WHILE THE GOVERNMENT of Iran wrings its hands, the secret and extralegal "revolutionary committees" that constitute the real power continue taking their grim toll. From killing officials of the old regime, they have now branched out and begun killing people who were merely civilians, citizens, under the shah. The execution of two people of this category was announced last week, both businessmen. Since they were deprived of their normal rights, both those of the civil law and those of the Islamic Sharia law, there is no way of telling whether they actually did anything wrong. Indeed, it is not at all clear whether Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's latest pronouncement, in which he said that only people convicted of killing or torturing others should be executed, will moderate the zeal of the revolutionary committees who have been acting in his name.

Of the two civilian victims, one was not only accused of "economic imperialism," that is, of being successful. He was also accused of spying for Israel and raising funds for Israel to bomb Palestinians. What this seems to come down to was that he had met some Israeli figures in the early 1960s and had contributed to Israeli causes. In other words, he was murdered for being a Jew friendly to Zionism. In no other country in the world is this a capital offense. Iran's Jewish community, like Iran's other legal minorities, lives by official dispensation, and it is said to be wondering in trepidation what reliance it now can place on Ayatollah Khomeini's splendidly broad and highly touted guarantees for its safety. Fresh reports that officials of the Iranian Jewish community have been arrested underline the menace of this situation.

Apologists for the Iranian revolution argue that the United States, by winking at the shah's excesses, forfeited the right to express alarm about the ayatollah's. This is absurd. Some of those speaking out about human-rights violations now also spoke out earlier. Even if they had not, they have an obligation to speak frankly on these things. The regime's glib and defensive comparison of its Star Chamber proceedings to the Nuremberg Trials overlooks that the defendants at the latter were accorded certain legal rights and were tried in public. Few would deny Iran's right to have its revolution. Many should protest the revolution's bloodthirstiness, whether it is directed against individuals deprived of their rights or against groups vulnerable to punishment for acts and beliefs that nowhere else are crimes. Is that really what Iran's revolution is about?