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jueves, junio 25, 2009

Iran: This Is What Lack Of Accountability Looks And Feels Like


Today is Torture Accountability Day.

Events in Iran yesterday show exactly what lack of accountability looks and feels like. It's not a pretty picture. And it hurts. CNN provides this small vignette:

On Wednesday afternoon, security forces used overwhelming force to crack down on protesters who had flocked to Baharestan Square near the parliament building in Tehran, according to more than a half-dozen witnesses.

Police charged at the gathering -- clubbing demonstrators with batons, beating women and old men, and firing weapons into the air to disperse them, witnesses said.

"They were waiting for us," one witness said. "They all have guns and riot uniforms. It was like a mouse trap." ...

"They emptied buses that were taking people there and let the private cars go on ... and then, all of a sudden, some 500 people with clubs of wood, they came out of the Hedayat Mosque, and they poured into the streets and they started beating everyone," she said.

Government-run Press TV gave a starkly different account, saying about 200 protesters had gathered in front of the parliament and 50 others in a nearby square. All were dispersed by a heavy police presence, it said.

This is what happens when there is no accountability. The Government gives a "starkly different account." Deadly force dictates the events. Demonstrators are clubbed. Women and old men are beaten. Government approved goons launch surprise attacks. Government approved media say nothing happened. Repeat as necessary.

There is no official reckoning of events, there is no real investigation, there is no trial, there is nothing but official minimization and silence. Crickets. Silence until the next demonstration appears, then they do it again. Intense and brutal violence, followed by official silence. Repeat as necessary.

My heart goes out to the demonstrators in Iran. Because their Government shuns accountability, they are, each of them, in mortal danger. Their Government believes that it is appropriate to use deadly force to shore up a stolen election. It believes that violence will end civil unrest. And if the present level of violence proves to be insufficient to bring compliance, even greater violence is threatened. No other course is contemplated.

Of course, lack of accountability is nourished by lack of reporting, by officially imposed silence. It's important to the Iranian government to make sure that the whole world isn't watching (except on Twitter). It's important to Governments that are not accountable to thwart all inquiries about their activities, to impose secrecy, to resist disclosure, to disrupt investigations, to shield past misdeeds, to hide the truth.

The New York Times reports the difficulties in knowing what is happening in Iran and a different version of the same Wednesday afternoon brutality:
The government also stepped up its efforts to block independent news coverage of events all across the country. The government has banned foreign news media members from leaving their offices, suspended all press credentials for foreign correspondents, arrested a freelance writer for The Washington Times, continued to hold a reporter for Newsweek and forced other foreign journalists to leave the country.

That made it difficult to ascertain exactly what happened when several hundred protesters tried to gather outside the Parliament building Wednesday afternoon. Witnesses said they were met by a huge force of riot police officers and Basij vigilantes, some on motorcycles and some in pickup trucks, armed with sticks and chains. Witnesses said people were trapped and beaten as they tried to flee down side streets.

“It was not possible to wait and see what happened,” said one witness who asked for anonymity out of fear of arrest. “At one point we saw several riot police in black clothes walk towards a group of people who looked like passers-by. Suddenly they pulled out their batons and began hitting them without warning.”

The authorities said they were moving to impose order and secure the rule of law. “I was insisting and will insist on implementation of the law,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on national television. “That means we will not go one step beyond the law. Neither the system nor the people will yield to pressure at any price.”

That is what lack of accountability looks like. This is what it feels like. First it's the crime, the brutality, the torture, the violence. Then it's the lie, "We will not go one step beyond the law." That echoes previous official posturing in Washington, "The United States does not torture." That's what lack of accountability looks like. The Government can and does say anything it wants to about its activities. It lies when it wants to. And nobody dares to lift the curtain to see whether it's true. That's what lack of accountability is.

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