As some French correspondents have been insisting, the capture of our embassy in Tehran has seemed too well planned and executed to be the work solely of young amateurs. Though no one can prove it, there is some basis to believe that the whole operation is being orchestrated by well-trained Marxists whose objective is not to secure the return of the shah so much as to damage America's position throughout the Third World, and particularly the Middle East. The evidence is worth considering.
The "students" have shifted the emphasis from returning the shah to trying the embassy personnel as spies. The idea of a trial was not orginated by the ayatollah; he merely endorsed a plan the students had already announced. In their treatment of the captives, the "students" seem to be following the technique used by "brainwashing" experts in preparing the Soviets' infamous show trails in the 1930s, which Stalin devised to eliminate his opposition. The students have already taken the same first steps used by the Russians to prepare their show trials; isolating the victims for a month and keeping them separated, forbidden to talk to one another, blindfolded, bound and insulated from any news of the outside world. Recently it was announced that the captives are being subjected to inquisition by "profesional interrogators," which paralles precisely the Soviet method.
In the case of the Soviet trials, Stalin ostensibly turned the matter over to a prosecutor and left for a holiday. The ayatollah remains in Qom, leaving the trials to the "students." Whether he could control the "students" even if he tried is by no means clear.
One of the returned hostages reports that he was compelled at gunpoint, under the threat of death, to sign a statement demanding that the shah be returned. If the show-trial procedures continue to be followed, one would expect the accusations to be read to the victims at the beginning of the trial and -- as a result of their brainwashing -- they would, on inquiry, reject the right to counsel and plead guilty. During the trial they might be compelled to authenticate forged documents allegedly proving their guilt and sign confessions that the whole embasy was a "nest of espionage."
Were all this to occur -- and it remains only a speculation -- not only would the prospects for the hostages be grim, but the future for American interests in the Middle East would be dark indeed.
A victim of the infamous "Slansky show trial" in Czechoslovakia recently wrote that, although the "very smoothness of the judicial machinery ought to have alerted every thinking person to its phoniness," the people listening to his voice on the radio accepted the trial as genuine. Consider the far greater effect today if the brainwashed victims were to be televised as they spoke their dictated lines.
Throughout the Western world the trials would be recognized for what they were and largely discounted -- excepted by those intellectuals who enjoy thinking ill of America. Even in the United States, there might be a fringe of the silly and gullible who automatically welcome any disparagement of their country. Self-flagellation, after all, it not confined to the Shiites. t
But it is in Third World, and particularly in Islamic countries, that such show trials could have a profound effect. For this we should in part blame ourselves. Whiles emasculating the CIA, we wallowed so masochistically in the disclosures of its wickedness -- its ham-handed efforts in Chile and its abortive attempts to assassinate Castro -- that we have created the impression not only that the agency is guilty of every misdeed but also that it is 20 feet tall, with almost magical capabilities for evil.
Thus we could expect our enemies, particularly in the Middle East, to use the bogus disclosures at such a trial to blame the CIA for every act of violence that may occur in an area where violence is endemic. By stimulating anti-Americanism, the new show trials might compel major oil-producing states, including Saudi Arabia, to reduce their production under pressure from their more radical neighbors.
Obviously, the creation of a new wave of anti-American hatred throughout the Middle East could greatly facilitate Soviet penetration, since Moscow might then appear as the lesser of two evils. Or, alternatively, the Soviets might intend the trials to goad the United States into military action, since an American attack on Iran would inevitably send shock waves throughout the whole Persian Gulf area. By turning the Middle East against America, the Soviets might hope to extend their penetration not merely into a badly shaken Iran but into various soft spots in the Arab world.
The hypothesis I suggest would, if true, change some ofour assumptions regarding the use of military force. The prevailing view has been that, if the United States were to use force, the hostages would be promptly shot. But the recent emphasis on the trials leads to another possibility -- that, in case of an American attack, the "students" would still keep the hostages alive until they had extorted their "confessions," since it is the confessions, and not the shah, that would best serve communist objectives.