50. Editorial Note

On October 2, 1973, the Embassy in Iran reported the announcement by the Iranian Government that twelve people had been arrested for plotting to kidnap or kill the Shah, Empress, and other members of the Royal family. The plotters were said to be members of the outlawed Tudeh (Communist) Party and had reportedly confessed. (Telegram 7005 from Tehran, October 2; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, [no film number]) The Embassy followed up this report in telegram 7073, October 4, noting that the plotters were evidently arrested two weeks before the announcement. It added that an “element of seriousness” attached to the plot due to the backgrounds of the accused, which included a few women: “They are not university students, religious zealots or from any other social group usually represented among Iranian terrorists. Virtually all are members of educated literary/film-oriented class which passes for intellectuals in Iran.” As such, their families were among the beneficiaries of the White Revolution, and, given the close-knit nature of Iranian society, members of their families or social group could have known of the activities. (Ibid.)

On October 25, the Iranian Students Association in the United States disseminated a press release to members of the U.S. Congress, charging that the Iranian Government had actually arrested the twelve accused one year prior to the alleged plot. The release stated that these individuals included some of Iran’s leading artists, who were noted for their opposition to the Shah. According to the students, “in the last two years, the Iranian Government has executed more than 109 political prisoners not to mention those who have been killed under torture. The [Page 167]fate of the 12 intellectuals is no exception to this Rule especially due to the intensity of their charges.” (Ibid., Central Files 1970–73, POL 29 IRAN)

On November 14, four Members of Congress, Parren Mitchell, Ronald Dellums, Pete Stark, and Shirley Chisholm, circulated a note to their colleagues, asking their support for letters to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Thomas Morgan, and to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright, “requesting that immediate pressure be put upon the Iranian dictator to restore to his country due judicial process.” The United States, they wrote, was supporting a regime which reportedly had incarcerated 25,000 Iranian citizens on political grounds. They called attention to the arrest of the “dissenting intellectuals,” adding that “many of the twelve were already in prison at the time of the alleged conspiracy.” (Ibid.)

Two weeks later, the Department of State requested an immediate update from the Embassy in telegram 233287 to Tehran, November 28. (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files, [no film number]) In telegram 8426 from Tehran, November 29, the Embassy replied that although the conspirators had been arrested a few weeks before the public announcement of their plot, local security authorities were adamant that none was in jail at the time the plot was discovered. All twelve had confessed and their cases had been referred to a military court. (Ibid.)

On December 27, Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations Marshall Wright replied to the Congressmen on Kissinger’s behalf in a letter to one of the signers, John J. Moakley. The success of the assassination plot, he wrote, “would have been another victory for terrorism and an additional precedent for the assassination of political leaders, and could have had an adverse impact on the stability of Iran and the well-being of its people.” Wright noted that Iranian police and judicial procedures were Iran’s to determine and were different from American ones, resembling the Napoleonic Code of France. He concluded with praise of Iran’s economic and social progress, its helpful role in the Arab-Israeli dispute, and its refusal to join the oil embargo. (Ibid., Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 IRAN)

Telegram 137 from Tehran, January 7, 1974, notified the Department that the accused were being tried in a military court because a conspiracy to kill the Shah was considered “directly connected with the very existence and national identity of Iran.” (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files, [no film number]) All twelve were found guilty, and seven were sentenced to death, according to telegram 272 from Tehran, January 10. (Ibid.) In telegram 324 from Tehran, January 15, the Embassy reported a telephone threat in which the caller claimed that if the Shah “executes any of the twelve prisoners of war in violation of the Geneva [Page 168]Convention, the Bazargan Brigade will execute four Americans; men, women and children for every prisoner of war killed by the Shah.” (Ibid.) According to telegrams 611 and 1340 from Tehran, January 24 and February 19, five of the seven death sentences were commuted to life in prison, after the accused repented of their errors and threw themselves on the mercy of the throne. (Ibid.)