In 1979, Iranian students marched in the streets of Washington, D.C. Joined by sympathetic Americans, they decried the “oppression” in their home country and chanted “Death to the Shah.” Soon after, as President Jimmy Carter abandoned America’s longtime ally and stood aside, Ayatollah Khomeinei returned from Paris and began the process of dismantling the shah’s Iran and installing a new, Islamic regime.
It was a new day. A new dark day.
Western politicians steeped in moral equivalency and convinced America is to blame for all that is wrong in the world may still try to convince themselves that the mad theocracy in Tehran represents the people of Iran. They may fantasize about accommodation, finding middle ground and welcoming the ayatollahs into the community of civilized nations. That does not make it true.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a brutal, medieval autocracy, which remains in power through the almost unimaginable use of brute force and savagery.
Iran executes more people per capita than any other nation on the planet. The total number of people executed each year in Iran exceeds that in any other nation other than China, which has a population 17 times as large. Capital punishment is carried out for nonviolent crimes, and according to Iran’s penal code girls as young as 9 and boys as young as 15 can be executed.
In what passes for the judicial system of the Islamic Republic, individuals can be sentenced to death for vague charges such as “waging war against God” or criticizing the supreme leader. They can also be killed for being homosexual. Just to make sure the individuals executed appreciate the gravity of their offenses, they are often flogged before being killed. The Iranian Penal Code provides for a number of methods of execution, including hanging, firing squad, crucifixion and stoning.
Capitalizing on the horrifyingly large numbers of executions, Tehran recently enacted legislation allowing for the sale of organs from prisoners who are killed. Buyers can now order their new organs in advance and receive them immediately following execution.
The use of deadly force by the regime is not confined to judicially sanctioned executions, however. During the recent protests that rocked Iran, peaceful protesters were shot in the head by Iranian Revolutionary Guard snipers positioned on nearby rooftops. When questioned about the practice, the Iranian interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli, responded “We shot them in both the head and the legs, not just the head. We also hit the legs.”
The use of deadly force against protesters was apparently adopted in response to the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “The Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order,” the supreme leader said in a meeting with senior officials in November 2019.
In some respects, those murdered by the thuggish Iranian regime may be the lucky ones. The ayatollahs also employ the systemic use of torture to crush dissent and maintain their hold on power. Prisoners held incommunicado and denied any contact with family or friends are beaten, shocked, whipped and brutalized endlessly until they are willing to say anything to make the pain stop. Coerced confessions are often the only evidence upon which convictions are based.
Once convicted, even if not executed, prisoners may be subject to almost unimaginably barbaric punishments. In Iran, the amputation of fingers and hands as punishment for alleged crimes is routine. In 2018, Iran’s judiciary amputated the hand of a 34-year-old man who was convicted of stealing sheep.
This is the true face of the regime in Tehran. This is what the brave people of Iran are fighting against. We have turned our eyes away long enough. It is time to stand with the people of Iran and effect regime change.
That is not an argument for conventional war or open hostilities. It is an argument for a policy that will consign the ayatollahs and their henchmen to the dustbin of history.
U.S. sanctions, once again made meaningful by President Trump, are crushing the Iranian economy, bankrupting the ayatollahs’ terror machine and producing domestic unrest. The ripple effects are being felt as far away as Beirut, where Hezbollah, no longer flush with Iranian cash, finds itself struggling to survive.
Stay the course. Maintain the pressure. Systemically increase the pressure.
Confront Iranian proxies across the Middle East. This does not require the use of American conventional forces. It will require financial and military support to our allies, and action by our intelligence agencies and special operations forces. Now, as the Iranian regime gasps for air in the grip of crippling sanctions, is the time to crush the Houthis, the Iraqi Shia militia and Iran’s other minions.
Ramp up our social media campaign inside Iran. The recent action by the Iranian regime to shut down the Internet inside the country shows just how frightened the ayatollahs are of the truth and of their own people understanding the world stands with them in their struggle. Ensure the Iranian people know that the United States and its allies in the Middle East are with them and that their future is one free of oppression and fear.
Maintain a robust conventional military presence in the Middle East, based on our existing relationships with key allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Ensure that as the walls close in on the mullahs in Tehran they fully understand that there are no military options for them that do not result in their destruction. Ensure that our allies understand that we are resolute and that we will be there when and if they need us.
Forty years ago, Iran, once a largely secular nation and one of the world’s great civilizations, was overrun by barbarians determined to drag it back into some twisted version of the Dark Ages. For all that time, more than a generation, the people of Iran have lived in a nightmare and endured horrors most Americans cannot even imagine. It is time for us to do the right thing. It is time for the nightmare to end.
• Sam Faddis is a former CIA operations officer with experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe.