Don’t rely on imperialists
The US government and various rightwing groups have feigned concern for ‘human rights’ in both Argentina and Iran, writes Yassamine Mather
Female victims of General Videla’s death squads
The ‘Dirty War’ (Spanish: Guerra Sucia) refers to what was called the process of ‘reorganisation’ during the days of the junta. It was the name used by the Argentine military government for the massacre of Marxists, labour activists and leftwing opponents. It is estimated that the country’s ‘security forces’ killed 30,000 people between 1974 and 1983.
For more than 30 years, mothers of the victims of this war gather every Thursday in Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. Various enquiries, trials and commissions held after the end of military rule have failed to satisfy them. Early this summer they held their 2,000th demonstration in the centre of the Argentinian capital.
Survivors of the repression have described the gruesome methods used by the military to kill their political opponents. Some were executed in so-called ‘death flights’, where prisoners were drugged, taken into aeroplanes, stripped and then thrown alive into the Atlantic Ocean to drown. Others who had been tortured to death were buried in the cement used for building bridges.
The military coup of 1976 had been planned as early as October 1975, and the US department of state was implicated both in its execution and the continued rule of the Argentinian military. According to official declassified US documents (released in 2003), the then secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, approved and indeed gave the green light for the Dirty War and encouraged the military leaders to get rid of their opponents - the United States would not cause them “unnecessary difficulties”.1
The same documents show how Kissinger urged the military to speed up their actions to avoid problems with Congress: “Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed,” Kissinger is reported as saying. He continued:
I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems, but not the context … The quicker you succeed, the better ... The human rights problem is a growing one ... We want a stable situation. We won’t cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help.2
On October 6 1976, César Augusto Guzzetti, the first foreign minister of the military government, which was headed by lieutenant-general Jorge Rafaél Videla, was told by a senior state department official, Charles Robinson, that “it is possible to understand the requirement to be tough”.
Only this year, nearly 40 years after the junta came to power, president Barack Obama admitted on a visit to Argentina that the “United States was too slow to condemn human rights atrocities during Argentina’s dictatorship” . The admission was dismissed by the mothers of Plaza de Mayo as too little, too late, As far as they are concerned, the US was not just too slow in condemning the political murders: it was complicit in them. “We will not allow the power that orchestrated dictatorships in Latin America and oppresses people across the world to cleanse itself and use the memory of our 30,000 murdered compatriots to strengthen its imperialist agenda,” the Buenos Aires-based Centre for Human Rights Advocates said in a statement.3
Although trials held between 1985 and 2012 saw the prosecution of many senior military officials for crimes which included kidnapping, torture, forced disappearance and murder, many of those imprisoned after the trial have subsequently been released or moved from prison to house arrest. The relatives of the victims will tell you that many of the generals supposedly under house arrest were photographed moving around the capital and across the country, clearly under no restrictions.
In the last of these trials, in 2012, a Buenos Aires courthouse heard charges against 68 former officials accused of a series of crimes relating to the Dirty War. Eight hundred witnesses were called, who described events relating to the Naval School of Mechanics (Esma), a training centre in the capital that became one of the most macabre of Argentina’s detention camps during the junta.
Now, as relations between the US and the new centre-right government in Buenos Aires continue to improve, no-one has any illusions about Obama’s apology in March 2016 when he attended a commemoration of the victims of the Dirty War. Gabriel Solano, head of the Workers Party, summed up the mood amongst the survivors of the disappeared: “We reject Obama’s presence because he came to support [president Mauricio Macri’s] government, which has found agreement with the ‘vulture funds’ and [has plunged the country into] a massive debt crisis.”4
If the United States was serious about justice for the victims of repression, if it was concerned about the disappearance or execution of leftwing political activists at the hands of reactionary states, it would start by releasing all the documents it possesses relating to the Argentinian Dirty War and it would initiate prosecutions against US officials who colluded with the junta in perpetrating these crimes.
What has all this got to do with Iran?
As I wrote in a previous article, the release of audio tapes featuring Hussein-Ali Montazeri (supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini’s heir apparent in the 1980s) to Islamic judicial authorities on their responsibility for the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 continues to make headlines in Iran.5
In the midst of the understandable anger of the families of the victims of these state executions, there are also those who are trying to benefit from the situation by allying themselves with dubious imperialist funds, appearing in the guise of ‘human rights’ NGOs claiming to seek justice for the families of the victims of the 1988 massacre. The concern of the majority of these forces is to secure western funds for their ‘humanitarian’ activities.
