Accepting funds from the CIA

Supporters of the Iran Tribunal have desperately been trying to defend their abandonment of working class principle. Yassamine Mather reports on the contortions

The Iran Tribunal – convened to put the Tehran regime in the dock for its massacre of 5,000-10,000 political prisoners in 1988 – took place in London over June 18-22. While it largely went unnoticed by the public in Britain, it caused uproar amongst sections of the Iranian left.

The tribunal was not the first well-financed attempt to divert the genuine anger of the Iranian people, and their hatred of the Islamic regime (in its many factions), towards dubious ends. Similar stunts have taken place before under the auspices of so-called NGOs – which turn out to be little more than fronts for the United States and the European Union.

The National Endowment for Democracy – which organised and paid for the Iran Tribunal – is a case in point. The NED is in fact a not very covert operation run by the CIA. This is from an Information Clearing House interview with a former CIA agent: “The NED is supposedly a private, non-government, non-profit foundation, but it receives a yearly appropriation from the US Congress. The money is channelled through four ‘core foundations’. These are the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (linked to the Democratic Party); the International Republican Institute (Republican Party); the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity; and the Centre for International Private Enterprise (US Chamber of Commerce).”1

The NED’s NGO status provides the fiction that recipients of its largesse are receiving ‘private’ rather than US government money. The website explains this further:

“Washington’s formula for regime change underwent a makeover in the 1980s. In a bid to ensure US political and economic interests were safeguarded, CIA-backed coup d’etats ousted democratically elected leaders from Iran to Chile. In their place were brutal dictatorships and governments that committed heinous crimes against their people … The concept of democracy promotion is simple: finance, train, and politically back local opposition forces around the world that support the American agenda.

“On this very subject Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former secretary of state Colin Powell said, ‘We do this through surrogates and non-governmental organisation and through people who are less suspecting of the evil that may lurk behind their actions than perhaps they were before. Have we learned some lessons in that regard? You bet! Do we do it better? You bet! Is it still just as heinous as it has always been? You bet!’ So, while the goal remains the same, it is no longer the CIA, but the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners spearheading the effort.”2

The NED is also heavily involved in Egypt. According to the Los Angeles Times, “In Egypt, the four US organisations under attack for fomenting unrest with illegal foreign funding were all connected to the endowment [NED]. Two – the GOP’s International Republican Institute and the Democratic Party’s National Democratic Institute – are among the groups that make up the endowment’s core constituents. The two other indicted groups, Freedom House and the International Centre for Journalists, receive funds from the endowment.”3

NED defenders

It should be obvious to anyone claiming to be on the left that genuine human rights, workers’ rights and prisoners’ rights are not the real concern of such an organisation. And the fact that so many former political prisoners of Iran’s Islamic dictatorship, including those who survived the dark days of the 1988 mass murder in Iranian jails, stayed away from the Iran Tribunal charade and wrote extensively on the reasons they did not attend is a credit to the Iranian left – comrades such as Homayoun Ivani, Vazir Fathi, Mojdeh Arassi, Farrokh Ghahremani and many others. The fact that many groups of the exiled Iranian left have chosen to keep silent about this issue – or, worse, have actually supported the tribunal – is a sad reflection of their bankrupt politics.

Sections of the Iranian left, desperate for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, frustrated by three decades of exile and eager for funding (or even the hope of a place in Iran’s post-Islamic republic future), are determined to cooperate with US-funded groups and meanwhile pretend to be offended by accusations of supping with the devil – they are objectively aiding the drive towards imperialist military intervention against Iran.

Others have simply been duped. Despite long years in Europe or North America, many of these comrades are still not at home with the language of their adopted country … and obsessively write on the internet in Farsi. Many are clearly ignorant of what the NED stands for and some seem even to be unaware of the politics of the Conservative Party, prominent members of which were, of course, involved in the Iran Tribunal.

So, instead of responding to the valid points raised by those of us opposed to this stunt, they attempt to turn the tables. In desperation, organisations such as Rahe Kargar (Heyat Ejraii), which warn of the trap of accepting regime-change funds, are accused of supporting Iran’s Islamic regime! Conspiracy theory was always the forté of some of the individuals and groups going down this route. However, this is really unacceptable behaviour – especially when such accusations are thrown simply as a means of avoiding giving a straight answer to a straight question: what is the role of the NED in this tribunal?

