THE PRO-KHOMEINI Iranians who helped turn a normally peaceful part of the city into a riot zone last Sunday are now trying to turn the D.C. Jail into a political staging ground. Their arrest and imprisonment, to hear them tell it, amount to political persecution. Their response has been 1) a hunger strike, 2) demands for special privileges while in jail and 3) official acquiescence in their insistence that court records show them all to have the same name: John Doe.
It is hard to take any of this seriously, let alone to sympathize with it. These people went out last Sunday looking for a fight and got it. Their fight turned out to be mainly with the police, however, instead of with the other Iranians they were there to counter. If there were instances in which some police officers used excessive force against some Iranians -- and there may have been a few -- local officials should and presumably will take prompt action against the officers. The Metropolitan Police Department has not established its reputation for fair play by ignoring such charges when they are made.
Regardless of what happens to these prisoners in the next few days or weeks, the central fact about them is that most of them have chosen to be in jail. If they had provided officials with their real names last Monday, it is likely that all but two (who face serious charges) would have been released on minimal bail. As it is, the refusal of the Iranians to identify themselves goaded Judge John R. Hess into setting bond at $250 each in addition to requiring each to provide a name other than John Doe.
One possible reason for the decision of these people to conceal their identities is a fear that deportation proceedings may be instituted against them if the government finds out who they are. But the disorderly conduct arrests alone do not make them deportable. So it seems likely that many of the group are in the country illegally and simply do not wish to make it easy for the government to act against them. In the long run, this ploy won't work. Fingerprint records will identify some of them. The others can be deported as "John Does" -- if that is what they want -- once it is established that they are, in fact, Iranians.
The rest of this affair should be treated by local officials as a simple political protest. The demands of this group of prisoners merit no more, and no less, consideration than those of similar groups. Jail officials -- to cite one demand -- should not be compelled to take off their shoes when they enter the area where these prisoners are confined; the prisoners can get their prayer rugs out of the way. Neither should jail officials bow to the prisoners' request that they be held in one large group instead of assigned to individual cells, especially now that Mace has been used inside the jail to quell a disturbance.
These prisoners, after all, are not hostages. They were arrested because they broke the law. They are in jail because they have chosen to be there. They can get out by following ordinary American practice in these matters. Period.