In 2014 we had the infamous Iran Tribunal, where a plethora of ignorant, opportunist, Iranian opposition groups in exile launched an enquiry into the slaughter in 1988 of hundreds of Marxist and anti-imperialist comrades. But they relied on Saudi money, combined with the know-how of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded primarily through an annual allocation from the US Congress in the form of a grant awarded through the United States Information Agency. This served to betray the memory and legacy of those who died in such tragic circumstances.
The conclusions of the first phase of the tribunal included a recommendation that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation should designate the Tehran regime’s massacre of political prisoners a “priority human rights issue” and “conduct studies and research” into it. In other words, the OIC, consisting of 57 reactionary regimes, was trusted with the task of ensuring that Iran complied with the findings! As I wrote at the time, the whole story would be comical, were it not for the enormity of the crimes committed.
Apart from the fact that referring Iran to the Sunni-led OIC carried a blatantly political message from our ‘non-political’ ‘human rights’ advocates, at a time of worsening regional tensions between Sunnis and Shias, it made a mockery of a process claiming to achieve justice for all those executed by the Iranian regime in 1988, who were overwhelmingly working class partisans. The execution of communist men and women in a religious state was to be judged by another group of backward religious states headed by Saudi Arabia, the Arab Emirates, the Muslim Brotherhood …
Unfortunately none of the Iranian participants of the Iran Tribunal seem to have learnt much from that disastrous first phase and we are now witnessing a revival of similar efforts with US and EU ‘human rights’ funds paying for a second phase of the tribunal and its many offshoots.
We can neither forget nor forgive those who presided over such crimes in both the ‘reformist’ and the more conservative factions of Iran’s Islamic regime, yet funding from US and European sources like the NED, which claim to seek ‘justice’ has always been and remain associated with a political agenda. They are directly linked to western interests in the Middle East. That is why these ‘humanitarian’ funds have considerably dwindled in the last year, since the signing of the nuclear deal between Iran’s Islamic Republic and the P5+1 world powers, and the subsequent ending of sanctions. In other words, they never did have any genuine concern for ‘human rights’ in Iran.
However, the changing political scene means that current political support and funding for the Iranian opposition, including sections of the left, now comes from even more rightwing forces than some of those originally involved in the first phase of the Iran Tribunal. Who are these forces? First and foremost Saudi Arabia and neoconservative US Republicans. Then we have Israel and its support for ‘secular democrats’ - in reality a bizarre alliance of royalists and reactionaries, such as the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain - as well as Zionism’s support for Kurdish ‘national rights’ in Iran. Which is rich, coming from a religious state that represses the national rights of Palestinians. Last but not least, we have the ‘human rights’ concerns of a whole range of rightwing European parties in what is known as the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European parliament.
The more you read about these new defenders of the Iranian left, the more concerned you get about the sanity of the people claiming to represent the communists and socialists killed in the 1988 massacre. Let me give you some examples of these parties.
In the Netherlands the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, or VVD) is a centre-right party that favours private enterprise and economic liberalism. Another group is the Belgian conservative-liberal party, the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats, or Open VLD, and the Danish party involved is Venstre (Danmarks Liberale Parti), which also espouses an economically liberal, pro-free market ideology.
So why are these centre-right European parties concerned about the execution of leftwing prisoners in Iran nearly three decades ago? One thing I am confident about is that solidarity with the victims is not among the reasons. And, as far as the Iranian NGOs funded by these rightwing parties are concerned, I have nothing but contempt for them.
If the current US administration or the neoconservatives supporting them had genuine concern about the disappearance of Marxist activists under dictatorships, they would have started nearer home, looking into the cases of executed and missing leftwingers all over Latin America, where the US state department and its agencies were directly involved. As for Iran’s Islamic Republic, it is a brutal dictatorship. However, while the imperialist powers remain in denial about their own dirty wars, no-one should expect the likes of Iran’s Islamic Republic to behave any better.
In fact support for dictatorial regimes, including their acts of repression against communists and the working class, has always been an integral part of imperialist policy. Those in the Iranian opposition who cannot see this should no longer be considered as having anything to do with the left.
5. ‘Burying the scandal’ Weekly Worker September 1 2016.