Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
It was bright and sunny for the first day of March. Yet, it remained
cold. Both Tehran and Laleh longed for spring weather. Laleh had been in
Tehran for two months and it seemed nothing was coming of any rescue attempt.
Long weeks had passed with her photographing the street scenes of the city
and with men routinely stopping her. They carried weapons and demanded
to see her papers for being in the country. It was a routine and form of
harassment that Laleh ignored though each passing week presented a more
strident demand by those questioning her. She continued to wear Levies,
warm sweatshirt, and her rose patterned Pustin coat. She did make certain
to wear a scarf and show no hairline. By her carrying American citizenship,
and working for a major publishing house in New York, she didn't fall prey
to having stones thrown at her or men beating her as they did to other
women not wearing Islamic dress. Hard-line men had pelted women demonstrating
before the state radio and TV headquarters the past March. The past weeks
had brought no signal about any rescue-effort infiltrating Iran.
Up to today, Laleh had made her way to the east, west, and south. She
did so to listen for the signal from Istanbul in the arid foothills of
the mountains and south into the desert. She received no instructions but
only code words to verify the communication equipment worked.
Now, things settled in a stalemate with the President of the United
States freezing Iranian assets and expelling Iran's diplomats while ordering
all Iranian students studying at American universities to be finger printed.
The unsettled hostage issue hung over her, and Laleh knew the president
would have to make a decision on any rescue-effort. The days were beginning
to push into a campaign for reelection.
Laleh was thinking of these things as she drove back into Tehran from
the northeast after listening for the day's signal out of Istanbul. As
she was driving back from the foothills, she turned onto Ozgol Avenue where
Allameh Tabatabai University stood. On the avenue, she glanced into a rear-view
mirror. There, she saw one of Tehran's red taxis following her. Several
blocks down Ozgol Avenue the taxi pulled alongside the motorcycle and a
young man with an AK47 waved Laleh to a stop.
Expecting she would answer questions and be sent on her way, Laleh turned
the motorcycle to the side of the avenue and stopped. The taxi came to
a stop making certain she couldn't move the motorcycle by blocking it toward
the curb. Not attempting anything other than showing her visa from the
Iranian Consulate in Ankara, Turkey, Laleh stayed seated and waited. Instead
of one young man coming to her three scurried from the taxi and pulled
her off the motorcycle. In an angry voice Laleh said in Farsi, "I've
a permit to be here. The consulate in Ankara gave it to me!"
The young men ignored her words, tied her hands behind her, and blindfolded
her. As they pushed her into the taxi and to its rear floorboard Laleh
heard the motorcycle motor. Laleh yelled, "I have a visa. It's in
my purse. I'm here to photograph the revolution."
Asghar Pakizegi kicked her in the face and caused her lip to bleed.
With the taste of blood in her mouth Laleh again yelled, "I'm to
photograph your revolution so the world will remember it!"
Another young man kicked her in the side with the heel of his boot and
Laleh was certain by the sharp pain the young man broke a rib. Pain shot
through her body and causing her eyes to water. The boy said in English,
"Shut up or we'll kill you! Who will know?"
Laleh remained silent. She could hear the sound of the motorcycle as
it followed. With the taxi turning back east, it sped down Ozgol Avenue.
Laleh was thankful for the sound of the bike for it meant the motorcycle
was going where the young men were taking her. Moreover, as the car made
its way down the avenue Laleh wondered if she were to end as the hostages
in the embassy compound.
The car finally turned into an empty hanger along a private landing
strip outside the city. The boy driving the motorcycle followed close behind
the car. Laleh knew that whatever was to happen to her it would take place
where the car and the motorcycle stopped.
Asghar Pakizegi's words were emphatic, "Get out!"
Others dragged Laleh from the car not allowing her to get her feet.
They pulled her along to where they untied her arms. They stretched her
arms to retie them to a length of pipe. As two young men tied her arms
at shoulder level, two others secured her legs to rings in the concrete
floor. A young man removed the blindfold. Asghar Pakizegi said, "This
is where SAVAK agents brought our friends to torture and kill them!"
Laleh said in Farsi and attempting to control her outrage, "I know
nothing of that. Look in my purse. You'll find my passport and visa!"
The young man shot back, "We don't give a damn about any visa!
We're separate from the students in the American compound. We don't care
what happens to you! Who sent you here?"
Laleh said, "I came to Tehran from a publishing house in New York.
I'm doing a photo essay of your revolution."
Asghar Pakizegi shouted, "We don't believe you! Who sent you?"
"I've told you!"
"Why are you on a motorcycle and not using a car?"
"So I can get around without having to get taxis. After this who
would blame me!"
Asghar Pakizegi glanced at the stolen taxi and back to Laleh. He shouted
at the boy standing by the motorcycle. "Look at it while we undress
her!" He cut Laleh's sweatshirt off along with her bra.
Laleh yelled at him, "Is this what your revolution is about?"
The boy quickly cut off the remainder of Laleh's clothes. As she fought
to break free, Asghar hit Laleh in the right temple with the butt of an
Ak-47. With Laleh falling into unconsciousness, the boy told the others,
"Take her down and spread her against the taxi."
There, and in a semiconscious state of black and white and revolving
into total confusion the young men raped Laleh. Finding nothing unusual
about the motorcycle, they piled back into the taxi, and left Laleh trying
to get to her feet. As the taxi backed out of the hanger, Laleh heard the
firing of an automatic weapon that preceded the explosion of what she thought
was a grenade. She blacked out and crumbled to a cold, concrete floor.
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