Who to blame
Can Iran be solely responsible for hostage ordeal?
By Bradley J. Hernlem
March 22, 2000
On 17 March 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced the
partial lifting of import embargoes against Iran. This policy decision
has been criticised by Terry Anderson, former Associated Press reporter
and hostage in Lebanon, who has an outstanding lawsuit against the Iranian
government. The following is a letter that I sent to Mr. Anderson almost
a year ago when I learned of his decision to sue Iran under the 1996 Antiterrorism
Act. I received no reply from Mr. Anderson. Regards, Bradley J.
01 April 1999
Dear Mr. Anderson,
I listened to your recent interview on National Public Radio's "Fresh
Air" program and was motivated to write to you to ask a few questions.
First, I would like to say that I prayed for you while you were held hostage
and was glad when I learned of your release. I have in my library a copy
of your book "Den
of Lions", which I read with great interest. I would also like
to mention that I am married to an Iranian and have traveled to Iran in
recent years. Although I am not Iranian, I have tried to keep well informed
about Iranian events and I have also had a keen interest in events in Lebanon.
You noted in your interview that Iranian foreign policy is shifting
toward moderation and a desire to reintegrate into the international community.
I believe that this is true but it is not a recent phenomenon. Iran has
a new president, Mohammad Khatami, who has openly called for new ties with
the U.S. but his predecessor, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, began early
in his term to try to normalize relations with the world and the U.S. While
you were still in captivity events transpired which made it easier to negotiate
your release. One of the demands of the hostage takers was the release
of their compatriots held in Kuwaiti prisons. Saddam's invasion had the
side effect of freeing those Lebanese prisoners and eliminating a major
roadblock to your release.
The United Nations Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, approached
Rafsanjani about the possibility of using his leverage in Lebanon to negotiate
the release of the remaining hostage. The only important remaining issue
was how many Lebanese hostages the Israeli government and their Lebanese
allies were prepared to release in exchange for your freedom. I remember
Perez de Cuellar thanked Rafsanjani for his assistance.
Certainly you must be aware of these events and certainly you must be
aware that Israel's policy of hostage taking as a tool of population control
predated your capture. Even today there are Lebanese held hostage and tortured
in Israel and in Khiam Prison in the Occupation Zone. I find it difficult
to understand how you can blame the Iranian government solely for your
It is clear that Iran does not exercise command and control over Hezbollah.
A few years ago, for example, the Iranian leader, Ali Khameneie, declared
that the Lebanese Shi'i should look to him as their "Marj'a Taqlid"
(point of emulation). They rebuffed his audacity claiming that they had
their own Lebanese ulema, including the renowned Ayatollah Fazlollah, who
were suitably credentialed and that they did not need Khameneie as their
I know that you seek justice for the crimes committed by your captors
but I would like to know whether you really think that your lawsuit and
the law under which it is brought will promote justice and suppress future
acts of terror. Shouldn't the people who actually committed the crime be
held responsible? My understanding of the 1996 Antiterrorism Act is that
Iran is assumed guilty by the mere fact that it has been declared a "state
sponsor" by the State Department. If Iran holds full responsibility
for the actions of Hezbollah (or Islamic Jihad or Hamas) then wouldn't
this actually PROMOTE terrorism by taking the pressure off the directly
I also wonder what are your thoughts on Israel's responsibility? You
could have been released much sooner, I think, if the Israeli government
had been willing to relinquish more of their stockpile of hostages.
Although I sympathize with you and can understand your desire for justice,
I believe that the lawsuits brought against Iran do little to diminish
terrorism. In my opinion, the law is unconstitutional because it assigns
guilt without due process, it certainly oversteps the bounds of international
law and discriminates against Americans who were victims of terror supported
or committed by governments which escape the State Department's list. I
wonder, for example, what form of redress is available to Lebanese-Americans
whose loved ones were held hostage, tortured or killed by Israeli forces
or their allies.
It is my hope that Iran and the U.S. reestablish ties. I see these lawsuits
as a major impediment to this goal and I believe that many innocent people
are being harmed as a result.
Thank you for reading my concerns and observations. I look forward to
hearing from you and am interested in knowing your thoughts on these matters.
With Highest Regards,
Bradley J. Hernlem, Ph.D.
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From "Den of Lions: Memoirs of Seven Years"
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