This is definitely the case when it comes to the main group supporting the tribunal: one of the many Fedayeen Minority factions – this time the one headed by a comrade Tavakol. Those of us who know this former member of the central committee of Fedayeen are not surprised that the man who believed socialism can be built in Iran with the help of Soviet industrial might is now ready to accept regime-change funds (not just for the Iran Tribunal, but also for a feminist website associated with his group, Shahrzad News). Apparently anyone who does not understand the ‘revolutionary’ logic of accepting such handouts must be an agent of the Islamic regime!

For others, such as Rahe Kargar (Comite Markazi), who have in recent times taken a distance from revolutionary politics, justifying the NED’s close connection with the tribunal comes easy. The fact that the tribunal’s chair is directly associated with the NED is merely ‘coincidence’. They too claim that those like Rahe Kargar (Comite Ejrai) who have exposed these links are covertly supporting the Islamic regime.

A Comite Markazi central committee leaflet (in Farsi) states that because the Iran Tribunal is a “single-issue campaign” it does not need to take a position on the danger of imperialist military attack.4 First of all, at a time when war threatens to devastate Iran – with serious, unpredictable consequence for the Middle East and the world – single-issue campaigns seem a bit irrelevant. However, in this particular case the problem is far worse: irrespective of the ignorance of some, the Iran Tribunal has become an integral part of the plans for regime change.

In this respect the response of one of the tribunal’s main spokespersons to a question posed by a TV reporter is illuminating. In response to the seemingly naive question, “Why aren’t the organisers of the tribunal taking a position regarding the threat of war against Iran, when asked to do so?”, a tribunal spokesperson replied: “We are not a political organisation. That is why we didn’t take a position on the issue of war.” Yet at the end of the same interview the worthy spokesperson remarks: “Oh yes, we are for the overthrow of the Islamic regime.” So being against war is political, but calling for the overthrow of the Islamic regime isn’t?

A third set of arguments relies on such stupid ideas that, out of respect for readers of this paper, I will not go into too much detail about them. But to give you an idea of their banality, let me quote a sentence from someone who defends NED sponsorship: “NGOs do not necessarily follow the policies of the governments that fund them.”

This might sometimes be true, but it is clearly not so with the NED. Here is what George W Bush said of the NED on the occasion of its 20th anniversary in November 2003, six months after the invasion of Iraq: “I’m glad that Republicans and Democrats and independents are working together to advance human liberty.” He ended his address this way: “Each of you at this endowment is fully engaged in the great cause of liberty. And I thank you. May god bless your work.”5

So let us reiterate the facts. The Iran Tribunal is backed by NED funds and there is no doubt about the NED’s role in the US. There are dozens of sites promoting its work and they all verify what we have written. The NED is not just another NGO.

The Obama administration budgeted $80 million for it in 2009, according to the White House website and, of course, US radical and progressive sites are full of detailed reports about the NED, its funding and its raison d’être. Prominent US intellectuals have certainly exposed its close connections with the CIA.

Tory connection

NED funding was not our only concern. There was also the question of the legal team, which consisted of an impressive group of rightwingers. Sir Geoffrey Nice is associated with the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. John Cooper QC is another Tory luminary on the panel.

I have heard it said that the reason the intellectuals and lawyers involved are not radical is “because we don’t live in the 1960s and 70s”. Apparently there are no radical leftwing academics nowadays. I have news for those who think like that: not only are there many US academics, intellectuals and writers who consider themselves leftwing and oppose imperialism without having any illusions in Islamic fundamentalism; some have set up an alternative to the NED. They have called their NGO (set up with very limited funds) the International Endowment for Democracy. It was set up in 2006 and is “a new foundation of progressive American scholars, lawyers and activists dedicated to promoting real democracy in the country that needs it most: the USA.”6

Their website was created to “critique the anti-democratic work of the National Endowment for Democracy” and supporters include: Bertell Ollman, the founder and president, author of many works on Marx; the late Howard Zinn, author of A people’s history of the US; political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal; Annette Rubinstein, a lecturer at the New York Marxist School; Gore Vidal, author of numerous essays, novels and plays; Ellen Meiksins Wood, author of Democracy against capitalism; David Harvey, author of The new imperialism; and so on. So the world has not lost all its radical and progressive lawyers, academics and intellectuals: they just do not happen to support the ‘non-political’ rightwing agenda of the NED and its Iran Tribunal. On the contrary, they are actually very much involved in exposing such dubious projects and their CIA funders.

