tv CNN Special Report CNN October 28, 2014 9:00pm-10:01pm PDT
bigger. now we have to worry about the size of our telamiers as well. by the way, in my defense, there are kit kat bars, everything in moderation. that does it for us. the cnn special, "witness the iran hostage crisis" starts now. >> welcome to this cnn special report "witnessed: the iran crisis." the iranian revolution toppled the monarchy of the shah in iran iran was becoming an islamic state with a particular hatred and suspicion towards the united states which it called the great satan. this anger and hostility culminated on november 24, 1979
when a grup of iranian protesters attacked the embassy in tehran. they stormed the gates. they broke into embassy buildings and took 66 americans hostage. the images of americans blindfolded, handcuffed and paraded in front of screaming crowds ignited shock and outrage back in the united states. they were interrogated, some were beaten and tortured with no idea if they would be released or even if they would survive. >> the iranian revolution was the first time i had ever heard the united states referred to as the great satan. a. >> this ref lug was extraordinarily fast. the first outbreak of demonstrations was in early 1978. basically by the end of the year, the shah was leaving the country.
>> we were caught unawares of the rapid rise of the revolution. the dislike of the shah. >> they're telling the united states to give up the shah from his hospital bed in new york. they want him to stand trial in a people's court. >> during his 37-year reign, the shah has made iran the most westernized of the muslim country ps he has continually cut the power of religious leaders. >> despite soaring oil prices, iran was plagued by crippling inflation. the shah was criticized for ignoring the poor and middle class. >> iranians rightly blamed the united states for the coup that put the shah in power. >> iranians resent that, resent it to this day, consider it to be a totally unwarranted and
unforgivable intrusion into their sovereignty. the shah rightly or wrongly was perceived as being out of touch with the iranian people, with the tool of the united states. >> the forces of the left and the right have one thing in common -- hatred of the shah and his secret police. >> he became a symbol of the shah. >> the ideology was really not known. sop washington was very uninformed about what was going on. >> distinguished leaders. >> it was new year's 1978 and i was in tehran. jimmy carter was visiting. the shah was still there. and jimmy carter famously referred to iran as being --
>> an island of stability. in one of the more troubled areas of the world. >> this, of course, was seen by the iranian people as further evidence that jimmy carter was a close friend and ally of the shah. >> this is a great tribute to you, your majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and admiration and love which your people give to you. >> so jimmy carter, even before the shah fled iran was seen as an enemy of the iranian people. got to remember, the kind of situation the shah was in. here is a guy who has been on the throne for 37 years, has been through a number of assassination attempts and weathered a number of revolts against his rule. he has an incredible amount of money from the revenues that was coming in. he had one of the most feared
security services in the world. so it is not entirely unreasonable that people thought that he would prevail in this operation. and the fact that he just stumbled time after time after time and refused to take the kind of action that he needed to surprised us, surprised the people who were around him, actually. and in the end brought him down. and you know, we were astonished when it happened. >> there might have been tears in the eyes of the shah as he left iran for what could be the last time. but there was nothing but sheer delight on the faces of the demonstrators who took to the streets of the capital in their thousands to celebrate the departure of the man they have hated for so long. >> i think the iranian people were surprised with the ease that they overthrew the shah, and there was a suspicion that it was too easy. that the united states was
planning to pull the rug out from the revolution and put the shah back in power. >> 16 days after the shah's departure, the most powerful of iran's religious leaders returns home from exile. the ayatollah khomeni is the sworn leader. >> i think the ayatollah was a cipher to the americans, because we have never dealt with a powerful, religious leader who was fundamentally anti-american. >> the iranian people are united and they believe and all of them are behind khomeini's leadership. and as a iranian, i will say khomeini is my leader and i believe in his leadership.
