Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
Laleh stood before Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali. She did so in personal
resolve. She wore the black chador with her head continuing in pain. She
spent the past two months in a prison that once held the shah's political
prisoners. Knowing Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali earned the nickname of "Judge
Blood" Laleh stood firm with resolve for his inquisition. She knew
she needed to choose her words with care. Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhalia's
questions came swiftly. He asked, "Do you speak our language?"
Laleh answered, "Yes."
"Did you enter Iran to prevent the Americans from reaching the
embassy as Mashhad says you did?"
"Who sent you?"
"Men not wanting to see a bloodbath in your streets."
"Do you think you prevented such a happening?"
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali remained silent for several seconds before
asking, "Why did you agree with those trying to compromise Iran's
Laleh's words were firm, "Because an assault on the American Embassy
could have caused the streets to fill with blood. There would be many more
dead than those you have executed."
"What about the man named Karim Sa'edi who helped you?"
"Mashhad saved me from a group of young men beating then raping
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali didn't react to the words but only asked,
"What happened? Why did you ask Karim Sa'edi to help you."
Laleh now knew that she recognized the name. She marveled at how life
had brought her and Karim Sa'edi's paths to cross twice in their lives.
Karim was the younger boy she remembered meeting at the petrol station
near The Valley of the Assassins when taking Fauzieh Nassan there to see
her cousin Fouad. The second boy had been taller and older than Fouad.
But, when she and Fauzieh visited Fouad at his father's in south Tehran,
Fouad told her the name of the boy. Laleh was now sorry she hadn't gone
to the home or shop in south Tehran to see if Fauzieh's cousin was still
alive. Laleh answered a second time, "A group of young men beat and
raped me. Karim saved my life. I do not know him as Karim Sa'edi. Mashhad
is a true revolutionary and did not tell me his true name . . . only Mashhad."
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali asked in solid words, "During your time
in the hospital, did they assure you that you weren't with child?"
"You're certain of this?"
"Yes. I bear Mashhad's child. I will not abort it."
"We could force you."
"No. Your faith prevents such an act . . . as mine does."
"What is your faith?"
"I'm a Catholic."
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali seemed puzzled. He asked, "Why did you
sleep with Mashhad?"
"Because I was hurt and scared. He gave me strength. I knew that
I needed his help."
"You abandoned your faith because you felt alone. What about the
prophet Jesus? Do you so easily break his words about adultery? I could
have you stoned to death. When did Mashhad first know you were an American
"The Christ I know is more than a prophet, but the Son of God.
Mashhad discovered me when I was receiving instructions from Istanbul.
He had followed me without me knowing it."
"Why did he help you?"
"He didn't want to see students get killed. The shah had killed
enough of them. It is time for the killing to stop."
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali paused before asking, "And you request
to stay in Tehran until the child is born?"
"Because I have a daughter. I live with a man I also love."
"Do you feel this love for Karim?"
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali again paused before carrying the questioning
further. He asked, "If we agree . . . do you renounce claim to the
"Yes. I have helped your country avoid war. Mashhad has helped
his country avoid war. My country now suffers another setback. I would
think that the international humiliation would please Iran."
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali offered a narrow-lipped smile before saying,
"It does. We want to help you. Nevertheless, you have slept with a
man out of the state of marriage. You cannot see Karim."
Laleh attempted to correct the adultery issue. She said, "My husband
died in South Vietnam. I'm not married."
"Do you accept not seeing Karim again? Do you accept not seeing
the child after it is born?"
"Karim has betrayed the revolution?"
Laleh responded firmly. She said, "No. Mashhad did a brave thing.
If he had reported the rescue-effort, and your military had been waiting,
America would have retaliated. There would've been war. Your country would
not have won it."
Ayatollah Khalkhali studied the American woman before him. He had read
the papers detailing the woman's interrogation after her arrest. America
had built and trained the Iranian military forces under the shah. The Americans
knew Iranian defensive systems. They knew how to penetrate and destroy
them. They had made their point by reaching as far into Iran as they did.
Ayatollah Khalkhali said, "You're a wise woman." He paused before
continuing, "Men will flog you to save Karim. Do you agree to this?"
The question surprised Laleh. Several seconds passed before answering.
Laleh said a firm, "Yes."
"You will submit to the guards. If you tell of the flogging on
your return to America the child will die. Do you understand?"
Laleh's eyes teared at the high cost Fred Southgate placed on her. Ayatollah
Sadeq Khalkhali made a motion with his hand. Two guards standing behind
Laleh took her by the arms and walked her to a table. There, they stripped
her of her dress to her waist and forced her to bend forward and lay face
down on the table. While enduring the pain of leather straps cutting into
her back, Laleh thought of Roya and Fred Southgate.
Ten minutes later the guards stood Laleh to her feet and pulled the
chador back to her shoulders. Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali admired her strength.
She didn't cry out during twenty painful strikes across her back. They
were lashes bringing blood. Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali said, "You will
live in your grandparents' house in Darband with guards to both secure
and protect you. You'll sign the property over to the Islamic Republic.
A doctor will check your back to see that it doesn't become infected. He
will examine you once a week during the pregnancy. Following the child's
birth, and after you have recovered, men will release you at the Turkish
border. There will be no announcement before your release. What you tell
those in America who worry for you . . . is your decision. I would not
tell them of the flogging."
Laleh said, "Thank you." She paused before asking, "Is
"Yes, the guards will take you to your home. Pray that no one comes
looking for you. If they do, they will die. You will die. We know there
were agents from your country in the city. Did you know they were here?"
"No, I didn't know them. No one will come for me. They'll sit and
wait." Laleh turned to the guards. Before she took a step, she turned
back and said, "Tell Mashhad thank you. He is innocent of any wrongdoing.
I would also like to send a weekly postcard or letter to my daughter."
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali said a simple, "Agreed."
Laleh turned back to the guards. They escorted her out of the building
and to a waiting car. As she sat on the car's backseat, Laleh felt the
blood on her back, and knew it would bleed into her future. But she had
done the right thing. She had prevented a possible war. Still, it was at
a high price.>>>
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