Bill Moyers: Mossadegh Held Power Legitimately

The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | November 5, 2007                    

Bill Moyers | The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis

After over 40 years in broadcast journalism, Emmy winning PBS host, author and political commentator Bill Moyers retired at the end of April 2010.

Bill Moyers in TIME magazine, October 29, 1965 Moyers hosted NOW and Bill Moyers Journal for years on PBS, where he introduced the likes of Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly to the masses. In his prior career, he was the assistant to and former Press Secretary for President Lyndon B. Johnson.

One of Moyer’s most significant productions was the special program The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis (1987).

This two hour special gave historical precedent to the Iran-Contra scandal and President Reagan’s secret arming and funding of the Contras in Nicaragua, looking back at past covert, illegal activity by the United States.

This includes the CIA and Dulles brothers’ handiwork in overthrowing elected governments in Iran and Guatemala; collaborating with Nazi war criminals and American mafia dons, the war in Vietnam, assassination attempts of foreign leaders such as Fidel Castro, propping up murderous dictators, the infamous Gulf of Tonkin resolution, etc.

Watch the full video of the program below. The Iran portion begins 29 minutes in.

The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis

Aired November 4, 1987 (126 minutes)

Mossadegh & Arbenz & Lumumba & Sukarno & Allende... shirts

Mossadegh & Arbenz & Lumumba & Sukarno & Allende... t-shirts


Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh (1882-1967), Prime Minister of Iran 1951-1953 BILL MOYERS: Iran, 1953: the CIA mounted its first major covert operation to overthrow a foreign government. The target was the Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh. He held power legitimately, through his country’s parliamentary process, and he was popular. Washington had once looked to him as the man to prevent a Communist takeover. But that was before Mossadegh decided that the Iranian state, not British companies, ought to own and control the oil within Iran’s own borders. When he nationalized the British-run oil fields, Washington saw red.

Kennett Love was a young New York Times reporter in Tehran that summer.

KENNETT LOVE: This was in McCarthy’s time and the whole Cold War paranoia was running wild in Washington, and everyone was saying that crazy old Mossadegh was falling under the influence of the Communists. This was not true!

MANSOUR FARHANG: He did not receive an iota of assistance from the Soviet Union!

MOYERS: Mansour Farhang was a young student activist in Tehran and a Mossadegh supporter. He now lives in the United States as a teacher, and a writer.

MANSOUR FARHANG: In those days, in early 50’s, the idea of an independent, neutral state was not at all acceptable to either the West — either the United States or the Soviet Union. Mossadegh was the victim of this east-west rivalry.

MOYERS: The Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, and his brother Allen, Director of the CIA, decided with Eisenhower’s approval to overthrow Mossadegh and reinstate the Shah of Iran. Kennett Love recalls the work of one American agent named George Carroll.

KENNETT LOVE: He was the one that paid the money to street gangs. He was the one that invented the idea, that make everyone identify himself as a Shah’s partisan, so therefore the opposition would not be able to group in the streets. That was why anybody in a vehicle, and anything else, had to put a Shah’s picture in the windshield and put the headlights on. And that you had to do, or you would have your windshield clubbed in, and be dragged out and beaten up and killed, or whatever.

MOYERS: The mobs paid by the CIA, and the police and soldiers bribed by the CIA, drove Mossadegh from office.

NEWSREEL: “Crown Prince Abdullah greets the Shah as he lands at Baghdad airport after a 7-hour flight from Rome.”

MOYERS: The King of Kings was back in control and more pliable than Mossadegh. American oil companies took over almost half of Iran’s production. U.S. arms merchants moved in with $18 billion dollars of weapons sales over the next 20 years. But there were losers.

KENNETT LOVE: Nearly everybody in Iran of any importance has had a brother, or a mother, or a sister, or a son, or a father, tortured, jailed...deprived of property without due process... I mean, an absolutely buccaneering dictatorship in our name that we supported. SAVAK was created by the CIA!

Bill Moyers MOYERS: SAVAK, the Shah’s Secret Police, tortured and murdered thousands of his opponents. General Richard Secord and Albert Hakim, whom we met earlier, were among those who helped supply the Shah’s insatiable appetite for the technology of control. But the weapons and flattery heaped by America on the Shah blinded us to the growing opposition of his own people. They rose up in 1979 against him.

