- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

Who would have thought that the ghost of Josef Stalin and his infamous Moscow trials would be floating about in Iran, that ancient land of a great and ancient civilization which today has fallen to a level of caveman barbarity?

Iran's traditions and its history should place this land of 68 million in the forefront of nations. Instead, Iran's theocracy has moved the country into the early stages of a totalitarian society, perhaps even worse than Chinese communism. At least Beijing is trying to introduce a modern economy even at some risk to its future rule. For ayatollahism, a modern economy spells danger.

For those who know the history of Soviet totalitarianism, the Moscow trials organized by Stalin in the 1930s were the culmination of the Great Terror. These were not trials; they were frame-ups in which Soviet citizens, of high and low rank and of no rank "confessed" to conspiracies which never happened and felonies they had never committed. There was no probative evidence in the Moscow trials; the only evidence was the "confessions." The victims signed "confessions" after torture or, even more effective, after threats against their loved ones, wives, children and parents if they didn't sign.

And now we have Stalin redux in Iran. Thirteen Jews have been indicted for espionage on behalf of Israel. But something new has been added to these show trials televised confessions which have been broadcast during the star chamber proceedings. The defendants have not been given the right to broadcast their defense.

This, like Stalin's justice, permits the dictatorship to hold suspects for more than a year without the right to receive visits from their families or to consult an attorney. Defense lawyers would be laughed out of the courtroom or worse if they asked for a stenographic transcript of the trial.

Those who have "confessed" to espionage after trials behind closed doors are as innocent as Stalin's victims were. We cannot know but must assume the worst: namely that the administrators of this travesty have threatened reprisals against their families if they didn't confess or that the victims have been tortured during their year-long confinement. Or both. We must assume that the reason their families were barred from seeing their loved ones was to let the torture marks heal.

The Iranian version of Stalinism is unique: It combines prosecutor and judge into one office, thus on the face of it creating a conflict of interest. At least under Stalin, there was a prosecutor like the detestable Andrei Vishinsky and a panel of "hanging" judges to whom the prosecution appealed for the preordained guilty verdict. This, if you were a believer in Stalin's rectitude, created a semblance of judicial discretion.

Diplomats, reporters, non-Iranian cameramen and human rights observers have been excluded from the courtroom so there is no way of independently confirming what government "leakers" have been alleging against the 13 defendants.

This terrible farce has its origin in ayatollahism, which grants "fatwas" (like the one promulgated against Salman Rushdie) giving the right to kill anyone who is deemed to have violated religious principles. From such despotism, it is but a short step to frame-up trials in a part of the world which thrives on anti-Israel fervor.

The verdict against the 13 Jewish victims is expected in a week or two, the delay intended to give the impression that the "evidence" is being carefully weighed by the judge-prosecutor. But the verdict was inscribed before the "trial" even began.

In the Old Testament is the story of another Persian named Haman who persuaded King Ahasueras that all the Jews in his kingdom should be exterminated. But a miracle occurred, according to the Book of Esther, and it was Haman who was executed. It's time for another miracle.

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