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Terry Anderson

Who to blame
Can Iran be solely responsible for hostage ordeal?

By Bradley J. Hernlem
March 22, 2000
The Iranian

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. Hernlem

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 ordeal.

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 guide.

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 responsible parties?

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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