Some have asked how the Iranian left can be so stupid not to see where all this is leading. I am afraid the answer to this question is not that simple. Yes, some are ignorant of the facts, while other do not follow non-Iranian affairs, viewing world politics through a single lens: that of opposition to Iran’s Islamic regime. Of course, the regime has created such a hell on earth that one can understand the motivation of such people and their thirst for justice. However, imperialism and its sponsored NGOs do not sympathise with the mainly leftwing political prisoners who were massacred in their thousands in the summer of 1988 – what did they say then when the executions were actually taking place, when socialist opponents of the regime were being targeted by regime death squads? Why is it that they have suddenly become interested in the events of more than two decades ago? It is no coincidence that the Iran Tribunal took place at the height of western propaganda, at the time when the spectre of war overshadows all issues relating to Iran.

That is why we point the finger not at the naive and ignorant, but at those amongst the Iranian left who have been corrupted by regime-change funds – unprincipled groups moving rapidly to the right. These types are impressed by the rise of the former leftwinger, Jalal Taleban, now the president of Iraq, and can imagine themselves eventually occupying high office in Tehran. No doubt some of them actually believe their actions will benefit the working class, oppressed women, the Kurdish people … However, when members of the ‘vanguard’ accept imperialist funds they have truly crossed the line.

Finally, because Hands Off the People of Iran has been the butt of much criticism for our principled stance on the Iran Tribunal, let me repeat the three basic tenets of our campaign: No to imperialist war! No to sanctions! No to the theocratic regime! I would like to use this opportunity to thank comrades – in particular former political prisoners – who have supported us in the face of the barrage of insults from the spineless left.

We have said it many times and I emphasise it again: we are for the revolutionary overthrow of the Islamic republic – all its factions, all its structures. But this can only be achieved from below, through mass action. Any other type of regime change – a coup d’etat, replacement by military action, the coming to power of the many-coloured alliances or configurations proposed by the US and its allies – will have one major victim: the Iranian working class. In the capitalist world we live in, only fools and those in search of political positions can envisage ‘liberation’ through the NED.


1. ‘Former CIA agent tells how US infiltrates “civil society” to overthrow governments’:






Regime change must come from below

People’s Mujahedin: in the pay of imperialism

Sanctions and malware are preparatory acts of war against Iran. Those who condemn the crimes of the regime should also condemn the crimes of imperialism and its agents, writes Yassamine Mather

As the prospect of failure of the third round of talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries looms, the US-led soft war on Iran has been ratcheted up with the threat of further sanctions and the launching of a powerful computer virus targeting Iran’s nuclear research facilities. The virus has already spread to the commercial sectors, including the oil and banking industries.

According to an article in The New York Times, president Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on Iran’s computer systems at its nuclear enrichment facilities.[1] The plan had originated during the Bush presidency, but its first successful use came with the spreading of the Stuxnet virus two years ago.

The new virus – code-named Sholeh (flame) – is supposed to be 20 times more disruptive to computer systems than Stuxnet. Flame’s main targets are in Iran and so far thousands of government and corporate computers have been affected. The threat from Flame is disguised by the fact that it appears to unsuspecting users as a legitimate Microsoft program.

The reaction of Iran’s ruling circles had been mixed. One faction of the regime claimed that the US and Israel are abusing a grey area in international law – that of Cyber warfare. They demanded that Iran should complain to the United Nations. Meanwhile, the Kayhan newspaper, which is associated with supreme leader Ali Khamenei, followed his defiant line, delivered in a speech on June 3: “Any attack by Israel on Iran will blow back on the Jewish state like thunder.”

Last week saw the collapse of the latest round of talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency ahead of the June 18-19 5+1 talks with Iran. The IAEA wanted to visit Iran’s Parchin military base, where Iranian scientists are alleged to have tested explosive triggers for nuclear weapons. Iran denies that it has been conducting such experiments, but it has refused to allow IAEA officials near the site since 2005.

For the Iranian people, failure of the talks means continued sanctions, job losses and financial hardship. Bread prices rose by 20% on June 9 and Iran’s Central Bank has released a chart which shows a steep rise in the price of most basic foodstuffs during the past year. The price of chicken is 57.1% more than last year, and that of red meat has increased 39% (beef has gone up by 48.5%). The price of vegetables by 78.6%.