“Death to the Shah!” they shouted. “Death to the American Satan.”

KENNETT LOVE: Khomeni is a direct consequence, and the hostage crisis is a direct consequence, and the resurgence of the Shiia is a direct consequence of the CIA’s overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953.

EDWARD FIRMAGE: It’s cited often as a wonderful example of an efficent CIA accomplishing something good. In reality...

MOYERS: Edward Firmage is a professor of law, former White House fellow, and Constitutional scholar. [University of Utah]

EDWARD FIRMAGE: create a nation who hates you enormously, who views you as a devil, an evil force... you create in that state sufficient forces of unrest, that you don’t have stability...and those chickens come home to roost. You end up with a violation of the Constitution, and a hatred that is propagated today... until you have embassies taken, hostages held, hatred engendered — hatred simply doesn’t come to rest.

Jacobo Árbenz (1913-1971), President of Guatemala 1951-1954 BILL MOYERS: Guatemala, 1954: Flushed with success, America’s secret government decided another troublesome leader must go. This time, it was Jacobo Árbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala.

Philip Roettinger was recruited from the Marines to join the CIA team. [Colonel Philip C. Roettinger, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)]

PHILIP ROETTINGER: It was explained to me that it was very important for the security of the United States that we were going to prevent a Soviet beachhead in this hemisphere, which we have heard about very recently of course, and that the Guatemalan government was Communist, and we had to do something about it.

MOYERS: President Arbenz had admired Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his government voted often with the American position at the United Nations. But in trying to bring a New Deal to Guatemala, Arbenz committed two sins in the eyes of the Eisenhower administration. First, when he opened the system to all political parties, he recognized the Communists too.

ROETTINGER: Well, of course there was not even a hint of Communism in his government. He had no Communists in his Cabinet. He did permit the existence of a very small Communist party.

MOYERS: Arbenz also embarked on a massive land reform program. Less than 3% of the land owners held more than 70% of the land. So Arbenz nationalized more than 1½ million acres, including land owned by his own family, and turned it over to peasants.

Much of that land belonged to the United Fruit Company, the giant American firm that was intent on keeping Guatemala, quite literally, a Banana Republic. United Fruit appealed to its close friends in Washington, including the Dulles brothers, who said that Arbenz was openly playing the Communist game. He had to go.

ROETTINGER: This was sudden death for him, I mean there was no chance of him winning this fight because of the fact that he had done this to the United Fruit Company. Plus the fact, that he was overthrowing the hegemony of the United States over this area. And this was dangerous, it could not be tolerated. We couldn’t tolerate this.

MOYERS: From Honduras, the same country that today is the Contra staging base, the CIA launched a small band of mercenaries against Guatemala. They were easily turned back. So with its own planes and pilots, the CIA then bombed the capital. Arbenz fled and was immediately replaced by an American puppet, Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas.

ROETTINGER: He overturned all of the reformist activities of President Arbenz. He gave the land back to the United Fruit Company that had been confiscated, he took land from the peasants and gave it back to the land owners...

MOYERS: The CIA had called its covert action against Guatemala, Operation Success. Military dictators ruled the country for the next 30 years. The United States provided them with weapons and trained their officers. The Communists we saved them from would have been hard pressed to do it better.

Peasants were slaughtered. Political opponents were tortured. Suspected insurgents were shot, stabbed, burned alive or strangled. There were so many deaths at one point that coroners complained they couldn’t keep up with the work load. Operation Success.

ROETTINGER: What we did has caused a succession of repressive military dictatorships in that country and has been responsible for the deaths over 100,000 of their citizens.

MOYERS: Success breeds success, sometimes with dreary repetition. Mario Sandoval Alarcon began his career in the CIA’s adventure in Guatemala. Today he’s known as a godfather of the death squads. In 1981, after lobbying Ronald Reagan’s advisors for military aid to Guatemala, Sandoval Alarcon danced at the Inaugural Ball. Richard Bissell, another veteran of the Guatemalan coup, went on to become the CIA’s Chief of Covert Operations.

[Updated May 3, 2010]


Related links:

The Dulles Brothers: How to Wreak Havoc in Guatemala in Iran

August 19, 1953: The Day Democracy Died in Iran

Chalmers Johnson on Iran, "Blowback" and "The Sorrows of Empire"

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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