Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Tehran Bureau: Possibly ground zero for the key lie that fueled Iran's election dispute

By Saturday after the Friday June 12 Iranian election, a story had begun to spread widely that instead of counting votes as usual, Iranian Interior Ministry personnel took the ballots away from the polling stations to count at secret central locations.

Perhaps I remember incorrectly, but if memory serves, Juan Cole directly referenced and linked to the Tehran Bureau report to advance the scenario he invented in which Khamenei panicked at seeing positive results for Mousavi and in a few hours executed a clumsy fraud in which none of the votes were actually counted.

The report has been removed from the Tehran Bureau website.

Links originating with that report are still plentiful on the internet.

By Saturday evening, the shock and disbelief had given way to anger that slowly turned into palpable moral outrage over what came to be believed as the theft of their election. The proof was right in the village: “Interior Ministry officials came from Shiraz, sealed the ballot boxes, and took then away even before the end of voting at 9 pm,” said Jalal. In all previous elections, a committee comprised of representative from each political faction had counted and certified the results right in the village. The unexpected change in procedures caught village monitors off guard, as it did everywhere else in the country.

This is just a complete fabrication, and one that deserves a closer look. As post election lies go, this one, dropped seemingly off-hand in an article about a different subject, was brilliantly conceived. It is very compelling, superficially easy to accept when presented confidently and difficult to disprove in a short time, as any witnesses could be from one of the few places where the votes were not removed. But without further proof, it makes the wildest and most outlandish election fraud scenarios seem possible, like Cole's scenario that Khamenei was so confident of an Ahmadinejad victory and also so terrified of a Mousavi victory that he had to put an entire fraud of 10s of millions votes into place between when he got the first results of Mousavi leading and the announcement of the results later that day.

The report that voting procedures were changed anywhere, much less "everywhere else in the country" of course has not been confirmed by any reliable information source. But further than that, Mousavi submitted a list of election irregularities that he claims invalidate the election. That list includes that Ahmadinejad made statements about himself and about Mr. Rafsanjani during the debate. The list includes that the Interior Ministry announced that Ahmadinejad had an insurmountable lead before the last votes had been counted (though by that point if all remaining ballots had gone to Mousavi, Ahmadinejad still would have won). But the list of irregularities does not include this claim that any ballots anywhere were removed from the polling station contrary to usual practice.

Mousavi had 40,000 election observers. (Google Translate can render the text in English.) None of them reported that ballots were removed. None of them reported any irregularity of enough substance to make it to Mousavi's report. Instead Mousavi reported that Ahmadinejad had an unfair advantage because the state-run media favored him.

So given that there is no indication that votes were processed irregularly, when there would be such indications if widespread irregularities existed, the Tehran Bureau report seems like part of a deliberate, and professionally pre-planned disinformation campaign. The Tehran Bureau is also the source of the, since widely repudiated, "straight line" argument that Iran's election results must have been fabricated. The Tehran Bureau is a US-based Harvard University affiliated institution that looks like it played a critical role in creating the atmosphere of rumor and suspicion that fueled the initial protests and the international response to those protests.

It lends credence to the idea that though the Obama administration made the correct tactical decision to refrain from publicly supporting the protesters as the protests were gathering steam, that well known Bush-era destabilization policies were not halted under Obama, but continued at least through the aftermath of Iran's June election.


George said...

First of all, Cole did not refer to Tehran Bureau. You remember it incorrectly. Secondly, Mousavi's observers were mostly not allowed in, or were kicked out, or were not issued credentials to begin with. Even before the election, Mousavi had already protested that. Third, Mousavi had, in fact, received numerous irregularities (see his letter of June 27 to the Guardian Council that can be found on TB), had written a letter to the Supreme Leader about it, and had sent it to him on the election night. Fourth, it is ridiculous to claim that a new site founded by a professional journalist and almost completely unknown in Iran, was behind what happened in Tehran. By Saturday morning, June 13, students at Sharif University, Iran's MIT, had already analyzed the results of vote counting and had shown them to be rigged.

So, set aside your fatansies and deal with reality.

Arnold Evans said...

1- Fair enough. I thought I remembered seeing that link on Cole's site supporting his conjecture that Khamenei hastily improvised this supposed fraud. I didn't see it in his first article, but could not rule out that the article has been edited since I saw it, so I wrote if memory serves. I easily could have been wrong. So on the specific point of whether Juan Cole linked directly to that claim I'll concede to you that he did not.

1a - But the claim was widely cited in nearly every discussion on the Iranian election I've seen in the internet.

1b - I have not seen an earlier source for the claim than TB.

2- What are you arguing? That the claim may still be true? I'm very interested if there is anyone still claiming votes were, on a widespread basis, removed from local polling stations in a manner unlike in previous elections. Are you really arguing that?

3- A quick look-over did not get me to the June 27 letter of Mousavi, which I am very interested in reading. Can you provide a link?

4- I'm very skeptical that the Sharif University students "showed" the vote counting to have been rigged, but I'm open to seeing what evidence they provided, or think they provided. Link?

4b- This report, which I may well be wrongly claiming originated with TB - though that's where I first saw it and I have not seen an earlier reference - was very influential in shaping the discussion of the election in the West immediately after the results were posted. I'm not able to speak on any impact it may or may not have had in Tehran.