THE IRANIAN MAJLIS, or parliament, may take up the hostage issue in the next several weeks. The mood of the Iranian people will be the decisive factor in its decision if it does.
If the people feel threatened or abused by the United States, they will oppose release of the hostages. If they sense some new respect for their rights, some easing of opposition and hostility to their hope for independence, some greater capacity for candor by the U.S. government, they may be ready to accept release of the hostages. Many in Tehran believe this is possible. Many say there will be no trials.
It should be clear by now that the seizure of the U.S. embassy was a happening. Federico Fellini could not stage such chaos. Perhaps, as they say, the students thought the U.S. Marines would shoot and martyr some of their own, thus radicalizing the nation into making greater efforts to purge U.S. influence. Whatever the immediate causes, the seizure, its duration and the consequences were unforeseeable.
From the beginning, nearly all Iranians knew that taking these hostages was wrong. Initially, virtually all the leadership sought their immediate release. The revolutionary council traveled to Qum several times to urge Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to direct the students to turn the hostages over to the government.
But a surprising chemistry set in. Holding the hostages became the best way for Iran to show its defiance of the United States. There was no reason, no logic, no justice in this action. It was simply the most direct and convincing way to proclaim resistance. The Iranian people could say "no" to America by denying its demands for the return of the hostages. The rights of 53 innocent people were insignificant to them compared to the emotional need to manifest defiance.
The Iranian revolution was led by people prepared to resist to the death. Many died. Ayatollah Khomeini came to embody the spirit of the revolution because no other visible leader refused to compromise with the shah so adamantly, so consistently, so effectively. He has lived a life of resistance to evil as he sees it.
From the moment the hostages were taken, President Carter seemed to need to show the American people that he was strong, decisive, fully capable of dictating the terms for the release of the hostages. An inventory of his acts through the days and weeks and months since November shows consistent and growing reliance on power to have his way. But he does not have such power. This is what every terrorist knows.
With each of President Carter's belligerent acts, threats and refusals to negotiate -- and this can be easily and fully documented if necessary -- the Iranians became more intransigent. Their history and character compelled it. They will not be bullied now. They lost tens of thousands of their people getting the shah off their backs. Each aggressive act by the United States hardened Iranian defiance. Each aggressive act imperiled the hostages and serves to prolong their confinement.
The military expedition that President Carter ordered violated international law and endangered the hope for peace. It was as "humanitarian" as attempted murder. It is unthinkable that a constitutional government could empower the chief executive to engage in worldwide police actions at his whim.
He risked the lives of our hostages, their captors, their liberators, innocent Iranian bystanders; he also risked wider military action, Soviet intervention, world war. The expedition was apparently prepared to kill people in another nation, whoever got in the way. It is the rule of force and violence -- terribly dangerous and absolutely lawless.
It was dared only because Iran is weak. We will kill Cambodians to show our ruthless power as we did in the Mayaguez affair, losing American lives as well. But we dared not strike the Soviet Union to release our U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. There are American citizens held prisoner in scores of countries. We cannot choose to smash them free by authoritarian fiat. All Americans who believe in law, human dignity and peace should protest.
In every hostage situation there is a tension between authorities and life. This is the meaning of the Attica prison massacre, in which police took 39 lives, including those of 10 hostages, to demonstrate the authority of the state. I was attorney general when the first U.S. skyjacking of the 1960s took place. I was asked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for authority to shoot the tires out on an airplane before it took off. I refused. No one was hurt. The whole thing was over in a few hours. The terrorists were arrested. Of course it could have been worse. But I chose like, and events were kind. o
As Abraham Lincoln "plainly confessed" in the Civil War, he did not control events, events controlled him. But he did not act to make things worse. He did not want the "drummer boy" executed. He saved lives with malice toward none and charity for all.
The mood in Iran is much better now. I am optimistic. The people are pained by the continuing hostage crisis. The mood can be improved even more before the Majlis meets if America has the vision, the courage and the compassion to act nobly under pressure.
The stakes are enormous: 53 precious lives, the destabilization of an incredibly difficult revolution. (Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette as the French Revolution began that he must not expect to be carried from despotism to liberty on a feather pollow.) Even nuclear war could ensue. f
Behind destabilization of Iran stands the Soviet Union which, whatever its aspirations, is the power most likely to fill the vacuum. U.S. policy has driven China, beginning in 1949, Cuba in 1959, Vietnam in 1975, among others, toward the Soviet Union because they had little alternative.
We are just beginning the 1980s. They promise to be wild. We need a new face and the reassertion of the principles on which our country is founded, in democracy, in freedom, in justice. We need to understand that our policy toward Iran has violated every value we love. We supported dictatorship, tyranny, torture, brute force and absolute obedience to authority. Now we must see that such a policy is doomed to failure -- thank God.
The United States should:
1. Renounce intervention by all nations in the affairs of others as contrary to the fundamental human right of self-determination.
2. Assure Iran and all countries that it supports the cause of international justice and law and assures all nations the right "to seek" to extradite wrongdoers in accordance with law and similarly "to seek" the recovery of stolen property. (This is the language of the declaration that the American delegation approved in Tehran, for which President Carter says we, or at least I, should be punished.)
3. Enact a charter to control the Central Intelligence Agency by rule of law, assuring its accountability to the American people and prohibiting immoral conduct.
4. Initiate a congressional investigation to expose to the world the full truth about U.S. interventions in Iran so that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free.
5. Express humane sorrow for the death of 70,000 persons, the imprisonment, torture and ruination under the shah's brutal regime and honestly acknowledge the role our government played and show that we value their lives equally with our own and understand that the temporary detention of 53 persons, however wrong and harmful, cannot be equated with what they have suffered. (The United States wrongfully detains thousands of poor men, mostly minorities, annually without finally prosecuting them, and few protest.)
6. Stop harassing thousands of Iranian students, visitors and permanent residents in the United States because we are angry at Ayatollah Khomeini. It is every bit as irrational that we beat up on them as it is that a group of Iranians hold 53 U.S. hostages. The students here did nothing to hurt us, but we punished them severely. Their families at home are angered, and when their generation comes to leadership they will remember American justice rudely hustling them from their schools and homes and hopes.
7. End all economic sanctions, which anger and weaken Iran. The sanctions are wrong and cannot work. They lead to trade with the Eastern block, subterfuge and corruption. They can hurt the United States more than Iran by alienating the Iranian people and endangering the entire region with its vital energy resources.
8. Give thanks that throughout all the turbulence in Iran during the 17 months since the shah's last prime minister left and in a period when Americans have been assassinated, murdered and abused in many countries, not a single American has been killed or injured in Iran by Iranians. Those who died at Bas in the rescue mission were killed through acts of our own.
9. Let all religious people pray humbly to their God throughout our nation that no harm will befall our hostages, that they will be reunited with their loved ones soon, that the Iranian people will find a new fulfillment of their own choice, freely and independently, and that humanity will find the goodness and strength and love to will peace on earth. If 50 million Americans gave such a prayer during the coming Sabbath days, the Iranians, a deeply religious people, would respond generously.
Let us have Lincoln's impossible "faith that right makes might and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."