>> back then, the speeches of ayatollah khomeini were recorded on audio cassettes, which would be smuggled into iran, and passed from hand to hand, recorded and re-recorded again. and those sermons, the political lectures that the ayatollah khomeini gave from his place of safety on the outskirts of paris, they created a revolutionary atmosphere inside iran. and yes, we were slow to recognize just how powerful that movement was. >> if he was a hero when he returned to iran, he becomes in a matter of days very nearly a god. >> this was the first time that the united states had ever
encountered political islam. >> the women, prodded into the future by the shah, voluntarily donned the chador. >> and we were really surprised by what happened. >> politically, it was absolutely fascinating because the shah had been deposed. he had fled the country and iran was in the throes of building something called the islamic republic of iran. fascinating to be in at the beginning of a new government, i thought. >> today it all focuses on the deposed shah, who arrives in what may be his last haven, cairo. >> it was a set of steps, starting with egypt, then they moved onto morocco, from morocco, we moved to the bahamas, after that, we moved to mexico for the next two months. >> it was there an american doctor was called in to see him
because he was feeling very ill. and after two visits discovered the shah had cancer, lymphoma, and needed serious treatment. that changed everything. from that moment there was tremendous pressure to bring the shah into the country. >> there was a great deal of concern to allow the shah into the united states for treatment. >> from a compassionate point of view, it was the right thing to do. but from a pragmatic point of view, there were lots of places he could be treated. >> the embassy in tehran could sense this could be the spark that would ignite hostility towards the united states. >> jimmy carter kept resisting. finally, he had a showdown meeting in october of 1979. all of his advisers were there, and one after the other they recommended to him that the shah be allowed to come into the
country. and so finally he looked around the room. and he was the only one left that had not declared himself in favor of bringing the shah in. and at that point, carter said in effect, okay, you win. i will approve bringing the shah back into the country, but i wonder what kind of advice you are going to give me when our people are taken hostage in iran. >> i remember i was working around october 19th or 20th. and i ripped the telegram classified off the machine and looked at it. it was from the state department and it said the president is allowing the shah into the united states for cancer treatment. >> our sense at the embassy, many of us, my sense was, well,
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we knew there was going to be a protest on november 4th. we were not alarmed. the route in front of the embassy was a favorite route for protests. it started out in the hundreds, it gathered steam. none of it was directed at us in the initial stages. >> if anything, i think it was a smaller crowd, i guessed there were maybe 3,000 people out
there. i didn't pay much attention at all to it. >> from that morning, groups were walking past the embassy. and about ten or 10:30 a.m., one of the groups got there and stopped in front of the gates. were shouting slogans. this was nothing unusual. >> all of a sudden, i got the word from the marines, they're over the wall. they're coming in. and minutes later there is a break-in. so i'm listening to this and i just can't believe what i'm hearing, from almost nothing to there is a break-in. >> the whole american embassy in tehran, it is like an enclosed campus. >> our compound was 27 acres. and to give you some perspective on that the white house grounds are 18 acres, in order to deal with this i had 14 marines. i was reminded that we were under no circumstances to use
any lethal force in defense of the embassy. we had a safe area with a steel door and a cipher lock to get in there. and so we started to evacuate all of our personnel up to the top deck. the marines as per orders had withdrawn to the top floor. they had taken all the weapons out of the weapons cabinets and everything else, and they had taken their defensive positions. the effort to take over the embassy was a coordinated one involving radical islamist students from all of the major universities in tehran. and the idea was to reach the gate, enter the compound. take the american workers there hostage. and to hold a sit-in. >> it was not until they managed to break into a basement window and actually get into the embassy that we -- the cia began to destroy documents.
>> we were very carefully destroying everything that was confidential and secret and higher. and it finally got to the point that it was taking too much time. >> i sought permission to go out and negotiate with these people. they kept insisting that you know, they wanted to occupy the compound and they wanted to do a protest. and i said you just can't do that. and so they marched me out in front of the embassy. they had tied my hands behind my back. and they started yelling. john was a fluent farsi speaker, was speaking with them through the door at some point. it was decided that he spoke farsi, he would come out there. i think that probably lasted 23 seconds.
i mean, if that. and then thegrabbed him. >> al had been taken and blindfolded and saw there was a gun to his head. and i just started talking to these people as i would have talked to perhaps an unruly group of students. >> he had been taken and blindfolded. i tried to say look, what are you doing, what kind of action is this for educated people? >> in persian, i spoke to them. [ speaking in a foreign language ] >> i used the word that means disgrace. they weren't having any of it. they tied me up and blindfolded me and put a gun to my head and yelled through the door if you don't open the door in five minutes we'll shoot both of these people. >> ann swift, the political
counselor was on the phone to the washington crisis center. >> ann swift made the only political decision she could make, which was to open the door and let the demonstrator in. many americans think if there were marines on the ground, they should have open fired. it would have been an accident of suicide, and if things had gone differently. if, for instance, one of the young marines had open fired, on one of the the demonstrators, it very clearly could have been a bloodbath. >> the order to surrender was given. so people lined up in the hallway. >> they captured everybody. and then they took us out the front door. there was a lot of smoke and gas in the building. and i remember feeling good to be in the fresh air. and also feeling good that we were still alive. because the most dangerous part
of this was at the time of this attack. >> two iranians had their back to me, so i thought, i think i'll walk up behind them and surrender. he says where were you hiding? tell us you work for the cia. and i muffled, no, i'm not the cia. and he snapped the gun, click, and i looked and looked and looked. i thought my eyes were going to lock in that position to see if there was a bullet coming up and i couldn't see it. and i just kept telling myself, well, it's not going to hurt, it's not going to hurt. >> the demonstrators in iran succeeded beyond their wildest hopes if their point was to sort of arouse and anger and insult the american people the takeover of the american embassy came as a surprise. then the display of hostages.
>> individual hostages being paraded in front of cameras with blindfolds on. these were images that were new to the american people. >> the people who launched the attack believed what they were going to do was come in, take over the embassy, make a statement about you want to return the shah and return the assets to iran. and they figured they would probably be there a day or two, maybe three, and then the government would say fellows, that's enough, it's time to leave. >> while the iranians burned the american flag in front of the embassy, they said the takeover had the blessings of the ayatollah khomeini. >> and then the first day or two they suddenly discovered that the government was joining them. and supporting their action, which they were as surprised as anybody else. and suddenly, instead of having
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>> early stages of this when the hostages were being held by these students who were completely out of control. we're not really equipped to be guardians running a prison, taking care of prisoners and all. >> i kept hoping it would blow over, well, not within a few hours but hopefully within a couple of days. that they would have their fun and make their point and that somebody would say look, this is not the way we treat guests. this is not the way we handle diplomacy. >> it would be hard to overestimate the ignorance of the iranian students who took over the embassy about the united states. and they anticipated that the african-americans, for instance, would rise up in support of their revolution against the authorities. so the early decision to release the african-american hostages and the women was a gesture, really, to what they felt were their allies in the american --
within the american public. >> they sent the other women home because they were in an administrative positions. but ann and i were officers and therefore we were spies. >> to a certain extent, inside the grounds it continued to be orchestrated by the radical students themselves was very dig organized. >> they were terribly emotional and they threatened people with death. they took people outside. they had fake executions. they didn't know that it was going to be fake. >> there was a very famous mock execution that took place. >> two guys burst into our room, with field jackets on and black ski masks, automatic weapons. shouting at us to get up. >> they just came in about 2:00 in the morning, masked with weapons. came into where i was, i was by myself. and said okay, get up. >> they blindfolded us and then
they ran us down the basement hallway. >> they grabbed us up in the middle of the night, marched us into another room and forced us to strip down to our underwear and placed us up against the wall and then went through the cadence of a firing squad. >> my one hope is, i hope they hit dead center. i don't want them to take me to the hospital. i would rather be killed cleanly. >> i tried to rationalize it, saying it was a close space. there would be too many ricochets. >> they gave the word in farsi, and they all snapped their weapons, all at once when they gave the word to fire. and it all went click, click, click. >> they were yelling and screaming and pushing us around. why they did it, what they were up to, i suspect that it is simply the thought, they did it
