Fugitive Pleads with US to 'Liberate' Iran
For almost eight months, Amir Abbas Fakhravar was held in solitary confinement in a soundproof cell in Iran. His bare, constantly lit surroundings were all a creamy white — the walls, the floor, his clothes and the door, with a slit through which white rice would be delivered in a white bowl by guards wearing slippers to muffle their footfall.
Amnesty International calls his case the first known example of “white torture” in Iran and it nearly drove Fakhravar mad. He was stuck in a terrifying, real-life version of the George Lucas film, THX 1138, about a dystopia where dissidents are imprisoned in a white room.
“I was living with my childhood memories, but I couldn’t remember my mother’s face,” Fakhravar said. “I’d see the deformed faces of my family in my nightmares.”
Fakhravar, a 30-year-old writer and leader of the dissident Iranian student movement, who has been repeatedly jailed, emerged in Washington last week after spending 10 months on the run inside Iran. His sister was told by Revolutionary Guards that there were orders to shoot him on sight.
He surfaced at the end of last month in Dubai, where 24 hours later he was met by the leading American neoconservative, Richard Perle. Fakhravar was whisked to America last weekend and has already met congressmen and Bush officials. He said he was in Washington to spread one message only: “Regime change,” he said, breaking from Farsi into English to deliver it.
In Iran, Bush is regarded as a liberator, Fakhravar said. “People are afraid to express what is in their hearts, but in small, private gatherings, they see him as a saviour.”
Fakhravar believes dialogue with Iran is useless. “The regime wants to have a nuclear bomb so it can wipe out a country it doesn’t like,” he said. “We don’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t understand this.”
He hopes to warn President George Bush and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, in person not to be lured into talks with the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which he says is lying about its plans for peaceful nuclear energy.
“If it is a matter of national pride to have it, why did they keep the programme secret for 18 years?” Fakhravar asked.
The dissident’s plain-speaking comes as the Washington establishment is divided over whether to negotiate directly with Iran.
Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, called last week for new channels to be opened with Iran. “Focusing on regime change as the road to de-nuclearisation confuses the issue,” he wrote in The Washington Post. President Ronald Reagan invited his Soviet counterpart, Leonid Brezhnev, to a “dialogue” after denouncing the USSR as an evil empire, the architect of realpolitik noted.
Some neoconservatives, including William Kristol of the Weekly Standard magazine, are rethinking their blanket hostility to talks and wondering if there is a hawkish way to speak directly to Tehran. They fear that relying on Europe is merely allowing Iran more time to develop the bomb.
Ehud Olmert, the new Israeli prime minister, arrives in Washington tomorrow for his first summit with Bush. “Olmert will try to get Bush’s approval for an Israeli military strike on Iran in the event that the West backs down,” a well-informed Israeli source said. If diplomacy fails, however, the view inside the Pentagon is that American airstrikes would be quicker and more effective than anything the Israelis could muster.
Additional reporting: Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv