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Human rights and solidarity vs $100K-a-month on PR and lobbying

dfarsettas Icon Posted by Diane Farsetta

October 24th, 2008

On Monday, I was fortunate to hear 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Iranian human rights lawyer Dr. Shirin Ebadi speak. This truly remarkable woman condemned her government’s continued repression of women and religious minorities, which she said is based on a misinterpretation of Islamic law. She also criticized the United States, for its military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for its support of antidemocratic regimes in the Middle East. In response to an audience question, she strongly supported women’s reproductive rights.

More than anything, Dr. Ebadi called on the people of the United States and Iran to continue what she called a historical friendship, dating back to the early twentieth century. She noted that there are some two million Iranians who are U.S. citizens. And she urged us to reject the antagonistic posturing of our governments and engage in people-to-people solidarity. (Liz DiNovella also reports on Dr. Ebadi’s Madison talk, on The Progressive magazine’s website.)

It was an inspiring and important presentation. It’s too bad that Dr. Ebadi doesn’t have a high-powered PR firm, to help her really impact U.S. foreign policy.

However, the Council for a Democratic Iran does. According to the PR trade publicationO’Dwyer’s, the Council for a Democratic Iran spent $300,000 on its new lobbying and PR firm, the Livingston Group, in the third quarter of 2008 alone. That’s a massive expenditure for a group that described itself, in a blog post one month ago, as “a newly founded non profit organization.”

There isn’t a lot of information available about the Council for a Democratic Iran. Their website calls for “an alternative between military confrontation with the current regime [in Iran] and accommodation.” But the group’s founder, Dr. Behrooz Behbudi, seems to be aligned with military hawks.

Last year, the Vancouver Sun reported that Dr. Behbudi had “bought $250,000 worth of ads in major North American newspapers denouncing Iran’s Muslim leaders as ‘terrorists’ and ‘fascists’ and warning they are a direct threat to the U.S. and Canada.” He also referred to the March 2007 arrest of 15 British sailors by Iran as “an act of war.” The Sun noted that Dr. Behbudi is an oil entrepreneur who counts Oliver North and Pat Robertson (who baptized him) among his friends. He is “a high-level figure in the U.S. Republican party,” according to the Sun, who displays pictures of himself with current President Bush and former Senator turned lobbyist Bob Dole.

Dr. Behbudi’s Council for a Democratic Iran has another former Senator, Bob Livingston, on its new lobbying team, along with Lauri Fitz-Pegado. In 1990, Fitz-Pegado led the campaign to lie the United States into the first Gulf War. She was working at the Hill & Knowlton firm, which counted the government of Kuwait among its clients. Hill & Knowlton created the front group “Citizens for a Free Kuwait” and coached the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador on her now-infamous false testimony that she had seen Iraqi troops remove babies from incubators and leave them to die.

Military experts like Scott Ritter and Sam Gardiner have warned for some time that the United States may attack Iran militarily. Now, a high-powered Iranian exile group has retained the services of PR people skilled in selling war.

I don’t know how likely military action is, of course, but the need for solidarity with the Iranian people is clear.

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