WASHINGTON - A group of former American hostages is demanding that the CIA turn over a classified report that they say wrongly cleared Iran's new president of his role in interrogating them during the 444-day hostage crisis in Iran that began on November 4,1979.
Incensed that the Bush administration failed to investigate properly Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's role in the hostage crisis, they have launched a campaign ahead of his speech this week at the United Nations to hold the Iranian leader to account.
A September 9 letter from four of the former hostages to the chairman and ranking member of the House International Relations Committee - Reps. Henry Hyde, a Republican of Illinois, and Tom Lantos, a Democrat of California - said: "Now Mr. Ahmadinejad will be granted a visa to address the United Nations, and we will be left to wonder to what extent our Government honestly, completely, and in good faith, investigated his involvement in the crimes committed against us. After twenty-five years, it appears we are being used once again for someone else's political agenda."
Since winning a presidential election in June that three of his opponents claim was rigged, the ascendancy of Mr. Ahmadinejad has bedeviled the Bush administration. Soon after the news of his election victory, former hostages came forward and told members of the press that they remembered the former engineering student as one of their interrogators. Last month, the State Department granted Mr. Ahmadinejad a limited visa, waiving immigration law restrictions that prohibit individuals even suspected of having ties to international terrorism from entering the country. The Iranian president's visa restricts his movements to a 25-mile radius surrounding the U.N. headquarters building.
In an interview yesterday, a retired Air Force colonel, David Roeder, one of the signatories of the letter, recalled how in one interrogation session Mr. Ahmadinejad sat in a room and watched as his questioner gave the location and time that his son in Alexandria, Va., caught his bus for special-education classes and then threatened that his wife would receive fingers and toes of his son if he did not cooperate. "He did not say anything at the time, but it was clear Ahmadinejad was in control," Colonel Roeder said.
Colonel Roeder was livid last month when he read in the Washington Post that a classified CIA assessment concluded that Mr. Ahmadinejad did not play a major role in the hostage crisis, particularly since he said the report was leaked as the State Department's Iran desk officer had just started interviews with the former hostages.
"I am upset with the CIA that they leaked a classified document calling me a liar," he said. "If someone is going to tell me I'm wrong and I know I'm not, I would bet my life on it, I should at least have access to the data that led them to that conclusion."
A CIA spokeswoman yesterday said she would not comment on the matter because the report is classified. Another administration official, however, said the agency determined that they lacked the evidence to "conclude definitively" on Mr. Ahmadinejad's role. "It was similar to the Scottish court's not proven judgment," the source said.
In another letter, lawyers representing the 52 former hostages are asking for a meeting with America's ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, asking him to "assist them in finally calling Iran to account after 25 years," according to a letter their lawyers wrote Mr. Bolton on September 9. A spokesman for Mr. Bolton yesterday said the ambassador's schedule is full and he regrets he won't have time for the former hostages.
The former hostages will hold a vigil today in front of the United Nations to protest the visit of Mr. Ahmadinejad to New York this week. Their efforts will be joined by more than a dozen Iranian-American organizations who plan demonstrations this morning and a press conference that will feature testimony from the wife of a former guard to the late shah, Abbas Gholizadeh, who Shahnaz Gholizadeh says was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Turkey at the direction of Mr. Ahmadinejad in 1992.
In an interview, she fingered the new Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who at the time of her husband's murder was Iran's ambassador to Turkey, as playing a role in Mr. Gholizadeh's abduction and killing. "It is impossible for people to pull something off like this without the use of an embassy. They need room to torture people, and cover and protection," she said. "I have no doubt they ordered the murder. Ahmadinejad's job was to do these things."
Mr. Ahmadinejad was for nearly two years an intelligence chief for the unit of the revolutionary guard alleged to plot assassinations against Iranians living abroad.
"I am asking them not to burn another family," Ms. Gholizadeh said. "My children and myself are taking medicine for depression. We are free to speak our mind here, that's why I love America."