Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Convicted Terrorist Roya Sepehrrad Seeks Tax Dollars to Kill Again With Ledeen's Help


NIAC’s mission is to promote Iranian-American participation in civic life. Iranians-Americans deserve to make informed decisions on matters that affect them, and NIAC aims to facilitate this by bringing transparency to these debates. Our intent is to report on policy conferences as objectively as possible. NIAC, itself, as an organization, has no position on these debates. Our function is to provide Iranian-Americans with the necessary knowledge and tools to be able to participate in decision-making according to their own views.

Washington DC, May 20, 2003. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback announced at a press conference on May 19 that he will introduce a bill, the Iran Democracy Act, asking for fifty million dollars to promote democracy in Iran and to fund Iranian opposition groups. Speaking on Capitol Hill in front of an audience of journalists, members of the policy community such as Michael Ledeen and Kenneth Timmerman, and Iranian opposition members such as Manda Zand, Roya Sepehrrad and Banafsheh Zand, he declared that “Now is the time to stand firm and support the people of Iran.”

According to Brownback, the Iran Democracy Act aims to “support Iranians seeking to create a democratic, secular government which respects human rights, abandons state-sponsored terrorism and rejects the possession and use of weapons of mass-destruction.” The bill authorizes funding for “pro-democracy broadcasting into Iran, and increases the advice and influence of Iranian-Americans in the U.S. Persian radio service, Radio Farda.

Brownback explained that as we “proceed through the difficult task of establishing an open society in Iraq and fighting terrorist networks around the world, it is crucial that American policymakers understand the role Iran is playing in the region – and why we will never have true stability as long as the Iranian regime is in power.”

The Kansas senator pointed to President Khatami’s praise of Hezbollah during his recent visit to Lebanon as evidence that “the pseudo-reformers have failed.” Brownback also added that Iran harbors Al-Qaida operatives and leaders of the Taliban.

Also speaking at the press conference was Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who stated that a survey by the Tarrance Group from last year showed that “71% of Iranians support a national referendum that allows the people of Iran to decide what system of government is best for the country, rather than an extremist religious minority.”

The two senators had also invited a few Iranian opposition figures to speak at the press conference, which often turned emotional as the Iranian exiles spoke of their experiences with the Iranian government. Bahman Rahbari, an Air Force pilot, spoke in detail of the torture he suffered between 1980 and 1985 in an Iranian prison.

Manda Zand-Ervin stated that “Iranian women want the world to know their suffering,” and that “eighteen Iranian women have been stoned to death by the reformists.” She quoted one Iranian mother having said that “We are not sure whether our kids will return home alive when they leave the house – we live in constant fear. Please ask Brownback and the US Congress to help us.”

Roya Sepehrrad explained that she was arrested in Iran at the age of 14 for having “sold newspapers” and organized political demonstrations for what she described as the “main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin.” Sepehrrad also described the torture she and her friends suffered during her seven years in an Iranian prison. The Iranian Virginia resident thanked Brownback for his bill and for not having allocated the funds for any one specific group. According to the Financial Times, a big chunk of the $50 million will go to “royalist television and radio stations” in Los Angeles.

Brownback originally introduced his $50 million funding for Iranian opposition groups to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a few weeks ago. Due to criticism from several of his colleagues—including Senators Byden, Hagel, Lugar, Rockefeller, and Sarbanes—Brownback decided to pull the bill and reintroduce it as an amendment to the FY ‘04 Foreign Relations Authorization Act. Brownback described the chances of the Act being passed as “relatively good” and said that he hopes that “military action against Iran will not be necessary.” Other co-sponsors of the act are Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.)

Supporters of the Iran Democracy Act include Iranian monarchist groups, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Other well positioned organizations that may receive funding from Brownback’s bill include the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI) – founded by Morris Amitay of JINSA, Rob Sobhani, president of Caspian Energy Consulting, and Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, all strong advocates for regime change in Iran. Members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq are also positioning themselves as potential recipients of U.S. funds.

There is no organized opposition to the Act from the Iranian-American community, but the U.S. State Department has expressed reservations. However, 80.3% of the users of NIAC's Legislative Action Center have sent messages to their lawmakers opposing the Brownback Act. Of the several hundred messages that have been sent during the last few days, only 19.7% were in support of the Iran Democracy Act.

Supporters of the Act argue that the Iranian people need financial support from the U.S. in order to rid themselves of the current regime. The Iranian people have repeatedly voiced their desire for freedom and regime change, they say. Proponents believe the U.S. needs to stand with the people of Iran at this important junction.

Furthermore, proponents argue that past U.S. funding of opposition groups in other countries was crucial to democratic development in those countries. Iran should be no different, they claim. According to this view, it is time the U.S. put human rights and democracy on its agenda when it comes to Iran.

On the other hand, opponents of the Act argue that the Iranian people are highly conscious of their independence and extremely sensitive to foreign intervention. They point to the toppling of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in Iran in 1953 as an example of how ill-advised U.S. intervention in Iranian affairs can be. Opponents say that democracy must be home-grown in order to enjoy legitimacy and endure. History, they say, has shown that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. They claim U.S. funding may hurt rather than help the movement for democracy.

Opponents also argue that popular opposition groups do not need outside funding, pointing to the wealth of the Iranian-American community. Opponents claim that marginalized groups with no popular support will be the only recipients of U.S. government funding since these groups are incapable of raising money from the Iranian-American community.

In addition, opponents say that using U.S. taxpayers’ money to fund already wealthy opposition groups is similar to giving foreign aid to a rich country like Monaco. With the current state of the economy, this is simply unacceptable, they argue.

Take action now! Choose the letter below with which you most agree and send it to your Congressman so that they can hear what the Iranian American community thinks about this issue. You may send the letter as it is or, for maximum impact, edit the letter to include your own personal perspective."