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Perspectives | An Iranian Scientist's Assassination

18 Jan 2012 13:13Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

AhamdiRoshanFuneralFars.jpg[ perspectives ] The assassination last Wednesday of scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan in a Tehran car bombing has brought renewed attention to what appears to be an ongoing covert war directed at the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Ahmadi Roshan, who graduated Sharif University with a degree in chemical engineering, was deputy director in charge of procurement at the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. The explosion that killed him, along with his driver, was caused by a magnetic bomb attached to his car by two men riding a motorcycle.

Earlier this week, 94 signatories based in North America and Western Europe, including Tehran Bureau political columnist Muhammad Sahimi, released a statement, "Scholars, Academicians, Journalists, and Activists Condemn Murder of Iranian Technical and Scientific Experts," which observes that in the "past two years, four other Iranian scientists have been killed in a similar manner." The statement continues,

By now, it is clear that this is a systematic campaign with political intentions. [...]

If public reports are true that these assassinations are orchestrated by foreign powers in order to prevent Iran's ability to go forward with its nuclear capabilities, then we petition those powers to stop these assassinations-a tactic replacing political engagement with covert operations at the expense of innocent civilians. These assassinations provide the Iranian authorities with ample excuse to continue to suppress voices of dissent, even on the Iranian nuclear issue, to arrest and imprison political opposition, and to further curtail the activities of human rights activists. [...]

These types of killings have to stop, not only because they harm a nation's scientific community and its civilians, but also because they build a deep psychological scar on the nation's public mind prompting it to ask for revenge in kind. We hope we are living in a better world than that. Killing innocent or even allegedly guilty people without consideration for their human rights and due process, by any force or government anywhere and anytime, is an outrageous act to be protested by all. If covert targeted assassinations of opponents become the order of the day, no one will be safe in this world.

The full text of the statement, in both English and Farsi, as well as the names of the signatories (English only), may be found here.

Following are excerpts from other commentaries on the assassination and some of the issues that surround it.


"Iran's Nuclear Scientists Are Not Being Assassinated. They Are Being Murdered"
Mehdi Hasan, New Statesman senior editor (politics)

On the day of Roshan's death, Israel's military spokesman, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, announced on Facebook: "I don't know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I certainly am not shedding a tear" -- a sentiment echoed by the historian Michael Burleigh in the Daily Telegraph: "I shall not shed any tears whenever one of these scientists encounters the unforgiving men on motorbikes."

These "men on motorbikes" have been described as "assassins." But assassination is just a more polite word for murder. Indeed, our politicians and their securocrats cloak the premeditated, lawless killing of scientists in Tehran, of civilians in Waziristan, of politicians in Gaza, in an array of euphemisms: not just assassinations but terminations, targeted killings, drone strikes.

Their purpose is to inure us to such state-sponsored violence against foreigners. In his acclaimed book On Killing, the retired US army officer Dave Grossman examines mechanisms that enable us not just to ignore but even cheer such killings: cultural distance ("such as racial and ethnic differences that permit the killer to dehumanise the victim"); moral distance ("the kind of intense belief in moral superiority"); and mechanical distance ("the sterile, Nintendo-game unreality of killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a sniper sight or some other kind of mechanical buffer that permits the killer to deny the humanity of his victim").

Thus western liberals who fall over one another to condemn the death penalty for murderers -- who have, incidentally, had the benefit of lawyers, trials and appeals -- as state-sponsored murder fall quiet as their states kill, with impunity, nuclear scientists, terror suspects and alleged militants in faraway lands. Yet a "targeted killing," human-rights lawyer and anti-drone activist Clive Stafford Smith tells me, "is just the death penalty without due process."


"On Iran, How Far Is Too Far?"
Los Angeles Times

Tehran's Security Council chief said Roshan's killing was "an act of the Zionists," and while we're not in the habit of believing such pronouncements, one would have to willfully ignore accounts of past covert Israeli activities not to at least suspect Israeli involvement -- especially because the Israeli government has made little effort to deny it. [...]

The denial was more strenuous in Washington. "I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran," said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

She went on to deliver a lecture about the need for Iran to shut down its nuclear program, which we agree with. But we also think the bombing merited something more -- a strong statement that the United States decries political assassinations. The U.S. is already on shaky legal and ethical grounds with its own program of targeted drone assassinations of suspected terrorists. But at least we're at war with Al Qaeda. State-sponsored extrajudicial killing is a serious violation of international law, and car-bomb assassination is a tactic little different from the methods used by terrorists. It would be nice to hear Clinton, or President Obama, emphasize such principles.

