October 20, 2010
I have come from afar to talk with you. Unfortunately it is going to be about torture. I am a child of the land of love and red flowers. The great poet from my country Saadi wrote a poem about kindness among humans which today is displayed to the representatives of all nations at the United Nations.
I come from an Eastern land where once its king Cyrus the Great wrote a human rights charter for half the population of the world who lived in his empire.
And today I am here to talk about torture. I want the world to clearly know that torture and torturers have no place in Iran, Iranian culture or the loving people of Iran. Torture is the practice of a small group who invaded my beloved country thirty years ago and who are striving to impose themselves on the Iranian people through oppression and torture.
I am only one victim of this inhuman torture system and my book is only one story among thousands.
In the six years that I was in prison, I witnessed the most repulsive and infamous prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I learned how thousands of women and men, young and old, were tortured until death before me, along with me, and even after me.
In 1988 I was on the verge of being executed while the massacre of political prisoners was underway on the direct orders of ayatollah Khomeini. I lied in “court” and saved my life; perhaps so that many years later one day I could stand in front of you, and go to other places, to describe the horrendous Holocaust of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The importance of narrating what I have been through is not simply to record the past. Today, as I speak with you, my interrogators who have now attained full political power in Iran have embarked on a new hideous era of torture.
Ladies and Gentlemen
For those of you who have not read my book, I would like to summarize its contents under three general headings: Love. Power and Torture.
The underlying topic of my book is love. Love for freedom; love for your homeland; love for the human being, and love for my spouse. These loves intermingle to take the name of Iran. They put on a human face and transform into a shield against torture.
My wife’s courageous gaze is omnipresent in it. It sees me and gives me strength. I was tortured in prison, while she was tortured outside it. Our common crime was love: The love that gave hope and created life in hell. After two and a half years in solitary confinement, I was finally allowed to write a six-line letter to my wife and receive an answer of equal length every month. My wife has published these letter in exile, which were censored as they travelled from prison to home and back, as a book titled “Love and Hope.”
The book also talks of power. I take the reader forty years back into my prison cell where I met a young cleric. A friendship developed between us. The cleric was young, kind and carried a smile. He was familiar with literature and love. When a leftist prisoner was brought into this prison cell, he appeared confused and tormented because of tortures he had been subjected to, and the cleric fed him with the only meat in the cell, using his bare hands, after saying his prayers.
Today people around the world know that cleric. Everybody knows ayatollah seyed Ali Khamenei as a dictator. That very hand that fed a leftist prisoner then today signs orders for the execution and torture of thousands of young Muslims.
My book also talks of other political figures, but ayatollah Khamenei’s journey is most instructive.
But I had just been put in the prison of the Islamic regime. My crime was that I worked at a newspaper belonging to a leftist political party that supported the Islamic Republic of Iran.
And in a regime in which no teardrop was supposed to shed, I learned of ideological torture.
I have described this kind of torture in my book and will say now that its purpose is to break the human being.
Ladies and Gentlemen
My feet still burn because of the tortures that I experienced thirty years ago. And when I received my first slap on the face on that midnight in 1983, a hand also showed me a handgun to represent the first article of the Iranian constitution. The next day, I experienced flogging.
A lifetime has passed since then, but life repeatedly takes me back to those horrifying days.
I was young and in love with freedom. I loved my country and literature. I dreamed that the world could be changed. I believed that one day love would be the rule of life. I took part in the Iranian revolution with this dream and that freedom would eventually prevail, that bread would be available for all, and that despotism would only be found in museums.
But I suddenly found myself in hell. For three months the only other person in my physical life was a person called the interrogator. His ideology of hate arose from his religious beliefs, his instruments were the whip and the handcuff.
I was blindfolded and defenseless like a deer that was trapped in the hands of a “brother.” In the Islamic Republic of Iran, “brother” is the general title of all believers. And all interrogators were “brothers” who carried pseudo names. My life was in their hands, particularly the one everyone called “brother Hamid.” Anything I wanted or had to do could only be done with his permission. This included eating, sleeping, awakening, etc. I could not even go to the bathroom without his approval. He viewed himself as the exclusive owner of all rights, defended the “sacred” regime and viewed me as a traitor, spy and immoral. He was the image of God while I was Satan. I had to “confess” to whatever he thought. Which I did. Whenever I lost consciousness under torture, during the nights and days that I was hung from a ceiling, and even when they forced me to eat my feces.
I had been turned from an idealist young man to the most detestable person at the hands of “brother Hamid.” I had to walk and bark like a dog. I had to spend 686 days in solitary confinement and then make “confessions” that would be used against me in my six minute “court trial”.
Make no mistake, this system of torture continues today. Since the electoral coup of 2009, it has entered into an even newer phase which I call “thug torture.” Today, cursing, the rape of women and even men have been added to the inventory of earlier routine and normal torture practices.
In those days, torturers looked at us as spies. Today, they call the young prisoners they have detained sexually deviant and prostitutes.
And this is the transition the Islamic Republic of Iran has made from a religious foundation to the rule of thugs.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Eventually I was released after six years of prison. When I came out, I did not know that my interrogator had become the ambassador of the Islamic regime in Tajikistan. But I immediately noticed that Iran had been turned into a huge prison.
Outside, security agents routinely summoned my wife and me, and subjected us to detailed interrogations over the most private aspects of our lives. I always thought that if George Orwell had been alive he would have found his Animal Farm story obsolete and would have written a new book, the “Republic of Thugs.”
I suspect this is the first time in history that thugs have full control over a country with a civilization and culture that has a history of thousands of years. These thugs are the very interrogators the image of one of whom I depict in my book. It is these very thugs who used to tell me and my wife, “You are outsiders here. Either get out or we shall take care of you.”
It is these thugs who last year used the most hideous tortures to destroy Iran’s newly founded pro-democracy movement. Thirty years ago, when “brother Hamid” and his colleagues were ruthlessly torturing us to get make us say that we were agents of the Soviet Union, much else was happening in secret. It took years for our voices to be heard outside the prison.
Today, they torture young girls and boys using modern torture techniques to force them to say that they are agents of the US and Israel. Fortunately, everything is now clear or becomes clearly rapidly and the world hears of what is going on.
Unfortunately torture is not limited to Iran. If we look around carefully, we will see hidden and apparent victims of torture all over the world.
In view of everything that is going on in Iran and elsewhere, “Letters to My Torturer” is more than just the memoirs of a torture victim. It deals with issues that stay heavy on the conscience of contemporary man. And of course it is astounding that in the 21st century man is still struggling with an issue that was the norm during his life as a caveman: torture.
*Speech in UCLA university