Yesterday, the Brookings Institution and National Security Network hosted a panel on Human Rights in Iran to mark the release of a new report, Placing Human Rights in Iran on top of the Foreign Policy Agenda.
Published by The Century Foundation and the Heinrich Boll Stiftung, the report is the second to be generated from a series of meetings with Iranian democracy activists, with the goal of better understanding the current state of Iran’s democracy movement, the nature and extent of political repression in Iran, and to develop ways in which democratic governments can best help the movement overcome that repression. The first report was discussed at a Center for American Progress event in April.
Through an interpreter, Vahedi discussed some of the details of the abuse endured by protesters detained during the June 2009 election demonstrations, which included “placing 145 people in a room of 70 square meters for three days” at Kahrizak detention center. At one point during that time, according to Vahedi, 25 violent prisoners — murderers and rapists — were put into the room. “Many of the rapes that occurred happened this way,” Vahedi said. “After 16 months, not one person has been held accountable.”
Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei eventually admitted that crimes were committed at Kahrizak, but insisted they were trivial when compared to “the injustice that some did to the regime” by protesting the election.
Calling on the Obama administration to take a stronger stand in favor of Iranian human rights, report co-author Geneive Abdo said that, unlike the nuclear issue, around which there is fairly strong support in Iran, “human rights is a subject that can really turn public opinion against the regime.” There’s also evidence that criticism on this front is a sensitive issue for the regime, Abdo said, as it strikes at the core of their claim to be a just Islamic government.
Asked about Western talk of military action against Iran, Vahedi said that such an eventuality “is not in the picture for us,” something not even being considered. “As an Iranian, I don’t like talk of military strikes on my country,” Vahedi said, and “if pressure [against the regime] is applied intelligently, there will be no need for it.”
Back in May, formerly imprisoned Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji was adamant that talk of a U.S. military option was harmful to the cause of Iranian democracy. “If you do not have the threat of foreign invasion and you do not use the dialog of invasion and military intervention, the society itself has a huge potential to oppose and potentially topple the theocratic system,” Ganji said. “What I’m trying to get to is that jingoistic, militaristic language used by any foreign power would actually be detrimental to this natural evolution of Iranian society.”
Looking at the idea that we must “keep force on the table” with regard to Iran, Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch recently wrote “If the administration is really having an internal debate about whether to put the military option openly on the table, I hope that they quickly and firmly resolve it in the negative.”
It would not increase U.S. bargaining leverage over Iran. It would undermine the international consensus on sanctions for which they have worked so hard. It would almost certainly kill any prospect for the meaningful diplomatic process which is so badly needed. And it would represent the next step in the seemingly inexorable ratcheting process towards an unnecessary and counterproductive war. This would be yet another of those painfully predictable victories of narrowly-conceived tactics over realistic strategy. It may offer momentary satisfaction to U.S. domestic hawks and earn a few fleeting moments of praise, but at the expense of real U.S. strategic interests. Let’s not go there.