Frivolous lawsuits have long been used as weapons of the powerful against the weak; a particularly egregious example is now playing out in Texas, courtesy of one of John Kerry’s most controversial supporters: the Iranian Hassan Nemazee. Nemazee is pursuing a ten-million-dollar damage claim against the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran (SMCCDI) and its coordinator, Aryo B. Pirouznia. A Nemazee victory in this suit would almost certainly muzzle or destroy altogether the SMCCDI, one of the most energetic and courageous opponents of Iran’s entrenched but uneasy mullahocracy. But now that Nemazee’s lawsuit has been filed, it has become increasingly clear that it could embarrass the entire Democratic Party — and severely damage the already flagging candidacy of John Kerry.
Nemazee is an influential figure with many friends in high places in groups such as the American-Iranian Council (AIC), the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), and the Iranian-American Bar Association (IABA). Nemazee’s name is also well known in Democratic Party circles. He was a prominent contributor to Bob Torricelli’s New Jersey Senate campaign. The multimillionaire entrepreneur also contributed $50,000 to his friend Al Gore’s Recount Fund (and $250,000 to the Gore campaign), $60,000 to Bill Clinton’s legal defense fund, and over $150,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Clinton attempted to reward him by naming him U.S. Ambassador to Argentina — but the Senate declined to confirm him after Forbes magazine published, in May 1999, an extremely damaging expose of his shady financial dealings.
Undaunted, Nemazee continued efforts to establish fruitful contacts between Iranian groups advocating normalization of relations with Iran and high-level members of the Democratic Party. He joined the Board of Directors of the AIC, an organization whose president, Hooshang Amirahmadi, is identified on the SMCCDI website as a “well known lobbyist for the Iranian Mullahocracy.” Nemazee was involved in a March 2002 fundraiser for Senate Foreign Affairs Committee heavyweight Joe Biden (D-DE). This event was hosted by Sadegh Namazikhah, another AIC member whom Aryo Pirouznia charges with trying to improve public perception of “one of the most despotic regimes in the world.”
Three months later it was Kerry’s turn: Nemazee invited the future Democratic standard bearer to speak at an AIC dinner. Nemazee himself also spoke, declaring that the AIC “does not attempt to explain or rationalize the position of the government of Iran, nor does it attempt to do so for the government of the United States. Its mission is to educate both sides and to attempt to establish the basis and the vehicle for a dialogue which will ultimately lead to a resumption of relations.” If Kerry registered any protest against this assertion that the United States should normalize relations with one of the world’s bloodiest dictatorships, it was not recorded. Nemazee, according to Iran experts Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi and Elio Bonazzi, now seems to be denying that he ever made this speech at all — although it is still posted on the AIC’s website.
Outside San Francisco’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where this grand event was held, the SMCCDI organized a large protest rally. Nemazee, evidently, would not forget this and other affronts. In his lawsuit, he charges that the SMCCDI knowingly and repeatedly made “false and defamatory statements” about his support for the Iranian regime. His complaint states categorically that “Nemazee does not ‘support … the Islamic Republic and the Revolution.’”
But his friend Kerry, meanwhile, seems to have absorbed the very lessons that Nemazee now denies having tried to teach. Before the Council on Foreign Relations in December 2003, Kerry announced that he would be willing as President to pursue rapprochement with Iran: “As president, I will be prepared early on to explore areas of mutual interest with Iran, just as I was prepared to normalize relations with Vietnam a decade ago.” And most notoriously, his staff sent out an email that somehow made its way to the government-controlled Mehr News Agency in Tehran, where it was trumpeted as evidence of his resolve to patch things up with the mullahs. “It is in the urgent interests of the people of the United States,” the message read, “to restore our country’s credibility in the eyes of the world. America needs the kind of leadership that will repair alliances with countries on every continent that have been so damaged in the past few years, as well as build new friendships and overcome tensions with others.”
Kerry’s camp professed puzzlement over how this email made it to Tehran. Initially, a Kerry aide dismissed the story as “just a hoax.” But this pose proved impossible to maintain. Kerry’s senior foreign affairs advisor, Rand Beers, later admitted that the message was genuine, saying: “I have no idea how they got hold of that letter, which was prepared for Democrats Abroad. I scratched my head when I saw that. The only way they could have gotten it was if someone in Iran was with Democrats Abroad.” In light of the ties between the AIC and the Democratic Party, that possibility is at least open to question.
But Kerry’s olive branches to the regime that carries on the legacy of the Ayatollah Khomeini now embarrass him: his Council on Foreign Relations remarks seem to have been removed from the Kerry-Edwards website. Hence also the Nemazee lawsuit: to silence the SMCCDI and its inconvenient protests. One way to do that is indirect, by using the suit to put the SMCCDI out of action. According to documents that Pirouznia/SMCCDI defense attorney Bob Jenevein made available to me, the prosecution has been playing several such games. On August 20, 2004, Jenevein wrote a letter to Rob Wiley of Locke Lidell & Sapp, the elite Texas law firm representing Nemazee. He proposed five stipulations — points that both sides could agree to, so that they need not spend the court’s time trying to establish or disprove them. These included: “1. The Islamic regime in Iran is sympathetic to terrorists. 2. The Islamic regime in Iran poses a threat to the security of the United States and/or its citizens at home or abroad. 3. For the United States to normalize its diplomatic relations with Iran at this time would lend credibility to the Islamic regime in Iran. 4. For the United States to ease trade sanctions against Iran at this time would lend credibility to the Islamic regime in Iran. 5. Anything that would lend credibility to the Islamic regime in Iran at this time would have value to that regime.” Wiley answered on the same day that his team had taken the stipulations “under advisement”; but in the almost two weeks since then, gave no further answer. Thus Nemazee’s attorneys effectively agreed to none of the stipulations, raising the prospect that Jenevein would have to spend hours upon hours in court establishing these points, thereby endangering the SMCCDI by straining its financial resources.
Other documents furnished by Jenevein suggest that the prosecution is trying to run up the costs of the litigation in other ways also — attempting to find out who is paying Pirouznia’s legal bills and to drive SMCCDI into destitution. One example was a fax that Wiley sent to Jenevein last Monday afternoon, informing him of a draft motion that the prosecution was planning to file on certain matters regarding the case unless the prosecution and defense reached an agreement by 5PM Tuesday. Jenevein immediately faxed a response, suggesting ways to agree, but the prosecution ignored it and filed the motion the next morning anyway. This multiplication of motions, of course, is a classic tactic to drive up court costs.
Related to all this is the curious fact that, according to an inside source close to the case, Nemazee has never made himself available for a deposition. Pirouznia’s defense attorney contacted Nemazee’s lawyers in early August, immediately after taking the case (five months after it was filed), to request dates for this deposition; Nemazee’s team responded that he would only be available on two dates in November and two in December – all four after the election, and all over seven months after the case was filed. “He’s saying we want his deposition for political reasons,” the insider exclaimed incredulously, “but HE filed the lawsuit!” The Pirouznia/SMCCDI team has filed a motion ordering Nemazee to appear for a deposition on September 20; no ruling has been made on it yet.
Why file a lawsuit, and then play hide-and-seek with the defense? The lobbyist and his team seem to be trying to keep the case under wraps until after the presidential election. “Nemazee is worried that his candidate will be embarrassed if the facts of this litigation are made public,” observes Jenevein. “I’m afraid that this case would appear typical of the frivolous lawsuits about which Republicans complain so loudly. To the extent that Hassan Nemazee constitutes a link between a presidential campaign and the Iranian regime, that link would be considered a grave political liability for the campaign.
The lawsuit is designed to silence those who speak about this.”
The Nemazee camp appears to be growing increasingly anxious lest details of their suit leak out. That may be why, according to an informed source, the founder of a public relations firm and international speaker’s bureau that specializes in foreign policy and terrorism-related issues recently contacted Pirouznia and invited him to lunch — ultimately, two lunches on consecutive days, all to argue that he should drop the suit. Important figures of the Iranian democracy movement, the PR wizard intimated to Pirouznia, really wanted him to forget the whole thing. Dumbfounded, Pirouznia reminded the PR maven that it was he who was the target of the suit, and that he was only defending himself and his organization. Several other people who figures connected to the defense team wryly term “Nemazee’s messengers” also contacted Pirouznia to make the same appeal.
The SMCCDI and Aryo Pirouznia are evidently not the only ones in Nemazee’s sights. According to an informed source, Nemazee’s lawyer asked in official documents used by the plaintiff to build the case about the relationship between Pirouznia and another pair of stalwart Iran democracy activists: Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi and Elio Bonazzi. Said the source: “Aryo’s lawyer objected that this is not relevant, but basically this means that even if Nemazee didn’t sue the Bonazzis directly, they are among his targets.” This despite the fact that the Bonazzis have never advanced any political agenda for Iran beyond promoting the idea of a genuine (not UN- or Jimmy Carter-led) internationally monitored referendum to decide on Iran’s form of government after the complete ousting of any form of theocracy. Zand-Bonazzi’s father, Siamak Pourzand, is a well-known Iranian journalist, intellectual, freedom fighter – and political prisoner of the Islamic regime.
Thus the mullahs fight on for their survival in the courtrooms of Texas.