WITH THE SHAH'S GUNS, the "revolutionary committees" linked to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini continue to administer "justice" to leading persons in the old regime. They are tried in secret without counsel and without a right of appeal. News reports have identified over 100 people, including a former prime minister and officers of the armed forces and the secret police, as victims. Yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," the figure of 124 was given by Shahriar Rouhani, son-in-law of Iran's "Deputy Prime Minister for Revolutionary Affairs" and spokesman for the revolutionary committee running the Iranian embassy in Washington. It is almost certain this is not the final figure. Thousands of political prisoners remain in detention, and the "trials" are still going on.
The drumhead justice being perpetrated by these unauthorized, unaccountable "revolutionary committees" is a travesty. Quite rightly, the new regime in Tehran is paying heavily in world opinion for it. The politics of the victims are different, of course, but otherwise the practice does not seem different in sustance from the savage and arbitrary ways of the shah. The idea that political lynchings are being conducted ostensibly under the aegis of an Islamic leader is particularly disturbing.
Mr. Rouhani, on television yesterday, was sensitive to this latter suggestion. He said that the trials "are not in exact accordance with Islamic law" and that Ayatollah Khomeini himself "objected to this sort of trial as early as the eighth trial and it stopped on the 65th trial. The difficulties of the revolution, however, remain, and that is the reason [the trials were] resumed." It is good to have Mr. Rouhani's word that the trials are not in accordance with Islamic law and that Mr. Khomeini has objections to them. It is troubling, however, to be told that "difficulties of the revolution" keep the authorities from taking the situation in hand. Difficulities? Mr. Rouhani said there are "8,000 arrmed SAVAK agents within Iran." The implication was that as long as this counter-revolutionary force is at large, the revolutionary committees cannot be restrained.
Is Mr. Rouhani inventing or exaggerating a menace to justify the executions? One can understand that a new regime that destroyed the old army and police as it came to power would be vulnerable to political shakedowns by gunslingers claiming to be serving the revolution. In any event, Mr. Rouhani is advancing the 20th century's most morbid and familiar retionale-the danger of counterrevolution-for official terror. In a sense it would be more reassuring if the ayatollah actually were in charge. Then he could be appealed to and held accountable. If no one is in charge, then Iran is in heavy trouble indeed.
The answer, if there is one, would seem to lie in bolstering the moral and political authority of the legal government of Iran. But that seems exactly what Ayatollah Khomeini does not want to do. He is using the great prestige he won in dethroning the shah not so much to govern as to refuse to let others govern. He named as prime minister a well-regarded anti-shan civil libertarian named Mehdi Bazargan, but he has constantly undermined him. Mr. Bazargan has threatened to resign if the revolutionary committees identified with the ayatollah were not leashed. They have not been leashed but he has not resigned, apparently in part because he hopes that legal procedures will somehow be installed and in part because he fears that his resignation would unravel the fabric of the country even more.
Mr. Khomeini made a crucial contribution to his country's revolution. Now he stands in the way of its fulfillment. It is not those "8,000 armed SAVAK agents" who are responsible for the terror. It is his own relutance to let go of power.