11 hours, 31 minutes
Four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated and a fifth was wounded between 2012 and 2013, dealing a serious blow to the country’s nuclear program. Islamic Republic authorities believed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad carried out the assassinations — a conclusion now generally accepted — and launched a vast manhunt. Despite this, after so many years Iranian security agencies have had no success in tracking down the killers, but this has not stopped them from trying to cover up their failure by arresting innocent citizens and torturing them to extract confessions of their guilt.
One of these innocent citizens was Nader Nouri Kohan. He was arrested on June 23, 2012, and tortured for five months.
He was eventually released on August 2, 2014, after 25 months in prison.
In this, the third section of his exclusive interview with IranWire, Nouri Kohan describes the scenario intelligence ministry agents set up for him — a specific account of dozens of terrorist crimes they wanted him to take the blame for, with specific details that he was required to learn and say back to them, all the while being tortured or threatened with torture. He also discusses his encounters with other people who had been accused of being part of the same scenario and who were being forced to confess too.
In part one of the interview, he describes his arrest, early interrogations, and the first bouts of torture he endured. In part two, Nouri Kohan talks about the secret prison he was taken to, where his hands and feet were shackled, his interrogations continued, and where he endured repeated, brutal torture — all to ensure he admitted to his involvement in a series of up to 32 terrorist acts, some which took place when he was only a child.
After five months of torture in the intelligence ministry’s secret prison, how and when were you transferred back to Evin Prison?
After I broke and agreed to cooperate, I was interrogated for a few days more in the same Prison 300, until one night, after the interrogation was over, the interrogator told me to stand up. I was blindfolded and my hands and feet were shackled. The interrogator pushed me to the wall and wrapped 5cm-wide packaging tape all around my head.
My nose was broken in prison multiple times. It still has problems and needs surgery. It is twisted. He wrapped the tape around my face. I could not shout to tell them that my nose was broken and I could not breathe. But then they made a hole in the wrapping over my mouth so that I could breathe. Then they threw me into a van.
But apparently interrogators cannot stop tormenting you even if you submit to them. This one said, “Look, they are taking you somewhere worse than here; a place where if you don’t talk right or forget something, they immediately break your arms and legs and hang you from the ceiling.” I was terribly nervous as I got into the car. I did not know where they were taking me and I thought that I was finished. After about a stressful hour and a half, or perhaps more, I was back in Evin and Ward 240. It felt like I had just left hell. I believe it was late autumn.
How did the interrogations continue at Evin? Was there a chance to resist?
Sometimes they would tie me to the bed, put a paper in front of me and I signed it. There was no flogging. My body was destroyed and no part of it was left intact. The bones in my feet were broken and had fused together by themselves. I was unable to resist and I continued to make confessions, but whenever somebody new came to talk to me I said, “Wait! Say what you will, but I am innocent. Do what you want and I will write whatever you want.” They always laughed!
After you gave in under torture, how did their scenario work once you had agreed to various charges against you?
They had a clear-cut scenario, but I had to confess in my own words. To come up with my own answers, sometimes they helped and sometimes they beat me.
For instance, the first operation that they said I had carried out was the explosion at a nuclear-related factory in Isfahan’s Zarin Shahr. They said I was responsible for putting the bomb there and setting it off. According to their scenario, I was responsible for planning the operation in Israel and had taken part in the operation as well. They put a chart before me and according to this chart I was at the top and was first connected to Mazyar Ebrahimi and then to others. I had to say that I had taken a safe house at Jolfa Street for members of the team.
The interrogators weirdly insisted that I predict the details in their scenario and say and write them down during the interrogations. Each time that I guessed wrong I was cursed and kicked and slapped until I came up with the right answer. For example, they would ask me what model and color of car we used during the operation and I had to grab an answer from the empty air and say, for instance, a metallic-blue Peugeot. Until I came up with the answer that they wanted, they might kick and slap me a few times. But even when I did come up with the right answer the interrogator would shout, “You so-and-so, why didn’t you say ‘metallic-blue’ the first time?’”
This method of obtaining confessions to solve the jigsaw puzzle of their scenario in a way that would match their overall picture and the roles envisioned for other players lasted for two or three months.
Apart from the organizational chart that they showed you, who else among your codefendants did they talk about during the interrogations?
After I was broken, but while I was still in Prison 300, they said, “We have caught your buddy Mazyar as well and he is here in our hands.” They told me that Mazyar is a spy, too, and that he goes by multiple names. Then they showed me a picture of him in prison uniform.
Before we were arrested, Mazyar and I lived in neighboring blocks in a housing complex called Guyzheh (“Hawthorn”) in the city of Sulaymaniyah. A few other Iranians lived there as well, like Rahmat Moadi, Mazyar’s cousin, who was later arrested along with Behrouz Ghobadi, brother of Bahman Ghobadi [the Iranian Kurdish award-winning film director]. I later learned that Mazyar had been arrested a week before me.
When I saw Mazyar’s picture, suddenly my heart stopped. “Mazyar is a terrorist and has really done something and since I was his friend I have been dragged into it,” I said to myself. I really believed there was a terrorist group and Mazyar was a member. In that situation I had really come to believe that.
It has been reported that Rahmat Moadi and Behrouz Ghobadi were arrested on November 3, 2012. Ghobadi was released after nearly three months and Moadi after approximately seven months. Do you know what roles they were supposed to play in the intelligence ministry’s scenario? Did you see them while you were in prison?
Rahmat Moadi and Behrouz Ghobadi did business together in Iraqi Kurdistan. They came to Iran to take a plane from Tehran to Georgia. What I heard later was that they were arrested on the road from Sanandaj [the capital of Iranian Kurdistan] to Tehran and were taken to Evin.
In late November, when I had just returned from the secret prison to Evin, they woke me up at midnight and took me from Ward 240 to one of the cells in Ward 209. My interrogator was there, too. “This is Behrouz Ghobadi, Bahman Ghobadi’s brother,” he said. “We want you to identify him and confirm that he was an accomplice of yours,” meaning that I had to do to Behrouz what they had done to me on the very first day of my interrogations.
I went into Behrouz’s cell. He was not doing well at all. I don’t know whether he had been tortured or not. “Do you know me?” I asked him. He said that he did not. “Have you seen me before?” I said. He said that he had not. “I have not seen you before either,” I said and left the cell. My interrogator said, “What happened? Weren’t you supposed to identify him?” I said, “He does not know me and this is the first time that I have seen him. How can I identify him?”
I did not see Rahmat in prison. I met him in Turkey after my release when I had left Iran. Yes, they were arrested in connection with the same scenario but I don’t know what roles they were supposed to play. In any case, both of them were released much earlier than the rest of us.
As you said earlier, interrogators had extracted confessions from other defendants against “Michael” — meaning you. After you were forced to play along according to their scenario, did they force you, as the head of the alleged terrorist team, to make confessions against others?
Yes, they gave me names besides Mazyar’s. They had a “monograph” form [a form for confessions of one prisoner about another person, usually a codefendant]. They brought in monographs by others and said, for example, “Here Behzad Abdoli writes where he met Michael and what instructions he had received from him.” And then I had to confess to what Abdoli had written.
In the role that they had assigned to me, I was on top of the pyramid and knew everything. For instance, I knew what operations Behzad had taken part in and in what operations another individual had a role. For the individuals lower on their organizational chart they had envisioned more limited roles. Women played the role of seductresses or perhaps had participated in a specific operation.
Most of them had been broken under torture very early on, had confessed to whatever they had been told, and had also done it in front of the TV cameras. I was at the top of the pyramid, so I was supposed to know everything in the scenario and confess to all of it. I, too, sat in front of the camera and confessed to whatever they wanted. But my confessions were not broadcast because the first confession tape was produced and aired when I was still under torture and had yet to break. So my name was not brought up in their TV confessions. It was not clear what would become of me.
You said that you were accused of many more terrorist acts. What were these alleged crimes?
After the explosion in the Zarin Shahr factory, they brought up the assassination of nuclear scientists and then the Malard explosion [a missile site]. A number of my principal codefendants were also charged in these three cases. Then they brought up a number of older cases, which they wanted to attribute to a Mossad officer and to Israel. One was the assassination of Ali Sayad Shirazi [a Revolutionary Guards general who was murdered in April 1999]. They said that I was riding a heavy motorcycle and carried out the assassination myself.
They also gave me a role in the assassination of Imad Fayez Mughniyeh [the number two man in Lebanese Hezbollah’s leadership, who was assassinated in 2008] and said that I was a Mossad officer and Mughniyeh was assassinated by Mossad. They wanted to show that they had captured a very important Mossad officer and they had no other way of doing this except by making charges against him bigger and more colorful.
They also attributed to me the explosion in an offshore oil platform in the Persian Gulf, the explosion at Imam Reza’s shrine [in Mashhad] and even the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan [who was shot dead on the street during the protests following the disputed 2009 presidential election].
All in all, they accused me of 36 terrorist acts. According to them, we had tried to put poison in the mixed nuts procured by the families of nuclear martyrs so that when Mr. Khamenei visited them in their homes he would be poisoned [by eating the nuts]. They even tried to get some government officials implicated. They brought me photo albums so that I would point the finger at our accomplices in the pictures. In any case, they helped to match my confessions with what had happened and what had been reported at the time when the actions had taken place — either by beatings or by “cheating” [suggesting the answers].
But this “cheating” made your case more serious. Did you cooperate with them in making the charges against you more serious to escape more torture?
Simply by making the false confession that I was responsible for the assassination of nuclear scientists, I was subject to the death penalty and there was no reason for me to go through torture again by resisting and by refusing to tell the lies that the interrogators wanted. Following this logic, I accepted whatever they said.
They said that I was involved in the explosion at the Islamic Republican Party [on June 28, 1981, which killed 73, including a large number of leading figures of the Islamic Republic]. This, as they say, is enough to make even a dead chicken laugh. How can a five-year-old boy carry out a terrorist act? But they had the answer: My late father was a Jew and a Mossad agent and he had given me the bomb [to plant]. And I followed my father’s way. They imagined that this way they could make their ridiculous scenario more believable.
But about “cheating”: One of the interrogators who went by the name of Haj Mohsen never engaged in torture or beating. During lunchtime or prayer time when others were away he would sit and talk to me. As we were talking, I would say “Haj Mohsen, help me! I cannot remember these [things]. My memory is gone.” I asked, for instance, the model and the color of the car used in such-and-such operation. He would say, for example, “A green Peugeot.” I did not know the names of nuclear martyrs and because of it I had been beaten. He said, “write it down,” and gave me the names himself.
And I presented Judge Salavati with this fact. I told him, “I was under torture. You say that on this day and at this hour I confessed to assassinating nuclear martyrs and signed my confession. Go and look at the CCTV footage and see that I was beaten because I did not know the names, and one of interrogators gave them to me.
Were your confessions filmed at Evin Prison?
No, it was not at Evin. They took me to a building outside the prison. Inside the building they took me to a room and removed my shackles. I was told to remove my blindfold. “I will see you if I take it off,” I said. “Take it off,” they said. “You know that you are not going to leave alive, so it is all right if you see.” I took off my blindfold. It was a stylish room with high-priced furniture and nice decorations. Three of my interrogators were sitting in a corner. This was the first time that I could see the interrogators and others.
They introduced themselves. My principal interrogator asked me whether he looked different from what I had pictured. “Yes,” I said, “I thought you would have a beard.” He looked like a young man, a little over 30. He introduced himself as “Saeed”. One of them was a torturer whom I recognized from his voice. I told him that his voice reminded me of all those tortures. “I was just doing my duty and it is now in the past.”
They had installed two cameras in the room. A person came in. “I am going to make a documentary about you,” he said. “Repeat whatever you told the interrogators here in front of the camera.” He talked politely. The interrogator coordinated whatever I was going to say with me. They turned on the mike, started asking questions and I responded the way they wanted. They turned off the cameras many times and I repeated the answers until they had what they wanted me to say on tape.
After this I no longer had to wear a blindfold during interrogations until the tables were turned, the case was taken away from this team and Judge Shahriari took over the case.
How did the tables turn? What happened that the case was taken away from the intelligence ministry’s team, which had forced all of you to confess? How did the question of your execution became moot and how was it that eventually you were released?
I am not sure but perhaps it started with the intelligence ministry’s efforts to show that it was more successful than the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization by identifying the network responsible for the explosion at the Guards’ missile site in Malard.
What Mazyar said earlier almost exactly happened to me and others that were supposed to have played a role in the Malard case. Agents from the Guards came to interrogate us. In my own case they had planted a camera in the basement of Ward 209 and apparently somebody was watching the feed. Earlier the intelligence ministry’s interrogator had coached me how to answer the questions. But the Guards’ interrogators found inconsistencies in our answers and perhaps these inconsistencies were big enough to give the Guards the upper hand in their power struggle with the intelligence ministry, their rival. That is how they took over the case and shredded their scenario.
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