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Reese Erlich is a best-selling book author and freelance journalist who writes regularly for the Dallas Morning News, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio and National Public Radio. He has won numerous journalism awards, including the prestigious Peabody (shared with others). He is the author of several books, and is currently touring across the country promoting his most recent one called: Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire, published in September 2010. Reese Erlich received a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for his reporting from Bahrain.www.reeseerlich.com.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We are talking to Reese Erlich, who joins us from Oakland, California. Thanks for joining us again, Reese.REESE ERLICH, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Always a pleasure.JAY: So before you were in Afghanistan, you were in Iran during the elections, and you kind of got in the midst of this debate that was taking place, particularly from some sections on the left and others, who were saying this Ahmadinejad victory was legitimate and that this protest movement in the streets was sort of an extension of US meddling in Iran. So let's just revisit that point to start with, now that some few months have gone by. What's your take on it now?ERLICH: Well, luckily, that was a very, very small number of people on the left, a few intellectuals who were making that argument. The large majority of people on the left and progressives around the United States were supportive of the mass demonstrations in Iran, opposed the fraudulent elections, and also continue to oppose US intervention in Iran. Those two things go hand in hand. I spoke at a large rally in New York at the time of Ahmadinejad's visit there, and many thousands of people were out on the street supporting precisely those two demands.JAY: Which is a critique of the regime, support for the opposition to the regime, and against sanctions or any attack on Iran.ERLICH: Yeah, and a complete opposition to any US military attacks on Iran, lift all sanctions against Iran, but also support the people of Iran in their legitimate battles for justice and for democracy.JAY: Now, just a few days ago, a suicide bomb went off in Iran in the part of Iran that borders Pakistan, a predominantly Sunni area of predominantly Shia Iran. I think it's four or five members of the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard were killed, another 30, 40 injured, and some other deaths. A local Sunni Islamic group claimed credit for this, but we know in the past that this UCIA [sic] involvement in these areas of Iran was actually rather overt. They talked about putting money into instigating these kinds of ethnic conflicts within Iran. And then the Iranian regime is certainly pointing to this as what they say is another example of American meddling to go with what was going on during the protest movement. So tie these things together for us.ERLICH: I think there's no question that under the Bush administration the CIA and US intelligence agencies were funding opposition groups, groups carrying out armed struggle within Iran, particularly among the ethnic minorities. In my book The Iran Agenda, I detailed how the US was doing that in the case of Kurds. One particular Kurdish group in the north and west of Iran, the second group that they were funding, was called Jundallah, which is the group you just referred to in the Baluchistan region. Iran is a multiethnic country, and the neoconservatives and the intelligence agencies were trying to take advantage of the very real disaffection and anger by Iran's ethnic minorities towards the central government, and, as we know, the population in general's anger. And so this group, Jundallah, was at one time financed by the CIA and probably was giving training to them. The leader of it is a former leader of the Taliban. And so, obviously, the US was in bed with some pretty despicable characters.JAY: Oh, no, that must be the first time.ERLICH: Yes, indeed. So, you know, it's the bad Taliban when they're fighting the US in in Pakistan or Afghanistan, and they're the good Taliban when they're fighting the Iranians. It's not clear to me if the Obama administration has continued the covert funding in the case of Baluchistan. There are indications I have in the case of Kurdistan that they did cut it off. I'm not sure about Baluchistan. The Iranians are saying there's Pakistani government involvement through the ISI or their intelligence agency, and that has a certain ring of truth to it, because the Pakistanis play a number of games simultaneously, and it's possible that that's the case. But what is for sure is that the attacks on the Revolutionary Guard and the murder of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran is not connected to the mass movement for democracy that we've seen all around the country. And just as the Bush administration tried to link the 9/11 terrorists with everybody advocating progressive change or changing US foreign policy in the United States, the Iranian government does the same thing. They take examples of terrorism and say, Aha! [Mir-Hossein] Mousavi and all of his supporters are all part of the same foreign conspiracy.JAY: About a week ago, three of the people in jail for being involved in the protests were found guilty and sentenced to death. Now, apparently, according to the Iranian government, at least two of those three were involved in a rather pro-American ex-pat Iranian group that's been in Iraq that'sapparently has committed some terrorist acts against Iran. The other one, the third person, apparently also had some connection with the US. Do you know anything about this case? And what does it tell us?ERLICH: Yeah, and it's very hard to know, because the Iranian government is famous for getting false confessions. There's no question that they torture people, they threaten to arrest or torture your relatives, your mother, your father, your brothers, and your sisters. And almost inevitably people go on camera or they come into court and they testify. Very hard to evaluate whether there was any truth in those allegations. I have personally interviewed Iranians who went through that process from past arrests, and you're basically willing to say anything just to get the torture to stop. The specific group that you mentioned, there's this group called the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, which was a group that fought against the Shah. They were part of the revolution in 1979. They were repressed by the Iranian government. They ultimately went to Iraq and fought with Iraq and Saddam Hussein against Iran in that war of the 1980s, earning them the ongoing hatred of people in Iran. They have no popular base in Iran. But they have now switched sides and are being protected by the United States. And in the research I did for The Iran Agenda, some of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq people were sent back in to carry out armed raids inside Iran. They do those things. Whether those particular individuals were involved in anything along those lines or whether it was false confession due to torture, I just don't know.JAY: But your point would be, even if they are, it doesn't tell us who that movement really was, the democracy movement.ERLICH: Yeah, exactly. I mean, my direct observations from being there and from talking to people in the subsequent weeks is that nobody was in control of that mass movement in Iran. Millions of people showed up into the streets to protest, first, the elections, but then to protest the Islamic government and how they were using Islam to repress people in Iran. Some people wanted a return to some kind of a parliamentary system as existed prior to the US coup against Iran in 1953. Other people wanted a reformed version of an Islamic state. They think Islam should have an important role to play in government. But it's just the way it's been interpreted is wrong. So there's different opinions. But that mass movement was not controlled by the CIA, it was not controlled, certainly, by the Iranian government, and it certainly wasn't in control by the reformist leaders themselvesthey were scrambling to catch up with it. And I think, while for the moment the movement has been repressed, it will show itself again sometime in the weeks and months ahead.JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Reese.ERLICH: Thank you.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And don't forget the Donate button here or there or wherever you're seeing it on your page. And thank you again for watching The Real News.DISCLAIMER:Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
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