Saberi: Actually, I did Steal Official Documents

May 12, 2009

Roxana Saberi, free

Roxana Saberi, free

I don’t know if you are familiar with Roxana Saberi, but she’s hot property in the War on Terrorsphere at the moment, having been recently released from Iranian captivity. Roxana, an American-Iranian journalist, had been convicted of espionage earlier this year, receiving an 8 year sentence, which had various free speech NGOs up in arms.

Reporters Without Borders, for instance, organized numerous protests on her behalf, and the White House maintained that Saberi had been “wrongly accused” – without (presumably) having close access to the evidence on which she was convicted.

Everyone presumed that Roxana had been a victim of nefarious Iranian games, the AP describing her as a “pawn” in Ahmedinejad’s international chess game.

If so, she was fortunate that the Iranian president intervened on her behalf to secure a fair trial, and she was doubly fortunate that the Iranian judicial system responded favorably to his requests.

But it turns out that we shouldn’t have been so quick to assume Saberi’s innocence. As the Times reports today, “Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer who represented Ms Saberi, said she had copied and kept a document about the war in Iraq that was issued by a research centre connected to the Iranian president’s office.”

Apparently, Saberi obtained this document “while she was working as a freelance translator for the Expediency Council, a powerful body in Iran’s ruling clerical hierarchy.”

She now admits that she did indeed copy such a document out of “curiousity” – rather than for purposes of espionage – and for whatever reasons, the court agreed, commuting her charge from espionage to “possessing confidential documents.”

The backdrop to this case is essential. Under the Bush administration, the U.S. government stepped up its intelligence and psychological, not to mention terrorist, operations in Iran. According to journalist Larisa Alexandrovna, Bush gave the CIA special dispensation to conduct covert “non-lethal” operations in Iran.

The agency than ran “an ‘open-secret’ information war against Iranian interests, mainly leveraging resources and assets’ within the United States and France,” a war which also involved giving covert support to groups with a “pro-democracy” message.

All of that was, as far as we know, run through Dick Cheney’s office and the Office of Near Eastern affairs at the State Department, which was headed by Elizabeth Cheney, who in 2006 was given $48 million to spend on “broadcasting the views of exiles, dissidents and reformers inside Iran.”

In 2008, it was reported that the U.S. had begun to “prepare the battlefield” with Iran “sending U.S. commandos to spy on the country’s nuclear facilities and undermine the Islamic republic’s government.”

According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, Congress had appropriated over $400 million for the task, “which involve[d] U.S. special operations troops and Iranian dissidents.”

This paramilitary effort, whatever came of it (or is coming of it) built upon earlier work that was outsourced to Iranian terrorist groups. As Alexandrovna also reported in 2006, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq had been drafted in by the Bush administration, to take part in “special ops missions into Iran to pave the way for a potential…strike.”

That’s despite the fact that the MEK is a known terrorist organization and is regularly compared to a cult. In fact, “Saddam Hussein himself had used the MEK for acts of terror against non-Sunni Muslims and had assigned domestic security detail to the MEK as a way of policing dissent among his own people” – so its a controversial move.

All of this is known to Iranian officials. It’s not as unknown as it seems to be in the west, where the case of Roxana Saberi appears out of nowhere to float as nothing more than a freedom of speech issue.

Yet if an Iranian had been caught with U.S. government documents while translating for a Congressman, they would not have been so leniently treated. And many U.S. allies like to imprison journalists on trumped up charges – Morocoo for instance, where criticism of the King is utterly illegal.

Unfortunately all context tends to be eviscerated, with the media focusing on the photogenic, young – and incarcerated – journalist. But things aren’t so simple.

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