Economic sanctions don't appear to be doing much to slow Iran's nuclear progress, and that is worrisome. But slaughtering scientists on the streets of Tehran isn't the answer. It is as inefficient as it is morally bankrupt, because killing a handful of experts won't erase the country's institutional nuclear knowledge. If Israel is involved, it's a shameful and foolish policy.


"Murder in Tehran"
Farideh Farhi, independent scholar and affiliate graduate faculty at University of Hawai'i at Mānoa

AhmadiRoshanAndSon.jpgTehran was quite ready for this. No bloodied picture of the murdered man was shown; no routine passport pictures. Instead Farsnews, the mouthpiece for Iran's hard-line political camp, immediately posted a photo of Ahmadi Roshan with his adorable young son, both sweetly gazing at the camera. The picture went viral and, with it, a rather explicit message: America, Britain, and Israel, have killed a human being; they have killed a father and made a son orphan. It must have been pure fortuity for Tehran that, on the same day, a video of American marines urinating on dead Afghan bodies also took the internet by storm.

I remember when in 2009 the image of another murdered Iranian went viral. Most of us had no doubt that the image of the bloodied Neda Agha-Soltan was a testimony to the cruelty of the Iranian government. Since then, many others have died in Iran and many more imprisoned for their political views. But today it is the inhumanity and immorality of U.S. policy and public discourse that is on display. A murdered Iranian father looks into the camera and shames our flippant discussions of the killing of Iran's nuclear scientists and our proclivity for using sanctions and other forms of collective punishment to hold an entire nation responsible for the alleged crimes of its leaders. Meanwhile, we in the United States wonder at the kind of military training that teaches soldiers to delight in urinating on emaciated, faceless, and already dehumanized dead bodies.

Some Iranians inside and outside the country have tried to highlight the immorality and ineffectiveness of the Iranian intelligence service, which displays outmost strength in interrogating and imprisoning Iranian citizens for their political views and peaceful activities but has proved powerless in securing the country against acts of terrorism. In the current international climate, however, it is not hard to understand why these voices have gone unheard.


"Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists Is Counterproductive and Wrong"
Ali Vaez, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Iran project, and Charles D. Ferguson, Federation president

The growing battery of dark art attacks against Iran's nuclear program -- assassinations, sabotage, and cyber-attacks -- is likely to further diminish Tehran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran claims that Roshan became a target after he was interviewed by international nuclear inspectors. A few weeks from now, representatives from the IAEA are scheduled to visit Iran, a trip aimed at resolving some of the outstanding issues between Iran and the agency. Wednesday's killing gives the Iranian government an excuse to stonewall access to its scientific community and subvert the agency's efforts. If the IAEA loses some of its access, the world will have markedly less information about Iran's nuclear program, which will make the goal of taming Iran's atomic ambitions more difficult.

Rather than slowing Iran's nuclear progress, covert operations could accelerate Iran's march toward the ultimate deterrent. Worsening their siege mentality by covert actions and violations of the Iran's territorial sovereignty could compel the leaders in Tehran to double down on acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could be pondering now why no one wages a covert war on North Korea or why Muammar Qaddafi lost his grip on power in Libya a few years after ceding his nuclear program.

In complete disregard of these damaging consequences, there has been a deluge of irresponsible statements from some in the United States. Rick Santorum's rants suggesting that the murders of Iranian nuclear scientists are "a wonderful thing" are a deplorable neglect of America's stature and dignity as a force of good. The overt and tacit support that some beltway policy analysts give the attacks is also as reckless as Santorum's words.

The assassination of Roshan provided an opportune moment for the United States to demonstrate its moral superiority to its theocratic adversary in Tehran. Clinton's strong condemnation of this act of terrorism against civilians was a step in the right direction. But if covert operations kill a few civilians, an all-out war would kill hundreds of thousands. Washington should demonstrate its commitment to diplomacy as the only means of resolving Iran's nuclear impasse by making all necessary efforts in convincing Iranians that America is a reliable negotiating partner -- not a party to acts of terrorism. Assisting international organizations in identifying and bringing the culprits to justice, for example, might do it.

Copyright © 2012

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