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Justice department’s concerns ignored over $400 million payment to Iran

Posted by Tip Staff - August 04, 2016


Senior officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ) were overruled after they objected to the Obama administration’s plan to send $400 million in cash to Iran at the same time that American hostages were released, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. “People knew what it was going to look like, and there was concern the Iranians probably did consider it a ransom payment,” a source familiar with the interagency discussions told the Journal. A concerted push by the State Department helped the plan go through over the DOJ’s concerns. Because the money transfer occurred simultaneously with the release of the hostages, it has been criticized as a ransom payment. Foreign policy experts have also stressed the unusual nature of the transaction: The money was delivered in foreign currency to circumvent U.S. law forbidding transactions with Iran involving the U.S. dollar.
The payment’s questionable nature has disturbed members of Congress in both the House and Senate. “I am especially bothered by the efforts made to conceal this transaction—including delivery on wooden pallets by unmarked plane, and the deliberate change in currency to avoid sanctions,” Rep. John Katko (R-NY) said in a statement. “The Iranian regime has continued to suppress basic human rights and support foreign terrorist organizations. Coupled with the dangerous, broken policy of the nuclear deal with Iran, this incident, which appears to be a ransom payment, emboldens our enemies and degrades our ability to negotiate from a position of strength, while putting more Americans at risk of being captured.”
Since the January hostage release, Iran has already abducted at least two more Americans and at least three other Western dual-nationals. The Journal story revealed that the Iranians are trying to use these hostages as leverage to extract additional money from the administration.
Ransom payments are against U.S. government policy, as President Barack Obama stated on Wednesday, and as both the White House and State Department emphasized Wednesday and Thursday in their daily briefings. Administration officials continue to contend that the payments do not constitute ransom.
Iran executed a gay teenager last month in contravention of international law, which prohibits the application of the death penalty to minors, Amnesty International revealed on Tuesday. 
Hassan Afshar, 19, was hanged in the Arak prison on July 18 after being convicted of “forced male-to-male anal intercourse.” He was arrested at age 17 and accused along with two other youths of forcing a teenage boy to have sex with them. Afshar claimed that the relations were consensual and that his accuser had engaged in same-sex relations previously.

“Iran has proved that its sickening enthusiasm for putting juveniles to death, in contravention of international law, knows no bounds,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty’s deputy Middle East and North Africa programme director. “Hassan Afshar … had no access to a lawyer and the judiciary rushed through the investigation and prosecution, convicting and sentencing him to death within two months of his arrest as though they could not execute him quickly enough.”
In its report, Amensty explained that “rape does not fall into the category of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law.” Moreover, the complete criminalization of male to male sexual intercourse in Iran means that if the act “had been deemed consensual, the teenager who accused Hassan Afshar of rape would himself have been sentenced to death.”
Volker Beck, a German Green Party MP and an LGBT rights activist, told the Jerusalem Post that “Iran is a signatory to a UN treaty that does not completely ban the death penalty but limits capital punishment to severe crimes and outlaws the execution of juveniles.”
“In the court case Toonen vs Australia, Geneva [United Nations Human Rights Committee] determined that the criminal prosecution of Homosexuality violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Iran violates, with this execution, in three ways, its human rights obligations. Our foreign policy should strongly address the human rights situations in Iran and Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Stefan Schaden, an LGBT rights activist and spokesman for the European ‘STOP THE BOMB’ campaign, told the Post that “Consensual homosexual conduct remains illegal under Iran’s Sharia law and is punished with public flogging or even execution. While the Islamic State throws gays from rooftops, the Islamic Republic [of Iran] hangs them.”
“Iran’s Islamist regime proves again with its actions that it is anything but ‘moderate’. While the US administration and the European Union promote trade with Iran as if they were the regime’s chamber of commerce, they willingly ignore the latest mass executions, arrest waves, the financing of terror and the horrible human rights situation. Iran’s barbaric henchmen promote and enact deadly homophobia and force homosexuals to flee the country,” he added.
A 2008 Wikileaks dispatch estimated that Iran executed between 4,000 and 6,000 homosexual men and women since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran frequently charges gay men with rape in cases of consensual sex  in order to justify the application of the death penalty.
The report of Afshar’s execution comes on the heel of reports that Iran executed as many as 20 Kurdish activists earlier this week.
There were at least 966 executions in Iran last year, the highest total in ten years. Over the past decade, the number of executions in Iran has climbed and reached record yearly highs in each of the three years of President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure. Last year, Shaheed called the execution rate during Rouhani’s term in office “an unprecedented assault on the right to life.” Rouhani’s appointed Justice Minister, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, earned the nickname “minister of murder” for having overseen the summary executions of tens of thousands of dissidents in the late 1980’s.
In Should the U.S. Take Iran’s Human Rights Problem More Seriously?, which was published in the April 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, senior editor Ben Cohen highlighted Shaheed’s efforts to document Iran’s human rights situation, which has worsened since the election of Hassan Rouhani as president in 2013. (via TheTower.org)
Widows of two of the 11 Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics finally got the official recognition they wanted from the International Olympic Committee during the first-ever IOC-led ceremony at the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro yesterday (August 3). “This is closure for us. This is incredibly important. We waited 44 years to have this remembrance and recognition for our loved ones who were so brutally killed in Munich,” Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre, told reporters at the newly established Place of Mourning. The Place of Mourning in the Olympic Village incorporates two stones from ancient Olympia encased in glass. The Place of Mourning will continue to be a feature at every Olympics. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach read out the names of each of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and the German policeman who died in the worst terror attack in Olympic history. (via Israel21.org)


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