Iran’s oil sales are down by about 600,000 barrels per day and shipments of Iranian crude are expected to drop further when a European Union oil embargo comes into effect on July 1. Tehran is already estimated to have lost more than $10 billion in oil revenues this year.

Regime change funds

Sanctions and malware are not the only weapons being used in the soft war against Iran. The US, Canada and the European Union are allocating considerable sums of money for propaganda against the current regime and for regime change from above.

Various ‘alternative governments’ and campaigns (for human rights, women’s rights and even workers’ rights) are being funded. Several websites, radio and TV stations have come up with proposals for workshops or a tribunal on the regime – fronted by a rainbow of the Iranian opposition, but backed by US/Canadian and EU regime change funds. A number of comrades at the Hands Off the People of Iran conference in April of this year raised the need to name and shame such groups. This article is an attempt to start a debate on the subject.

In the past we had become used to the ‘usual suspects’ being among the beneficiaries of regime change largesse: the Iranian opposition headed by those nouveaux riches Pahlavis, the family of the former shah; liberal bourgeois alternatives, headed nowadays by former supporters of the Islamic regime; and individuals whose fierce support for the market has positioned them in the extreme right of the political spectrum. There are ‘personalities’ such as Mohsen Sazegara (former Islamist politician turned neoliberal ideologue, a darling of both the Bush and Clinton administrations); and groups like the People’s Mujahedin (MEK), rightly compared by Owen Bennett-Jones[2] with the Iraqi National Congress, whose cooperation with the US paved the way for the 2003 invasion.

However, what is new and more worrying is the way in which sections of the left (to be precise, the Stalinist left) attempt to justify acceptance of financial support from US/EU regime change funds. Of course, regime change against Iran has a long history: a lot has been invested in it and it works in mysterious ways.

As we know from our experience in Hopi, political campaigns, publishing journals and bulletins, organising broadcasts, etc all cost money and clearly the weaker, more spineless sections of the Iranian left have been lured by the prospect of regime-change funding. In general the Iranian beneficiaries of regime change funds can be divided into two distinct categories:

1. Those who admit accepting foreign funds: mainly liberal and rightwing forces, such as monarchists, bourgeois republicans, former Revolutionary Guards like Sazegara and former Islamist greens (nowadays social democratic or liberal activists). These groups and individuals may publicise the source of their funding to ‘prove’ their importance, their relevance.

2. Those who receive such funds, but refuse to admit it, mainly because they still would like to masquerade as part of the left. These include sections of the Fedayeen Minority, Kurdish groups such as Komaleh, various splits from what was Iran’s Communist Party and a number of well-meaning, but dubious campaigns.

Those who supply the funds are often keen to unite this spineless ‘left’ into single campaigns alongside rightwing forces keen to brag about the source, and that is why even the most secret donations are eventually exposed. One such example is the International Tribunal for Iran,[3] which manages to unite sections of both the left and right, including those proud of their connections with organisations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (see below).

Hopi activists have been approached a number of times to lend their support to this campaign. In the past our response, in line with Hopi’s aims and objectives, has been: ‘We can only support campaigns against the Iran regime that have a clear policy in opposition to the US-led war drive. Can you give us the assurance we need – for example, by adding a clear statement against war and sanctions?’ This simple request has often been met with silence. In the meantime sections of the Iranian left – mainly comrades formerly associated with the Fedayeen Minority – have traced the funding for this tribunal and denounced its association with regime change from above.

Recent attempts to get Hopi involved in publicising and participating in this event led us to look more closely at the tribunal and its steering committee. Most of what is produced below is from the tribunal’s own website, as well as articles written by comrades involved in campaigns to defend political prisoners in Iran, and ex-members of the Fedayeen Minority. I am particularly grateful to former Fedayeen comrade Homayoun Ivani, who has written extensively on this subject.

‘International tribunal’

Starting in July 1988 and lasting about five months, the systematic execution of political prisoners inside Iranian jails took place. Thousands of supporters of left groups, including the Fedayeen, Peykar, Rahe Kargar and the Tudeh Party of Iran, as well as members of the Mujahedin, were slaughtered.

Leading figures within the Islamic regime, including ayatollahs Hossein Ali Montazeri and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, have admitted that such a massacre took place and many of us who lost comrades during those terrible few months want to hold leaders of the Islamic regime to account for this and other crimes. However, we do not wish to be associated with some of the forces involved in the tribunal. On the contrary, we see their involvement as an insult to the memory of communists and socialists who sacrificed their lives in defence of the Iranian working class.

The original idea behind such a tribunal came from the left and many of us in Workers Left Unity Iran supported something like the Russell Tribunal from the 1960s to investigate the mass murder of political prisoners in Iran. However, one of the of the main contributors to the funding of this tribunal is the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, whose founder, Payam Akhavan, chairs the tribunal’s steering committee. The IHRDC until 2009 received large sums from the US state department’s Human Rights and Democracy Fund.[4]

Akhavan is also associated with Human Rights and Democracy for Iran, known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, which, according to its own website, relies on the “generous support of a diverse array of funders”. Approximately 50% of its support comes from US foundations, 34% from European foundations, and 16% from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an NGO funded by the US Congress.[5] The NED was set up in 1983 during Ronald Reagan’s presidency to ‘promote democracy’. It has supported more than 1,000 projects abroad that are ‘working for democratic goals’ in more than 90 countries. Other beneficiaries of the NED’s Iran donations include the Centre for International Private Enterprise, which aims to “raise awareness among Iranians of means in which civil society can pursue reforms that address their economic, social and political problems”.

So who is on the steering committee of the International Tribunal for Iran?

Payam Akhavan himself was a legal advisor to the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda at The Hague (1994-2000) and has served with the United Nations in Cambodia, East Timor and Guatemala. He has appeared as counsel in leading cases before the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the European Court of Human Rights and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. In 2005, he was selected by the World Economic Forum as a “young global leader”. One would have thought all that would be enough for the left to keep well clear of him.

John Cooper QC, chair of the tribunal, has advised the government of Slovakia on human rights policy and the Cambodian regime on war crimes trials. In 2004 he was invited to present a paper on human rights in Beijing by the British Council.

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC has prosecuted several cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. His main claim to fame results from the cases against Dario Kordi? and Goran Jelisi? – both found guilty of war crimes. Both were undoubtedly criminals, but we all know the US/EU agenda regarding these trials.

In summary, the tribunal is yet another example of a potentially worthy cause corrupted by regime change funds. One day the Iranian people themselves will investigate the massacre of the political prisoners in 1988, but no-one on the left should touch the current ‘tribunal’. As Homayoun Ivani has put it, the executions cannot be investigated in a vacuum: the historical background and its occurrence at the end of the cold war should be taken into account. In the tradition of such liberal institutions, there is no mention of the politics of the victims by the organisers. I could not find a single reference on the tribunal’s website to the fact that many were communists.

One of the ‘left’ broadcasters that is publicising the tribunal is Shahrzad News, which is a ‘feminist news agency’ running a Persian and English-language website. Shahrzad was one of 11 organisations to benefit recently from a €15 million EU fund to “improve reporting of human rights issues”, distributed via the Dutch government. Its international solidarity activities include gathering messages of support for the Iranian people from a group of Dutch parliamentarians.[6] These include Liberals and Christian Democrats, not to mention out and out racists.

It is difficult to understand what possessed an organisation, formally of the left and indeed still claiming to be of the left, to broadcast messages of solidarity from MPs whose opposition to the Islamic regime has nothing to do with support for the Iranian people, still less for the Iranian working class, but is driven by nationalistic Islamophobia. The left, and in particular the Iranian left, should steer well clear of such forces.

While some comrades find it difficult to comprehend how sections of the Iranian the left could sink so low as to accept such funding, those of us who remember these individuals’ eagerness to accept Soviet and Iraqi money are not surprised. These are no defenders of the working class: they have no understanding of class politics. For them revolution is the act of a vanguard ‘leading the masses’ at whatever cost: the end justifies the means. Many of us have now witnessed how in reality the dubious means they use can turn out to define the end.

In remembering comrades executed not just in 1988, but throughout the 1980s and later, we should first and foremost remember the ideals and the politics of those who were executed. Many were Marxists, defenders of the Iranian working class, anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists. They would be horrified to discover the kind of funding used to set up a tribunal in their name.

The genuine left in Iran is staying well clear of such temptations. We cannot and will not tarnish the memory of comrades who died so courageously in the dungeons of the Islamic regime.


1. The New York Times June 1.

2. O Bennett-Jones, ‘Terrorists? Us?’:


4. See


6. See ‘Dutch parliamentarians address the Iranian people’: