The U.S.'s backing of the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) has been the topic of much debate. Eight U.S. Presidents found doing so to be justified. Iran's strategic value, as well as the oil resources there, were cited as reasons.
By the late 1970's, mounting tensions caused by the Shah's failure to grant the reforms he promised had escalated to an all time high. Eventually, they led to the Iranian revolution
, where the Shah was deposed. Pahlavi fled Iran in January, 1979. The U.S. attempted to develop relations with the new government, but after the Shah was admitted to the U.S. for medical treatment in October of 1979, the revolutionaries were enraged.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's new leader, promoted demonstrations against American and Israeli interests, denouncing the Americans as the "Great Satan." Protesters numbered in the thousands outside the American embassy in Tehran. While protests were not uncommon, and the embassy grounds had been briefly occupied during the revolution, Iranian police were beginning to take less interest in dealing with the issue, and the situation was becoming critical.
On November 4th, a mob of anywhere from 300 - 2000, depending on whose estimate you read (but likely around 500), seized the embassy's main building. The Marine guards were greatly outnumbered; staff rushed to destroy sensitive information. Some of that information, carefully pieced together after shredding, would be displayed by the captors on television. 66 of the building's 90 staffers were taken captive. Three of those were from the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Six staffers escaped and hid in the Canadian and Swedish embassies; the Canadian government helped them to leave the country by providing identification and blending them in with their own diplomats as they returned to Canada.
The group, calling itself the "Imam's Disciples," claimed that its actions were retaliation for American support of the Shah, and demanded that Pahlavi be returned to Iran for trial. However, foreign policy experts saw it as just a demonstration to show that the new government could - and would - oppose the U.S.
Footage of the blindfolded hostages was frequently shown on TV; many reported instances of solitary confinement, beatings, and psychological torture.
The Iranian government initially claimed the action to be one independent of their control, but as they continued to take no action to assist in the hostages release, the claim seemed less and less credible.
The U.S. response, through President Jimmy Carter, was to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions. Oil imports from Iran were suspended, millions of dollars in assets were frozen, and some Iranians in the U.S. were expelled (though some of those appeared to have no relation either to the hostage-takers or the new government).
By February of 1980, the Iranian government issued its official demands:
* Return the deposed Shah to Iran;
* Apologize for prior American actions in Iran (including a U.S.-aided coup in 1953)
* Promise never to interfere in Iran's affairs again
President Carter persued negotiations, but also authorized a rescue mission - Operation Eagle Claw
. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, opposed to the use of force, resigned. The mission failed when aircraft were damaged in a sandstorm
, and one helicopter clipped a C-130 and crashed, killing 8 servicemen
. Debris would be displayed, and the bodies of the fallen dragged through the streets of Tehran.
The Shah died in July of 1980, and Iran began to consider resolving the crisis.
A second rescue attempt was abandoned after the November elections, in which Carter lost by a landslide. His inability to solve the hostage crisis was seen as a significant factor in his loss. Meanwhile, the sensationlism continued - former Attorney General Ramsey Clkark, an anti-war activist, flew to Tehran and participated in a "Crimes of America" trial.
The hostages were finally released on January 20, 1981, moments after the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan - after 444 days in captivity. Negotiations had opened shortly after the November U.S. election, and the release came in exchange for the un-freezing of $8 billion in assets, and Iranian lawsuit immunity.
The former hostages attempted to sue Iran under the Antiterrorism Act in 2000. They originally won when Iran did not provide a defense, but the the U.S. State Department applied pressure, and a Federal judge eventually ruled that they did not have grounds to sue, due to the agreement that freed them. In 2000
, the hostages and their families tried to sue Iran, unsuccessfully, under the Antiterrorism Act.
More recently, some of the former hostages have stated that they are sure that Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was one of their captors
. Others are not certain.Hostages
Diplomats who evaded capture:
Robert Anders, 34 - Consular Officer
Mark J. Lijek, 29 - Consular Officer
Cora A. Lijek, 25 - Consular Assistant
Henry L. Schatz, 31 - Agriculture Attaché
Joseph D. Stafford, 29 - Consular Officer
Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 - Consular AssistantHostages released November 19-20, 1979
Kathy Gross, 22 - Secretary
Sgt. James Hughes, 30 - USAF Administrative Manager
Lillian Johnson, 32 - Secretary
Sgt. Ladell Maples, 23 - USMC Embassy Guard
Elizabeth Montagne, 42 - Secretary
Sgt. William Quarles, 23 - USMC Embassy Guard
Lloyd Rollins, 40 - Administrative Officer
Capt. Neal (Terry) Robinson, 30 - Administrative Officer
Terri Tedford, 24 - Secretary
Sgt. Joseph Vincent, 42 - USAF Administrative Manager
Sgt. David Walker, 25 - USMC Embassy guard
Joan Walsh, 33 - Secretary
Cpl. Wesley Williams, 24 - USMC Embassy Guard
1 hostage captured, held and released on 11 July 1980 because of Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis
Richard I. Queen, 28 - Vice Consul
52 Remaining Hostages, held captive until 20 January 1981
Thomas L. Ahern, Jr., -Narcotics Control Officer
Clair Cortland Barnes, 35 - Communications Specialist
William E. Belk, 44 - Communications and Records Officer
Robert O. Blucker, 54 - Economics Officer Specializing in Oil
Donald J. Cooke, 26 - Vice Consul
William J. Daugherty, 33 - 3rd Secretary of U.S. Mission
Lt. Cmdr. Robert Englemann, 34 - USN Attaché
Sgt. William Gallegos, 22 - USMC Guard
Bruce W. German, 44 - Budget Officer
Duane L. Gillette, 24 - USN Communications and Intelligence Specialist
Alan B. Golancinksi, 30 - Security Officer
John E. Graves, 53 - Public Affairs Officer
Joseph M. Hall, 32 - CWO Military Attaché
Sgt. Kevin J. Hermening, 21 - USMC Guard
Sgt. 1st Class Donald R. Hohman, 38 - USA Medic
Col. Leland J. Holland, 53 - Military Attaché
Michael Howland, 34 - Security Aide, held at Iranian Foreign Ministry Office
Charles A. Jones, Jr., 40 - Communications Specialist and Teletype Operator.Other Hostages
Malcolm Kalp, 42 - Affiliation Unknown
Moorhead C. Kennedy Jr., 50 - Economic and Commercial Officer
William F. Keough, Jr., 50 - Superintendent of American School in Islamabad, Pakistan, visiting Tehran at time of embassy seizure Cpl. Steven W. Kirtley - USMC Guard Kathryn L. Koob, 42 - Embassy Cultural Officer; one of two female hostages
Frederick Lee Kupke, 34 - Communications Officer and Electronics Specialist
L. Bruce Laingen, 58 - Chargé d'Affaires, held at Iranian Foreign Ministry Office
Steven Lauterbach, 29 - Administrative Officer
Gary E. Lee, 37 - Administrative Officer
Sgt. Paul Edward Lewis, 23 - USMC Guard
John W. Limbert, Jr., 37 - Political Officer
Sgt. James M. Lopez, 22 - USMC Guard
Sgt. John D. McKeel, Jr., 27 - USMC Guard
Michael J. Metrinko, 34 - Political Officer
Jerry J. Miele, 42 - Communications Officer
Staff Sgt. Michael E. Moeller, 31 - Head of USMC Guard Unit at Embassy
Bert C. Moore, 45 - Counselor for Administration
Richard H. Morefield, 51 - U.S. Consul General in Tehran
Capt. Paul M. Needham, Jr., 30 - USAF Logistcs Staff Officer
Robert C. Ode, 65 - Retired Foreign Service Officer on Temporary Duty in Tehran
Sgt. Gregory A. Persinger, 23 - USMC Guard
Jerry Plotkin, 45 - Civilian Businessman visiting Tehran
MSgt. Regis Ragan, 38 - USA NCO assigned to Defense Attaché's Office
Lt. Col. David M. Roeder, 41 - Deputy USAF Attaché
Barry M. Rosen, 36 - Press Attaché
William B. Royer, Jr., 49 - Assistant Director of Iran-American Society
Col. Thomas E. Schaefer, 50 - USAF Attaché
Col. Charles W. Scott, 48 - USA Officer, Military Attaché
Cmdr. Donald A. Sharer, 40 - USN Air Attaché
Sgt. Rodney V. (Rocky) Sickmann, 22 - USMC Guard
Staff Sgt. Joseph Subic, Jr., 23 - Military Police, USA, Defense Attaché's Staff
Elizabeth Ann Swift, 40 - Chief of Embassy's Political Section; 1 of 2 female hostages
Victor L. Tomseth, 39 - Senior Political Officer, held at Iranian Foreign Ministry Office
Phillip R. Ward, 40 - Administrative OfficerMy Two Cents (Updated for 2006):
For my money, no matter what the U.S. did or didn't do in Iran, the embassy personnel played no part in the Presidential or Congressional decisions. They no more deserved what happened than the victims of 9/11 did. Islamic radicals have hated us, and will hate us, no matter what we do, or don't do. The idea that the revolution was about "freedom" is ludicrous. The Ayatollah's regime brought freedom?! No. The Ayatollah's regime was as oppressive - more so - than any prior. An acquaintance of mine, who lived in Iran prior to the Revolution, has clearly told me of life in Iran before the revolution, and there are volumes of writings out there about what it is now. There is not now - and never has been - a new birth of freedom in Iran after the Shah.
I remember the hostage crisis clearly. It was one of the events that stands out in my mind as helping to define my belief systems. The idea that a President would opt for negotiations and sanctions while our personnel were held for over a year was appalling. The idea that the horrific displays of fallen U.S. military personnel would go without a response, was doubly so. It would result in the same horror I would later feel after watching the events in Modagishu. Carter proved that he was incapable of serving as a Commander-in-Chief, and incapable of standing firm in defense of the country. He defined all that was wrong with the Democratic party to me - and the memory of the inept leadership in the face of that crisis has never left.
And the accusations of Ahmedinejad's involvement have never been thoroughly investigated. One thing is clear from his behavior and rantings - he's certainly capable of it. Either way you cut it, Iran was an enemy then, and is an enemy now. Their support of terrorism, their hatred of the west, and Ahmedinejad's twisted religious fervor and desire to spur on Armageddon are common knowledge. These days, when Iranian religious extremism explodes, it is highly unlikely to be confined within a U.S. embassy on Iranian soil. Now, Iran is a threat to anyone who does not bow before their violent, hell-bent view of Islam.For more information:WikipediaThe Memory Hole
(pictures from the crisis)List of Hostages and CasualtiesRemembering the Iran hostage crisis
(BBC interviews both a hostage-taker and a former hostage)Global SecurityIf you have a post about the hostage crisis, or have found one of interest, please trackback, or list it in the comments section!
Labels: History, Iran, terrorism