 I would not return to Iran with that on my resume.

me neither, not now, when it is all over the news that we plan on bombing iran. obviously, a certain portion of the iranian population in this country work for the cia. chances are many of them are monitored. chances are, when , if we go for regime change we will have members of the population ready to 'help out'. just like the inc, there are probably many members in the community that are aligned w/us. it is possible, perhaps probable she operating in a way that furthered the goals of the institution she works for. here, bush has the option of imprisoning any person he deems to be a 'terrorist' preemptivly.
one aspect of all these recent changes in our laws, there is no longer a presumed moral authority for america.

edwin#1, Here is what Iran does to people they don't like. US/IS has done all that and more to innocent people too. i know, terrible isn't it.

Posted by: annie | May 26, 2007 4:21:10 PM | 30

Iran: Western spy networks discovered

Iran said Saturday it has uncovered spy rings organized by the United States and its Western allies, claiming on state-run television that the espionage networks were made up of "infiltrating elements from the Iraqi occupiers."

The Intelligence Ministry has "succeeded in identifying and striking blows at several spy networks comprised of infiltrating elements from the Iraqi occupiers in western, southwestern and central Iran," said the statement, using shorthand for United States and its allies.

The broadcast did not elaborate, saying further details would be published within days.

Do we know this to be true? NO!
Do we know this NOT to be true? NO!

So why, in absence of further information, call for one version to be true and neglect the other?

Posted by: b | May 26, 2007 4:58:39 PM | 31

Interesting: US unit created to pressure Iran, Syria disbanded

The Bush administration has dismantled a special committee that was established last year to coordinate aggressive actions against Iran and Syria, State Department officials said this week.

The interagency group, known as 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 democratic forces that oppose the two regimes.

State Department and White House officials said the dissolution of the group was simply a bureaucratic reorganization, but many analysts saw it as evidence of a softening in the US strategy toward the two countries. It comes as the Bush administration has embarked on a significant new effort to hold high-level meetings with Iran and Syria.

Posted by: b | May 27, 2007 2:50:41 AM | 32

3 Iranian-Americans charged with spying

TEHRAN, Iran - U.S. academic Haleh Esfandiari and two other Iranian-Americans have been "formally charged" with endangering national security and espionage,
Iran's judiciary spokesman said Tuesday.

"Esfandiari has been formally charged with endangering national security through propaganda against the system and espionage for foreigners," spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters. "She has been informed of the charges against her."
Jamshidi said the same charges also had been lodged against Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant who also has worked for the World Bank, and journalist Parnaz Azima. No trial date has been announced and Jamshidi said the investigation against all three is continuing.

Azima, who works for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, was detained but released and barred from leaving the country. It was the first time the government has confirmed the arrest of Tajbakhsh, who was believed to have been taken into custody around May 11, according to George Soros' Open Society Institute.

Posted by: b | May 29, 2007 7:45:10 AM | 33

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