Iran adores the CIA torture report

The Islamic Republic appears to be in high spirits, capitalizing on the release of the CIA torture report

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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The Islamic Republic appears to be in high spirits, capitalizing on and celebrating the release of the U.S. senate’s report on CIA torture. Several high level Iranian officials began slamming the U.S. for its human rights record. For both Tehran and Washington, the question at stake is who can claim the moral and ethical authority in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Lebanon? Is Iran the role model or the U.S.?

A Twitter account linked to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei joined in with the #torturereport trend. The Twitter account @khamenei_ir posted several tweets bashing the U.S.: ”Look at how humanity is being treated by dominant powers w flashy propaganda&in the name of #humanrights, democracy&freedom, #TortureReport.”

As well as: “Today, U.S. govt. is symbol of tyranny against humanity;even American ppl are faced w cruelty #ToutureReport #HumanRightsDay #Ferguson 7/28/07”

And: “They claim they’ve a prideful nation; U.S. govts. debased & misguided their ppl who aren’t aware of many realities.#TortureReport”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham called the CIA torture report “shocking“ and called for the prosecution of those responsible. She stated: “the content of this shocking report shows violence, extremism, and secrecy as institutionalized in the U.S. security system.”

Some of the contents of these messages can be viewed as totally accurate, but what are other underlying reasons behind such criticism?

Moral authority and geopolitics

The claiming of moral legitimacy and authority by dominant powers, particularly in countries in which they enjoy geopolitical, economic, religious, and strategic interests (or in countries directly or indirectly occupied), is significant. In this case, being a legitimate state actor morally and ethically in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Syria is crucial for Iranian and American politicians.

The CIA torture report overshadows Iranian engagements and involvements in the region

Majid Rafizadeh

Although Iranian forces have been directly, and indirectly, cooperating with the U.S. in combating the fighters of ISIS, both countries are in a war and competition to win the hearts of the civilians of countries that Tehran and Washington bear a considerable amount of political, economic and strategic influence.

Although geopolitics and national interests are at the epicenter of Tehran and Washington’s foreign policies in several Middle Eastern countries, nevertheless, projecting an ethical and moral authority is crucial for gaining legitimacy and facilitating the achievement of their regional hegemonic ambitions. Domestically speaking, the Iranian government has also been utilizing the CIA torture report to challenge those who view the United States as a role model.

As both Iran and the U.S. have long been attempting to question and shake the moral and ethical superiority of the other, propaganda tools have become critical in achieving those objectives.

These propaganda tools are strong a platform for both Tehran and Washington to tell the Lebanese, Afghanis, Syrians, Yemenis and others that either the U.S. or Iran is a credible and reliable nation to trust.

Is the pot calling the kettle black?

In addition, Tehran is investing in overshadowing several issues by the CIA torture report. The Islamic Republic itself has come under fire by the United Nations human rights agency for their activities. An unprecedented level of executions, approximately 1,100 executions, have been carried out since President Rowhani assumed office. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, stated in a recent report that the executions of some Iranians are carried out solely “for exercising their protected rights, including freedom of expression and association.” Human rights investigators, including Shaheed have been repeatedly denied entry into Iran to inspect the human rights conditions.

According to the Reporters without Borders, the Islamic Republic is currently the “world’s leading jailer of female journalists and netizens.” In addition, in an interview with Al Arabiya, Nobel laureate, Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, said the human rights conditions in Iran “[have] not progressed at all” under the presidency of Hassan Rowhani. On November 18, 2014, the United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee has adopted a new resolution, which calls for protecting and promoting human rights condition in the Islamic Republic.

The CIA torture report overshadows Iranian engagements and involvements in the region including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Tehran continues to financially, militarily, through advisory and intelligence means, assist President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war which has led to the death of roughly 150,000 people and millions of refugees.

It is accurate to make the argument that the foundations of American moral and ethical authority has long been shattered among many local people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. But the question is whether these local people accept the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic’s involvement in their country, and whether they view Iran as a reliable alternative and role model to the U.S.. On the other hand, from the domestic prism, the Iranian leaders’ capitalization on the CIA torture report and the American lack of moral and ethical authority will hardly change the view and resistance of the disenfranchised youth and Iranian people towards their government.


Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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