because they could and they thought it would be fun. >> i literally had no control over my life. they could have come in and done anything they wanted to. and i would never have been able to have stopped them. >> we had no control or no say over what time we ate. when we drank. when you could go to the bathroom. >> there is a narrative among many iranians today that we were treated well. that was simply not true. some were beaten up. all of us were pushed around. we were threatened. >> some of the top cia officers like bill daugherty were probably given the worst treatment. >> one of my interrogators was a big kurd. so at first he pulled off this very heavy leather belt. and started using it fairly
liberally. and then he brought out some plastic cord and wrapped it around my wrists until the circulation stopped in my hands, and they started swelling and became very sensitive. and he took a rubber hose and laid the hands out like that and he started to work on my hands with a rubber hose. i've got to tell you, that's probably the worst pain i've ever had in my life. >> for me, the solitary confinement was probably one of the worst parts of captivity. it was quite frightening to be very honest. at some point, i decided that i was going to take my life. i was going to get down in a three-point stance and i was going to run into the steel door that was there.
and with hopes that that would kill me. at some point in all of this, i think a voice of reason said you probably are not going to be able to kill yourself. >> there was no end date. and that was one of the things that made it very difficult. how long will this go on? >> in an apparent attempt to eliminate fears that the american hostages are being mistreated iran released more film of the american captives. >> i would also like to send a message to the american people and the people of the world, i would like to thank all of them from the bottom of our hearts. >> ann and i keep busy every day. we're reading and studying faithfully and i love you all very much. >> what happened with the standoff in tehran is it became a nightly television event. >> reporting from washington, ted koppel.
>> "nightline" began with ted koppel as a daily examination of the ongoing crisis in hay ran. -- hay ran. tehran. >> we were the place that people came to every night to get their update on the hostage crisis. >> good evening, this is a new broadcast. >> back then, the fact that you could see the crowds chanting, you know, death to americans, out in front of the u.s. embassy. and know that it was happening the very second that you were seeing it. had an impact which is hard to measure in this day and age when it has become so much a part of who we are and what we are. back then it was new. back then it was revolutionary. >> senator edward kennedy today picked up some backing for his challenge to president carter. >> jimmy carter was running for president. running for re-election at the time this all took place.
>> initially the white house had a couple of briefings every day. and after a few weeks the white house began to realize that they had made a major political error in focusing as much attention on this. >> we hold the government of iran fully responsible for the wellbeing and the safe return of every single person. >> carter would appear periodically in the rose garden outside the oval office and make a statement about the hostages, what was going on, what he was doing, making it clear that this was something that was on his mind all the time. >> that played well here in the united states. but what that meant to the people who were holding the hostages was oh, we've got the president of the united states exactly where we want him. e to .
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by the end of march it was pretty clear that all of the pressure that we had brought to bear really was not working. the hostages were still there. and there was really very little more we could do, even as a super power short of an invasion. and we knew if we did that the hostages would get killed. i began to see little signals of things that were going on. there were meetings at night in the situation room that i had not heard anything about. they had a full-scale meeting at the cabinet level. and they had discussed this. and had decided to go for a rescue mission. >> as we began to develop more intelligence on the situation at the embassy, we were able to formulate a more deliberate plan of assault. >> all of the political efforts had failed. and for the very first time the united states army was telling him we can do this. so it was only when this mission became remotely probable and all other efforts had failed that he
agreed to launch it. >> we were going to fly in for special operations, flying them into the locations now known as desert 1. we would offload there eight rh-53 helicopters from the uss nimitzs, flying into the location for what was to be called desert 2, which was a site northeast of the tehran mountains. >> it involved so many different pieces and units. so many different things had to go right. >> we would then go into the embassy, clear the buildings and particularly the chancellory, rescue the hostages, blow a hole in the wall, take them to the stadium across the street where we would have a security force. >> there was a landing zone created in the middle of nowhere. >> when the helicopters finally showed up at desert 1, after
having encountered this dust storm, one of him immediately reported his aircraft was unserviceable. >> the white house called off the mission at that point because they could not successfully carry it off with as few helicopters they had. >> one of the helicopters was repositioning to get fuel from one of the fuel birds when, because of the dust on the landing zone, the pilot apparently got vertigo, crashed into the cockpit of the c-130 and a horrible fireball occurred. unfortunately, we lost a few good men in the fire with no hope of getting to them in the middle of the desert inferno. >> eight americans have died in an attempt to free all or at least some of the american hostages in tehran.
