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Ex-Hostages Say Iran Leader-Elect a Captor

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-5108282,00.html Ex-Hostages Say Iran Leader-Elect a Captor Thursday June 30, 2005 4:31 AM By RUSS BYNUM
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 29, 2005
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      Ex-Hostages Say Iran Leader-Elect a Captor

      Thursday June 30, 2005 4:31 AM


      Associated Press Writer

      SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - A quarter-century after they were
      taken captive in Iran, five former American hostages
      say they got an unexpected reminder of their 444-day
      ordeal in the bearded face of Iran's new

      Watching coverage of Iran's presidential election on
      television dredged up 25-year-old memories that
      prompted four of the former hostages to exchange
      e-mails. And those four realized they shared the same
      conclusion - the firm belief that President-elect
      Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been one of their Iranian

      ``This is the guy. There's no question about it,''
      said former hostage Chuck Scott, a retired Army
      colonel who lives in Jonesboro, Ga. ``You could make
      him a blond and shave his whiskers, put him in a zoot
      suit and I'd still spot him.''

      Scott and former hostages David Roeder, William J.
      Daugherty and Don A. Sharer told The Associated Press
      on Wednesday they have no doubt Ahmadinejad, 49, was
      one of the hostage-takers. A fifth ex-hostage, Kevin
      Hermening, said he reached the same conclusion after
      looking at photos.

      Not everyone agrees. Former hostage and retired Air
      Force Col. Thomas E. Schaefer said he doesn't
      recognize Ahmadinejad, by face or name, as one of his

      Several former students among the hostage-takers also
      said Ahmadinejad did not participate. And a close aide
      to Ahmadinejad denied the president-elect took part in
      the seizure of the embassy or in holding Americans

      Militant students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on
      Nov. 4, 1979, and held 52 Americans hostage for 444
      days to protest Washington's refusal to hand over the
      U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for trial. The
      shah fled Iran earlier that year after he was
      overthrown by the Islamic Revolution.

      The aide, Meisan Rowhani, told the AP from Tehran that
      Ahmadinejad was asked during recent private meetings
      if he had a role in the hostage taking. Rowhani said
      he replied, ``No. I believed that if we do that the
      world will swallow us.''

      Another former hostage, Paul Lewis, said he thought
      Ahmadinejad looked vaguely familiar when he saw a
      picture of him on the news last week, but the former
      Marine embassy guard said he could not be certain.

      ``My memories were more of the gun barrel, not the
      people behind it,'' said Lewis, who lives in the
      central Illinois town of Sidney.

      Scott and Roeder both said they were sure Ahmadinejad
      was present while they were interrogated.

      ``I can absolutely guarantee you he was not only one
      of the hostage-takers, he was present at my personal
      interrogation,'' Roeder said in an interview from his
      home in Pinehurst, N.C.

      Daugherty, who worked for the CIA in Iran and now
      lives in Savannah, said a man he's convinced was
      Ahmadinejad was among a group of ringleaders escorting
      a Vatican representative during a visit in the early
      days of the hostage crisis.

      ``It's impossible to forget a guy like that,''
      Daugherty said. ``Clearly the way he acted, the fact
      he gave orders, that he was older, most certainly he
      was one of the ringleaders.''

      Ahmadinejad, the hard-line mayor of Tehran, was
      declared winner Wednesday of Iran's presidential
      runoff election, defeating one of Iran's best-known
      statesmen, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. The stunning
      upset put conservatives firmly in control of all
      branches of power in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

      Scott, Roeder, Daugherty and Sharer said they have
      been exchanging e-mails since seeing Ahmadinejad
      emerge as a serious contender in Iran's elections.

      ``He was extremely cruel,'' said Sharer, of Bedford,
      Ind. ``He's one of the hard-liners. So that tells you
      where their government's going to stand for the next
      four to five years.''

      After seeing recent newspaper photos, Sharer said, ``I
      don't have any doubts'' that Ahmadinejad was a

      A memory expert cautioned that people who discuss
      their recollections can influence one another in
      reinforcing false memories. Also, it's harder to
      identify from memory someone of a different race or
      ethnicity, said psychologist Elizabeth Loftus of the
      University of California, Irvine.

      ``Twenty-five years is an awfully long time,'' Loftus
      said. ``Of course we can't say this is false, but
      these things can lead people down the path of having a
      false memory.''

      Schaefer, of Peoria, Ariz., didn't recognize
      Ahmadinejad and said allegations that he had been a
      hostage-taker don't concern him as much as knowing
      hard-liners are back in power in Iran.

      Scott gave a detailed account of the man he recalled
      as Ahmadinejad, saying he appeared to be a security
      chief among the hostage-takers.

      ``He kind of stayed in the background most of the
      time,'' Scott said. ``But he was in on some of the
      interrogations. And he was in on my interrogation at
      the time they were working me over.''

      Scott also recalled an incident while he was held in
      the Evin prison in north Tehran in the summer of 1980.

      One of the guards, whom Scott called Akbar, would
      sometimes let Scott and Sharer out to walk the narrow,
      20-foot hallway outside their cells, he said. One day,
      Scott said, the man he believes was Ahmadinejad saw
      them walking and chastised the guard.

      ``He was the security chief, supposedly,'' Scott said.
      ``When he found out Akbar had let us out of our cells
      at all, he chewed out Akbar. I speak Farsi. He said,
      `These guys are dogs they're pigs, they're animals.
      They don't deserve to be let out of their cells.'''

      Scott recalled responding to the man's stare by openly
      cursing his captor in Farsi. ``He looked a little
      flustered like he didn't know what to do. He just
      walked out.''

      Roeder said he's sure Ahmadinejad was present during
      one of his interrogations when the hostage-takers
      threatened to kidnap his son in the U.S. and ``start
      sending pieces - toes and fingers of my son - to my

      ``It was almost like he was checking on the
      interrogation techniques they were using in a sort of
      adviser capacity,'' Roeder said.

      Hermening, of Mosinee, Wis., the youngest of the
      hostages, said that after he looked at photos and did
      research on the Internet, he came to the conclusion
      that Ahmadinejad was one of his questioners.

      Hermening had been Marine guard at the embassy, and he
      recalled the man he believes was Ahmadinejad asking
      him for the combination to a safe.

      ``His English would have been fairly strong. I
      couldn't say that about all the guards,'' Hermening
      said. ``I remember that he was certainly direct,
      threatening, very unfriendly.''

      Rowhani, the aide to Ahmadinejad, said Ahmadinejad
      said during the recent meeting that he stopped
      opposing the embassy seizure after the revolution's
      leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, expressed support
      for it. But the president-elect said he never took

      ``Definitely he was not among the students who took
      part in the seizure,'' said Abbas Abdi, the leader of
      the hostage-takers. Abdi has since become a leading
      supporter of reform and sharply opposed Ahmadinejad.
      ``He was not part of us. He played no role in the
      seizure, let alone being responsible for security''
      for the students.

      Another of the hostage-takers, Bijan Abidi, said
      Ahmadinejad ``was not involved. There was no one by
      that name among the students who took part in the U.S.
      Embassy seizure.''


      Associated Press writers Aaron Beard in Raleigh, N.C.,
      Amanda Keim in Phoenix, Deanna Wrenn in Indianapolis,
      Robert Imrie in Wausau, Wis., and Anna Johnson in
      Chicago contributed to this report.
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