The charred remains of American servicemen who died in the aborted hostage rescue mission were displayed in the courtyard of the U.S. Embassy here today as a leading Iranian revolutionary leader denounced the United States and President Carter.
Revolutionary Guards, under the direction of Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, opened the plastic and cloth wrappings in which the remains were transported to look at the dog tags and bodies, which showed the gruesome effect of the intense flames in which the Americans died when a U.S. helicopter and a C130 transport collided in a remote Iranian desert early Friday.
At one point, Khalkhali held up a charred limb to show a wristwatch to a group of Iranian and foreign journalists invited to the embassy compound by the militant Moslem students holding it.
Khomeini's son Ahmad and his 21-year old grandson Hossein attended the spectacle at the embassy.
[In Washington, White House press secretary Jody Powell said of the action by the Iranians: "Clearly, that sort of behavior constitutes a new low in moral depravity. Certainly, that sort of behavior is a violation of Islamic principles and traditions. It is difficult to imagine that a believer and faithful follower of Islam would participate in such a thing."]
In statements issued earlier today, the embassy militants said they had taken all 50 of their hostages out of the U.S. compound and sent some of them to the holy city of Qom south of Tehran and to the northwestern city of Tabriz as part of a plan to thwart any future U.S. rescue attempt.
Three Americans, including U.S. charge d'affaires L. Bruce Laingen, held at the Foreign Ministry since the Nov. 4 takeover of the embassy, were believed to be still under guard at the Foreign Ministry.
The plan to display the U.S. servicemen's remains began to evolve this morning when Khalkhali flew to the desert town of Tabas in an Air Force plane to collect the bodies of the Americans, which had been carefully wrapped and put in wooden boxes by Tehran from Tabas, which is about 300 miles southeast of the capital.
The Iranian military had expected to turn the bodies over to the Tehran morgue for eventual repatriation to the United States in compliance with an order issued yesterday by President Abol Hassen Bani-Sadr, according to Iranian government sources.
Instead, Khalkhali had the remains loaded into a van and driven to the occupied U.S. Embassy. There, he and the militants appeared to defy Bani-Sadr's instruction to Iranian authorities that the bodies be turned over to the United States without conditions.
Khalkhali said at the embassy, "Some religious groups, perhaps [Greek Catholic Archbishop Hilarion] Capucci or someone designated by the Pope or some Catholic group, could be asked to come to Tehran to take the bodies and deliver them to the families, but not the government of the United States. The American government is unworthy of having the bodies returned to it."
Asked if they intended to return the remains to the United States, a spokesman for the militants said, "That is not specified yet." He strongly denied unconfirmed reports that the bodies had been shown to some of the hostages.
Late tonight, the militants at the embassy said that the remains had been turned over to the elite Revolutionary Guard and had been taken out of the U.S. compound. Precisely where they were taken was not immediately known.
A spokesman for Bani-Sadr, contacted immediately after the display, said he was unaware that the embassy militants had possession of the U.S. servicemen's bodies. The presidential spokesman said, however, that Bani-Sadr was sticking to his insistence that the remains be repatriated, despite an apparent dispute with leading right-wing Moslem clergymen over his right to issue such an order.
The dispute surfaced in an article in the newspaper of the clerical Islamic Republican Party saying that it was up to the ruling Revolutionary Council to decide whether to repatriate the bodies.
In their communique Saturday, the militant embassy captors said they had decided to move their hostages to varios towns around the country, "so that we shall not have to kill the spies in case of a repetition of the foolish acts by the American government."
While diplomats believed the transfer could only mean harsher conditions of detention for the hostages in the short run, they pointed to one part of the statement as signaling a possible shift by militants. For the first time, the militants proposed the prospect of putting the hostages on trial as an alternative to the extradition of the deposed shah, pointing the way to possible -- though remote -- solution to the intensifying U.S.-Iranian crisis.
Referring to the rescue mission, the statements said, "It is necessary to pay attention to the point that the criminal American government, which strongly fears the iman's [Khomeini's] resolute position on the spy hostages, i.e. either the demand for the extradition of the shah and the plundered property or the trial of the hostages, resorts to this unskilled trick. . . ."
The militants said the mission aimed to "create an atmosphere in which the students would be forced to annihilate the hostages. . . ."
