It's not noticeable at first that Vali Eshghi is blind in one eye. Then he takes off his thick glasses and the filmy blankness of the cornea is obvious. He is also deaf in one ear and walks slowly with a slight limp.
Eshghi, 32, black-haired and wearing a suit that hangs loosely on his thin angular frame, is an Iranian who was tortured for 4 1/2 years in the prisons of the Khomeini dictatorship. At the time of his arrest in December 1982, he was a third-year student in economics at the Institute of Higher Learning in Karaj, a city 20 miles west of Tehran. Before his lucky escape in June 1987, he was beaten, whipped and given the standard working-over common to the prisons of police states.
An unhealed infection caused by beatings to the face caused Eshghi's left eye to go blind. Kicks to the head tore an eardrum. He takes off his shoes and socks to reveal scars on the ankles and soles.
Vali Eshghi is a living case history of torture. He is also a reminder that few governments in the 1980s have been as systematic as that of Khomeini and the mullahs in Iran in imprisoning and torturing the opposition.
No government more than Iran's dictators dominated world news in 1987. But despite the attention to Iran, the killing and torturing of political prisoners are pushed to the far edge of public attention. We can think about Khomeini's war with Iraq but not Khomeini's war against Iranians. It is almost as if killing and torturing are givens, and what's the news in that?
One difference in the Iranian government's war against its own people is that the combat zone -- from the large prisons to the town holding cells that Vali Eshghi was first locked into -- is almost impossible to observe. Last Tuesday, Human Rights Watch, a New York group directed by Aryeh Neier, issued a 107-page report titled ''The Persecution of Human Rights Monitors.'' It was a worldwide survey that included information on the Soviet Union, Chile, South Africa, El Salvador and other countries, but nothing on Iran. Neier explains: ''There are a number of places in the world that are too dangerous to monitor, and Iran is high on that list.''
According to Dr. Massoud Bani-Sadr, representative to the United Nations of the Iranian Mojahedin, the main opposition to the Khomeini regime, 140,000 political prisoners are in Iran's jails. Seventy thousand people have been killed. What the international human rights groups have been unable to document has been compiled by the Mojahedin in a 327-page book published in October 1987. It lists the names and particulars of 14,028 men, women and children executed by the Iranian government. The occupations range from high-school teacher and theological student to physician and mother.
One of the most heinous methods of torture involves blood transfusions. Vali Eshghi recalls: ''I had a friend who was to be executed. They extracted his blood for five consecutive days. Then the blood was taken to the war zone and given to the wounded Guard Corps of Khomeini's army. Before my escape, I learned that the eyes of the to-be-executed were being taken out to give to the Khomeini guards wounded in the front lines.''
However grotesque, these crimes, which are part of Khomeini's fanatical domestic policy, have the silent approval of the many governments that continue to sell weapons or buy oil from Iran. World leaders decry the Gulf war, but none have organized to act in unison against Khomeini through the pressures of an international arms or oil embargo. Instead, as long as the regime has tankers for the oil, it will have money for weapons.
In place of international resistance to the regime, there is often cooperation. France recently expelled 14 members of the anti-Khomeini Mojahedin who had had political asylum in Paris. The Mojahedin, a broad-based resistance force that calls for democratic reforms, deserves international support, not the back of France's hand.
In Washington, a group of 40 Iranians, many with family members who were executed or are being tortured, is in the third week of a hunger strike to protest the actions of France. This group also deserves support.