Is Ahmadinejad's nominee for defense minister a terrorist bomber?

A wartime lexicon.
Aug. 24 2009 2:01 PM

Iran's Most Wanted

Ahmadinejad's choice for defense minister is sought by Interpol for planning the bombing of an Argentine synagogue.

A picture taken in March 2008 shows Iran's defense minister-designate Ahmad Vahidi in Tehran.
Ahmad Vahidi 

President Obama has said that he wants "the Islamic Republic of Iran" to be welcomed back into the "community of nations." Unfortunately, it is precisely the fact that it is an Islamic republic that excludes it from such consideration. A pointed reminder of this was provided last week, when the country's dictator, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, freshly blooded from his recent military coup, nominated his choice of defense minister. This turns out to be Ahmad Vahidi, who if confirmed will be the only holder of the defense portfolio in the world to be simultaneously wanted by Interpol.

Vahidi used to head the so-called "Quds Force," a shadowy arm of the "Revolutionary Guards" that conducts covert operations overseas. In 1994, according to an Argentine indictment adopted by Interpol's "red list" or "most wanted" index, he was one of those responsible for "conceiving, planning, financing and executing" the demolition of the Jewish community's cultural center in Buenos Aires. There were 85 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Among the five other named co-conspirators in this atrocity were Mohsen Rezaee, formerly the head of the Revolutionary Guards and more recently a candidate for the presidency, and the late Imad Mugniyeh, the Damascus-based leader of Hezbollah's military wing, itself a declared proxy of the Islamic Republic.

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At the time, Interpol's Secretary-General Ronald K. Noble said that "a red notice chills travel—limits travel—and places the government in power at risk of explaining why a person for whom a red notice is issued is able to move freely." A different version of this very point occurred with particular force to Canada's foreign minister in 2006. His office noticed that a certain Saeed Mortazavi was scheduled to travel from Iran, via Frankfurt, to Geneva. Mortazavi was then and still is Tehran's much-detested and feared prosecutor-general, in which capacity he oversaw the rape and murder of a Canadian citizen, a photojournalist named Zahra Kazemi, in 2003. He had also freed her rapists and murderers after two independent commissions had found them responsible. (Need I add that Mortazavi was en route to Geneva as a member of Iran's official delegation to the Human Rights Council?) Foreign Minister Peter MacKay telephoned his counterparts to try to have Mortazavi arrested and extradited to Canada, but he wasn't quite quick enough.

There's really quite an impressive backlog of cases to be considered. In 1997, a court in Germany found that the shooting of several Iranian Kurds at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin in 1992 had been sanctioned and ordered by an Iranian government committee that included "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei and then-President Rafsanjani. This would not be the first time that a criminal investigation has touched the men who stand at the head of the Iranian state: Mark Bowden has produced some persuasive if not conclusive testimony that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was among the hostage-takers and kidnappers who violated diplomatic immunity at the American Embassy in Tehran, and there are legislators in the Austrian Parliament who have demanded an inquiry into his role as a Revolutionary Guard leader in furnishing the weapons and money that were employed by an Iranian death squad to murder Iranian Kurdish leader Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna in 1989.

The term Revolutionary Guard was not, until recently, as much of a byword as it has since become. But this year's military coup in Tehran, of which that organization was the main engine, has put it at the forefront of our attention. The rape and torture of young Iranians, the sadistic public bullying and sometimes murder of women, the closing of newspapers and the framing-up in a show trial of opposition politicians and intellectuals—all this is the fruit of "Revolutionary Guard" activity and ambition. We may be limited in what we can do to help and defend the Iranians who are confined within their own borders. But surely it is time that the international community spoke with one voice and said that the leaders of this criminal gang must stay inside their own borders as well. Perhaps fewer invitations to "President" Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University and perhaps fewer countries putting out the red carpet for his defense minister. As for the sending of known supervisors of murder and torture to human rights summits in Geneva: Conceivably that could become a slight no-no as well. Some of these people have bank accounts overseas, in consequence of their years of fleecing the helpless and torpid Iranian economy: Freeze these accounts or confiscate them and hold them in escrow for the day when democracy comes.

Somewhere hiding in Iran are people who were paid by its government to commit sectarian murders in Lebanon and Iraq, and who organized and carried out assassinations and assassination attempts against the editors and publishers of Salman Rushdie, a novelist then living in London. Everybody can now see that the Iranian government has forfeited any claim to legitimacy at home. Of scarcely less importance is the fact that it presents the face of a criminal enterprise to the outside world as well. There is no family of nations, except in the colloquial sense of "crime family," to which it can conceivably be invited to belong. We should ground its leaders for a start, demand the extradition of their many wanted accomplices, and exact hefty penalties from their overseas proxy organizations. The week in which the Obama administration was so voluble about the British humiliation at the hands of Libya's Col. Gadafi is an excellent moment to recall our own responsibilities in this regard, including our duty to our Canadian neighbors. But remember: Gadafi after the fall of Baghdad at least decided to surrender his nuclear materials. In the case of Iran, it won't be very long before the theocratic thugs and crooks and assassins have their very own fissile and missile capacity. Please bear it in mind, as they so obviously do.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.

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