World News

Secret savagery: the Shah’s power guarded by goons

William Lowther November 20 1978
World News

Secret savagery: the Shah’s power guarded by goons

William Lowther November 20 1978

Secret savagery: the Shah’s power guarded by goons

They sometimes appear fleetingly on TV screens—the dark-haired men with olive skins who photograph Iranian student demonstrators outside the White House, or in Ottawa. They are agents of Savak, the Shah’s secret police force, which, despite the arrest in Tehran last week of a former director, is probably more powerful than ever in these days of turmoil around the Peacock Throne. When Savak, for example, recognizes a demonstrating student abroad (they usually wear masks to prevent this), it makes sure that his government grant is cut off and that his family back home is harassed. But this is child’s play compared with Savak’s other activities.

Best estimates put its strength at 20,000 agents—trained by America's Central Intelligence Agency (175 are currently attending an agency school in McLean, Virginia). They go on to take "graduate” courses in interrogation techniques from the Israeli secret service, MOSAD. A CIA offi-

cial boasted in an unguarded moment recently that Savak "does a better job for the Shah than the KGB does for the Kremlin.”

Savak is responsible for the internal security of the state. To this end it is empowered to act as the sole investigator of all alleged political crimes and to order the arrest of any person suspected of political crime. It is impossible to estimate how many prisoners Savak holds. In October, 1976, the Shah himself said there were perhaps 3,000. The deputy director of Savak, Parviz Sabeti, said later that there were 3,200. Estimates made by other sources say from 10,000 to 100,000.

Whatever their numbers, they suffer greatly at Savak’s hands. Amnesty International, the highly respected human rights organization, reports that during the period between arrest and trial "alleged methods of torture include whipping and beating, electric shocks, the extraction of nails and teeth, boiling water pumped into the rectum, heavy weights hung on the testicles, tying the prisoner to a white-hot metal table, insertion of a broken bottle into the anus, and rape.” The Shah acknowledges that torture is used. He recently told the Paris newspaper Le Monde: "We have learned sophisticated methods of torture from you. You use psychological methods to extract the truth: we do the same."

In North America, the organization is headed by one Mansour Rafizadgh, who operates between the Iranian embassy in Washington and the delegation headquarters at the United Nations. Reliable sources say that Savak agents are attached to the Iranian embassy in Ottawa and to consuls and Iranian business offices throughout the U.S. and Canada. They are also thick on the ground in Iranian communities.

Such goings-on so close to home make j a recent comment by President Jimmy Carter read strangely. Praising Iran’s “progressive administration” and deploring the fact that it was "opposed by some who don’t like democratic principles,” Carter concluded: “We wish the Shah all our best.” He must have forgotten about the men with the cameras. William Lowther