The statement added: "It is important for the American government to be spared the scandal of the hostages' trial. Therefore we decided to keep the hostages in various towns so that if the U.S. refrained from extraditing the traitor shah and the plundered property to the courageous people of Iran, we would put on trial this century's mother of corruption [the United States] by trying the spy hostages.
"We have chosen Qom as the first town . . . It is necessary to mention that several students stationed in the nest of spies [the U.S. Embassy] will accompany the hostages to guard them."
The militants also asked the Revolutionary Guard to "provide security" for the hostages' new places of detention, which had not yet been revealed specifically.
In a separate statement issued later in the day, the militants said other hostages were being sent to Tabriz, accompanied by some of the captors from the embassy in Tehran.
Neither statement explained how the militants and their hostages were traveling to the two cities. Diplomats said they believed that the arrangements needed the cooperation of the Iranian government, apparently contradicting the government's claim that it has nothing to do with the detention of the hostages.
It was not immediately clear whether all of the hostages have been removed from the embassy, as militant spokesman claimed today, but diplomats here now believe that at least some have been taken out. They cite traffic in and around the embassy compound in the past two days of ambulances and vans and a decreased presence of Revolutionary Guards posted around the embassy compound.
In addition, there have been unconfirmed reports that some of the hostages may have been taken to Evin Prison on the northwestern outskirts of Tehran.
At the U.S. Embassy, the militants admitted American television journalists and foreign reporters to their news conference, but barred several representatives of U.S. newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek.
However, uncut television film shot by American networks was screened privately later in Tehran.
Although Khalkhali, renowned as Iran's "Judge Blood" for his role in sending hundreds to their deaths after the overthrow of the shah, began the presentation by expressing condolences to the families of those killed, it soon turned into a macabre spectacle.
After an opening speech in which he strongly denounced President Carter, Khalkhali displayed several weapons, maps, Iranian Air Force decals and U.S. identification cards found in the wreckage at the desert landing site of the aborted rescue mission. Two of the identification cards shown belonged to a black serviceman, 26, named Stanley E. Thomas, apparently from Virginia, whose name was not on a U.S. list of the dead that was published here.
[The Defense Department announced today that Thomas lost his wallet during the mission and had safely escaped, United Press International reported. "He is safe and in this country and has talked to his mother twice today," Pentagon spokesman Thomas Ross said.]
"Some blacks took part in this operation," Khalkhali said. "This shows it was compulsory."
Khalkhali also displayed maps and aerial photographs that he claimed showed that the U.S. rescue team planned to land a helicopter at the Amjadieh Stadium across the street from the embassy, and to attack the house of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in northern Tehran. Moving to where the remains of the American servicemen lay wrapped in wooden boxes, Khalkhali said, "These are the documents of the crimes of America."
He directed Revolutionary Guards to slit open the wrappings and show the charred remains. At one point he pushed the guards aside and held up a piece of skull, saying, "I'll show you nine heads. Carter says there were eight. Maybe Carter will say one of the Americans had two heads."
Witnesses said that only four complete corpses were clearly identifiable among the nine parcels that were opened. The rest contained only remnants of bodies, and some of the boxes were no bigger than two feet long.
Shouting instructions to the Revolutionary Guards -- some of whom held handerchiefs over their noses and mouths -- Khalkhali repeatedly told them to be careful as they slit open the wrappings. Pointing to one corpse, he ordered a guard to pick out the serviceman's dog tags and had one of the militants read out the name in English. The tags belonged to Lynn Davis McIntosh.
"The action of the American authorities led to the destruction of these people," Khalkhali said. "We brought them here so you could see the results of Carter's move."
Khalkhali claimed that U.S. aircraft bombed their own helicopters on the ground to kill the wounded left behind when the rescue mission were aborted. He also asserted that 20 other Americans had been killed in the operation, but that their bodies had been reduced to ashes and left in the desert.
[Saudi Arabia Sunday expressed "worry and regret" over the aborted U.S. rescue mission and said it was inconsistent with international law, news agencies reported from Jeddah. ]
[A Foreign Ministry statement said Saudi Arabia "views the American action as an affront to the sovereignty of countries of the area and as jeopardizing the area's security and stability.]
[It said the attempt was "inconsistent with international law, and by resorting to force, the United States has transgressed the admissible limits of international behavior."]