>> one of the most difficult things we had to do was to leave those eight men behind. i think that, more than anything is, has affected me in the years since. is the fact that we couldn't get them out. >> i was given a copy of the german magazine, der spiegel. there were photographs in there, and diagrams of the rescue attempt. you could tell from the diagram that it had been a very risky attempt, a very dangerous effort. it had cost people's lives and that was a very saddening thing to realize. people had actually died trying to give us back from freedom. >> the rescue mission was a great disaster. and when you take risks like this, if you win, you look brilliant. and if you lose, you look stupid. and you just have to live with that.
>> our rescue team knew and i knew that the operation was certain to be difficult. and it was certain to be dangerous. we were all convinced that if and when the rescue operation had been commenced that it had an excellent chance of success. >> jimmy carter ended up looking very bad. and he had to face up to that. he had to deal with it. >> the iranians were taken completely by surprise by the rescue mission. they had not expected it. they really didn't know it was coming. and it was a huge shock to them. so they, after it was over, dispersed the hostages all over the country. >> the failure of the rescue mission reinforced for the iranians the divine nature of their cause. here, the most powerful military force in the world had attempted a violent attack on iran, and they had been turned back not by brave iranian military forces but literally the hand of god who stirred up these sand storms in the desert and defeated the great satan in his effort to
attack. >> when i heard that the ayatollah got the big boost from this and they were saying that it was the divine intervention that had occurred, i just wanted to go back in and kick their ass. but it was not an option at that stage. >> that was a huge early blow at the early stages of the presidential campaign. it was a very bad time. >> are you and your family more secure after four years of jimmy carter? >> tomorrow, voters from around the country will go to the polls and elect the president of the united states. >> millions of voters did turn out, and ronald reagan won easily. in fact, it was a landslide. >> i remember saying to the guards when they said that president reagan was elected, i said oh, that guys a cowboy. they said oh, what do you mean? oh, that guy is a cowboy, that is not good for you guys. >> i can't say it doesn't hurt. >> carter's defeat was a victory
for the iranian revolution. and i think the attitude was well, we'll deal with this next guy when he takes office but we won this round. >> they were genuinely concerned when ronald reagan was elected. >> there has never been a more humbling moment in my life. >> that ronald reagan was a different kettle of fish and that he really might use military force to get the hostages back.
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the hostages are now beginning their 356th day of captivity, the conditions already stated for their release include unfreezing the iranian assets in the united states, return of the shah. >> the hostages were beginning to be perceived as a bit of a liability. it was not a permanent kind of situation that could have been sustained. >> the iranians were very tired of it. and several of them actually had the audacity to complain. i wish you guys would go home because i haven't seen my brothers and sisters in three months. of course, our answer was, well, you just have to take us to the airport, we'll be happy to leave. >> we put sanctions on iran, took over their assets on deposit, $12 billion worth of economic assets. and from the iranian point of view they needed to get rid of these people. >> the negotiations to gain
freedom for the hostages in iran continues to move forward. >> the negotiations took place in algiers, and they arranged to negotiate through proxy nations so they couldn't be accused of negotiating directly with the great satan. >> we have now reached an agreement with iran which will result, i believe, in the freedom of our american hostages. >> they did actually resolve the crisis sometime in december. but they waited for inauguration day in order to deprive jimmy carter of a triumphant moment before he left office. >> only hours now before the hostages will get up to begin the day they have been waiting for, for 14 months. >> they came in and said grab your stuff. we didn't have much stuff. boom. they just started taking us out.
