[Marxism] Just Another American Hit Man, Actor and Journalist Living in Iran

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Sep 16 16:29:19 MDT 2009

The Lede - New York Times Blog
September 16, 2009, 2:32 pm
Just Another American Hit Man, Actor and Journalist Living in Iran
By Robert Mackey

For some time The Lede has been wondering what sort of person works at 
the Web site of Press TV, Iran’s state-supported, English-language 
satellite channel. After all, to judge by what’s written on blogs and 
Twitter accounts by Web-savvy Iranians who speak English, that part of 
the country’s population seems to skew quite heavily against the current 
government, which owns Press TV and clearly exerts an influence over its 

Two weeks ago, The Times of London discovered that until recently, the 
man running Press TV’s Web site was an American who fled the United 
States in 1980 after carrying out a political assassination in the 
Washington suburbs on behalf of the Iranian government.

The man, who now uses the name Hassan Abdulrahman, was formerly known as 
known as Dawud Salahuddin — which is the name he took at the age of 18 
when he converted to Islam and first got involved with Islamist radical 
movements in the United States. (Before that he was David Theodore 
Belfield, the son of a churchgoing Baptist family from Bay Shore, Long 

Mr. Abdulrahman first worked on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran 
when it was little more than a year old. In 1980, he was a security 
guard at an Iranian diplomatic office in Washington when he accepted an 
assignment from the revolutionary government of Iran to assassinate a 
former member of the Shah’s regime living in exile in Bethesda, Md.

At first, Mr. Abdulrahman told The New Yorker in 2002, he tried to 
convince the Iranians to let him kill a more prominent American target. 
He suggested either Henry Kissinger or Kermit Roosevelt — a grandson of 
President Theodore Roosevelt who had orchestrated the 1953 plot to 
depose Iran’s prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, and return the Shah to 
power. But his Iranian handlers were less concerned with striking a 
symbolic blow than with eliminating Ali Akbar Tabatabai, the exile who 
was holding meetings of a counter-revolutionary group at his home in 
Bethesda at the time.

Disguised as a mailman, Mr. Abdulrahman showed up at Mr. Tabatabai’s 
front door on July 22, 1980, shot and killed him and then fled to Iran 
by way of Canada and Switzerland. In the three decades since, he has 
compiled an extraordinary resume in Iran, working by turns as an English 
teacher, a war correspondent and a Web editor. He also found time to 
fight alongside the Afghan mujahedeen in their war against the Soviets 
in the 1980s and act in a film by one of Iran’s leading directors in 
2000. Two years ago, when Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent 
investigating cigarette smuggling in Iran, disappeared in mysterious 
circumstances, it emerged that he had been meeting with Mr. Abdulrahman 
just before he went missing.

This month, Mr. Abdulrahman told the Times of London that he had been 
Press TV’s chief online editor for three years, but had resigned from 
the government-backed Web site two months ago. He was also surprisingly 
frank about Press TV’s approach to the news, saying:

No, I don’t think Press TV is about [real journalism]. By its nature, 
state journalism is not journalism. They have some programs on there 
that might be, but generally it’s not.

While Mr. Abdulrahman’s work for Press TV, apparently since it was 
founded in 2007, during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first term, 
might seem like a tacit endorsement of the current government, his 
resignation and frank remarks could indicate that he is not happy with 
what the Islamic Republic he killed to defend has become. Indeed Mr. 
Abdulrahman, who is married to an Iranian woman and lives in Karaj, 
outside Tehran, told The Times of London: “I’m living in a situation 
right now that’s a little bit difficult.”

Mr. Abdulrahman also seems to have ties to some of Iran’s leading 
reformists. In 2006, the director of a Canadian documentary about his 
life in Iran, “American Fugitive: The Truth About Hassan,” explained in 
an interview with Maclean’s that Mr. Abdulrahman “was close to Vice 
President Mme. [Massoumeh] Ebtekar,” who was a member of reformist 
president Mohammad Khatami’s cabinet. Ms. Ebtekar was Iran’s first 
female vice president and has been outspoken in her dismay at the 
disputed presidential election on her English-language blog. According 
to a report in The Tehran Times, she had planned to run for president 
herself this year, but decided to support Mir Hussein Moussavi to avoid 
splitting the reformist vote.

As a reminder that Iran’s leading reformists are far from the Western 
lackeys their conservative opponents suggest, when Mr. Abdulrahman was 
acting as an assassin in Washington on behalf of the nascent Islamic 
Republic, Ms. Ebtekar was a spokeswoman for the hostage-takers at the 
United States Embassy in Tehran.

Mr. Abdulrahman has also been involved with another prominent reformist 
with a revolutionary past. In 2001, when Iranian director Mohsen 
Makhmalbaf’s film about Afghanistan, “Kandahar,” was released to great 
acclaim in the United States, a relative of the man Mr. Abdulrahman 
killed in 1980 recognized him as one of the actors in it. In the film, 
Mr. Abdulrahman played the part of an African-American convert to Islam 
working as a doctor in Afghanistan.
A still frame from the Iranian film “Kandahar,” in which the American 
fugitive played a doctor working in Afghanistan.

After Mr. Abdulrahman was recognized, an article in Time magazine 
headlined, “A Killer in ‘Kandahar?’” was featured in an Iranian 
newspaper. In response, Mr. Makhmalbaf wrote an essay for The Guardian 
in which he said that he had no idea of Mr. Abdulrahman’s past when he 
cast him in his film, but argued that the assassination had to be 
understood in context. Mr. Makhmalbaf wrote in January 2002:

He is accused of having killed a prominent member of the Shah’s secret 
police — the Savak — in the US at the time of the Iranian revolution, 
and then of seeking asylum in Iran. This was at a time when the entire 
Iranian nation was searching for members of Savak in order to destroy 
them for having been chiefly responsible for their misery, in much the 
same way as Americans are hunting members of Al Qaeda now. [...]

In 1974, when I was 17, and was arrested and hospitalized for 14 days 
because of a gunshot, the Shah’s secret police so brutally tortured me 
that I had to spend another 100 days in the police hospital. I had to be 
operated on three times. Now, 27 years later, I still have four huge 
scars from the torture, covering about 20 square centimeters of my body. 
One of the people who tortured me lives in Los Angeles, I have heard, 
and two others live in Washington DC and have received political asylum 
from the U.S. [...]

I am told that the 70 or 80-year-old brother of Belfield’s victim 
Tabatabai is now in the last season of his life, after revenge, and that 
some 20 years after the event he has come to search for the killer of 
his brother. He does not understand that Belfield is also a victim — a 
victim of the ideal he believed in. His humanity, when he opened fire 
against his ideological enemy, was martyred by his idealism.

Mr. Makhmalbaf was himself a teenage revolutionary but has recently been 
serving as an unofficial spokesman for Iran’s opposition movement. As 
The Lede mentioned last week, his daughter Hana just completed a film 
about the disputed election called “Green Days.”

While Mr. Abdulrahman told The New Yorker that he had killed but not 
murdered Mr. Tabatabai — “It was an act of war,” he said in 2002 — his 
remarks about the assassination this month to The Times of London 
suggest that Mr. Makhmalbaf may have been right when he said that the 
act had killed something in him as well. Mr. Abdulrahman told the 
British newspaper that there was nothing “great,” in what he’d done, 
saying: “What’s great work about killing a man? It’s pretty easy in the 
modern age. You think it’s great that the Americans have killed a 
million people in Iraq? Or that they are getting killed every day and 
killing hundreds of people in Afghanistan?” What, he asked with an 
expletive, “is great about that?”

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