Former Hostages IDAhmadinejad
Saturday, Sept. 17,2005
by Kenneth R.Timmerman
NEW YORK - A group of former hostagesfrom the U.S. embassy in Tehran reaffirmed today there was "no doubt"that the lead interrogator during their ordeal was the currentpresident of Iran.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied he personally took part inthe hostage-taking, addressed the United Nations General Assembly inNew York today for five minutes, despite a finding by the U.S.Department of State that he was a "terrorist" and was ineligible fora visa..
Before he spoke, the former hostages and their supporters helda vigil in front of the Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran at3rd avenue and 40th street.
"For twenty-six years, the government of Iran has not been heldaccountable for their violation of international law," said KevinHermening, who at 21 was a freshly-arrived Marine guard at theEmbassy and the youngest hostage. "Despite our political differencesas individuals, we all agree as a group that it is time to seekremedy. Ahmadinejad and his government need to be treated as apariah."
Clickhere for photographs from the press conference.
Barry Rosen, now a professor atColumbia University, agreed. "We have lived with this for the rest ofour lives," he said. "We were treated like animals."
He said the group of former hostages had resolved to talk anewabout their ordeal in order to put a human face on victims oftorture. "We are talking about the lives of millions of human beingswho are living in pain on a daily basis."
Hermening identified Ahmadinejad as the lead interrogator forthe military and security personnel at the embassy. "He was not anEnglish speaker, but directed the interrogations. He told [theinterpreters] what to ask. He ordered me to open safes,"Hermening said.
He said he had spoken to other security officers at theembassy, including Tom Ahern and Colonel Charles Scott, and that allagreed there was "no doubt" the lead interrogator wasAhmadinejad.
Hermening recounted the story of Colonel David Roeder, who hasspoken to reporters but was unable to travel to New York. "ColonelRoeder's interrogator was the current president of Iran. He toldRader, 'we know where you live. We know that you have a handicappedchild. We know what time he gets picked up for school. We know where.If you don't answer our questions as we like, we are going to chopoff his fingers and his toes and send them one by one to your wife ina box.'"
Iranian human rights activist Dr. Manoucher Ganji helpedconvince Hermening, Scott, and fellow hostage William Daughterty tospeak to National Iranian TV (NITV), which broadcasts into Iran fromLos Angeles. In separate interviews this summer, each described hisencounter with the current Iranian president while being held hostageat the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Roeder said that out of his 51interrogations, Ahmadinejad personally had conducted one-third ofthem.
The former hostages said they had recognized Ahmadinejad evenbefore photographs of the hostage-takers resurfaced in U.S.newspapers last June, at the time of the first-round of the Iranianpresidential elections. "We knew the man from the movement of hiseyes, his lips. We knew him," Hermening said.
Before the NITV interviews, the U.S. Department of State hadnot sought out the former hostages, although they knew thatAhmadinejad would be applying to travel to the United States toaddress the UN General Assembly this week.
"After their statements to an international televisionaudience, the State Department couldn't do anything else butrecognize him as a terrorist," Ganji said.
Ganji also presented to reporters the former head of a taxicompany in Tehran, who said he was personally assaulted and torturedby Ahmadinejad in 1981.
Joseph Pirayoff's company was based in the HotelIntercontinental in Tehran and provided long-term rentals to U.S.defense contractors, in addition to taxi services.
During the 1979 revolution, he received a phone call from aU.S. military attaché at the embassy, asking him to secretlytransport family members of U.S. diplomats to evacuation flights atthe Tehran airport at night.
Nearly two years later, Pirayoff said Ahmadinejad and 25revolutionary guardsmen stormed his apartment looking for presidentAbolhassan Banisadr, who was ousted by Ayatollah Khomeini in a coupin June 1981. "I told them I didn't know Banisadr," he said.Ahmadinejad hit him so hard in the face he broke his jaw.
Ganji himself was “on an Iraniangovernment hit list for eighteen years” while organizingopposition to the regime from Paris, he said.
Some of the former hostages were so upset that the StateDepartment had failed to contact them to confirm the reports aboutAhmadinejad that they wrote to Congress last week.
In a letter addressed to the chairman and ranking member of theHouse International Relations Committee, Rosen, Doughterty, Roeder,and Paul Lewis recounted the latest chapter of their saga.
"To our consternation, the administration waited six weeks[after the election of Ahmadinejad] before contacting ajyformer hostages and then only to arrange future appointment times forinterviews. The State Department began conducting the very firstdebriefings on Wednesday, 10 August. Then - incredibly - the verynext day, with the debriefing process scarcely begun. the governmentleaked to the media a CIA report that the investigation had alreadybeen concluded that our stated concerns were a case of mistakenidentity."
Initial media reports with the leaked CIA report appeared onFriday, August 12, just two days after the first debriefings offormer hostages were held. The former hostages have worked withIleana Ros-Lehtinen (R, Fla), who has introduced legislation thatwould provide payment to the former hostages and their families.
The new bill, HR 3358, would abrogate the Jan. 19, 1981 AlgiersAccords that prohibited U.S. persons from suing the government ofIran. The Algiers accords required the United States to releasefrozen Iranian government assets in exchange for the hostages, andsheltered the Iranian government from lawsuit.
More than twenty-four years after their release, the ordeal thehostages underwent remains with them.
Barry Rosen still recalls with shame signing a "confession"after his captors threatened to kill him. "I was thinking of my twoyoung children," he recalled.
Kevin Hermening recalls the day his captors threatened toexecute him, holding him blindfolded and handcuffed while theyshouted execution commands and poked him repeatedly in the back withautomatic rifles. "It was the most frightening experience of mylife," he said.