blindfolded, mind you, took us out, i was put into a van with the two women who we had no idea were still there. ann swift and kate koob. >> this was the first time we had been put in a situation with the men. we had always been separated. >> thank you. >> from the time i was put into solitary, i was never with the others. a number of them i found out later actually believed that i had been executed, because nobody had seen or heard of me. >> then they pushed us out, and started, you know, yelling slogans. and i kept thinking to myself, you know, we're getting out of here. these -- these poor bastards have to stay. >> i, ronald reagan -- >> the transition of power in the united states, the fact that
it allowed them to engage in one last piece of theater by waiting until the very second, quite literally, the minute that jimmy carter ceased to be president and ronald reagan raising his hand became president of the united states, bingo. that's when the planes took off. >> once we cleared iranian airspace and the flight attendants, god bless them, broke out the champagne, and we were just hugging and cheering, and -- we just -- it's a blur. >> i had received word officially for the first time that the aircraft carrying the 52 american hostages had cleared iranian airspace on the first leg of a journey home, and that every one of the 52 hostages was
alive, was well, and free. [ cheers and applause ] >> we had flown to tunisia. >> and we landed in germany and were received at the hospital in the middle of night, just the crowd going wild and signs and everything. >> and i don't think that they probably fully believed that they'd escaped from this until he landed in germany and were being attended to by american military doctors. >> president carter is flying to west germany tomorrow, tomorrow morning, that is, to greet the 52 freed americans. [ cheers ] >> we were told that president carter wanted to meet us. president reagan gave president carter the keys to air force one. so he flew to germany as the former president, and he talked with us, and the hostages were split in their thinking.
we were left hanging out there by our fingernails, when the shah came in, we could have closed down and sent people home. we could have not let the shah in for medical treatment. >> it was not a warm welcome. i don't think anybody was terribly disrespectful. i'm sure mr. carter felt the sentiment that had been expressed with, we told you this was going to happen. >> reporter: one of the colonels. one of the military attaches walked around, and he said, this is the president. he said, go out there and show respect. and so we all did. >> jimmy carter by the time this was over knew all the tames, the family histories, he had met many of the family members. he was an expert on those hostages. and really it had become part of him.
>> our americans in iran were mistreated much worse than has been previously revealed. the acts of barbarism, which were perpetrated on our people by iran can never be condoned. >> what did we teach militant islam 35 years ago? we taught them that you might be able to get away with this. [ chanting ] let's hide in the attic. no. in the basement. why can't we just get in the running car? are you crazy? let's hide behind the chainsaws. smart. yeah. ok. if you're in a horror movie, you make poor decisions. it's what you do. this was a good idea. shhhh. be quiet. i'm being quiet. you're breathing on me! if you want to save
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[ chanting ] the hostage crisis actually left an indelible mark on the american psyche that that 444 days of bombardment of, you know, wild-eyed fanatics waving their fists against americans in tehran, there was nobody say the age of 10 during that time that doesn't remember that vividly and that has shaped their add toot towards iran. we are going to have to get over that some day. we're going to have to move beyond it. >> what no one foresaw was how
this would change from a 1970s-style student sit-in into a huge international incident that would bring down a president, that would push iran on to a road to extremism, brutality and destruction, and that would still cast its shadow 35 years later. >> what did we teach militant islam 35 years ago? we taught them that you might be able to get away with this.
>> hello, everyone. you're watching cnn. i'm rosemary church. we want to welcome your viewers in the united states and of course, all around the world. our top stories this hour. launch disaster. nasa scrambles to investigate what went wrong. >> i want to make sure that every policy we put in place is supportive of their efforts. >> in the fight against ebola, the u.s. president is standing by the health care workers. wed in the battle against isis,