BORDERING ON TREASON?
THE TRIAL AND CONVICTION OF ARIF DURRANI
By Lawrence Lifschultz, Stephen Galster, and Rabia Ali
Is this the only man to have gone to prison for the Iran-Contra affair?
THIS INQUIRY BEGAN inadvertently. When I first encountered Arif Durrani, I had no interest in the man or his case. I had located him in a federal prison in Oregon and set off to interview him because I thought he might know something about another story on the clandestine movement of arms intended for the Afghan mujahideen that I was following. However, upon meeting Durrani, it became clear that he knew nothing about the subject I was investigating.
Before I left Oregon he tried to tell me his own story. I listened to him with great scepticism. Durrani, it soon became apparent, is not a person always able to coherently describe the veritable maze of deals, personalities, and encounters which have made up his life as an arms trader. Yet, many of the fragments he offered raised nagging questions…. Was he man wrongfully convicted? Was he part of the Iran-Contra story? Or was he an artful fabricator?
Interviews with the prosecutor in his case, the U.S. Customs agent who arrested him, and his defence attorneys raised even more mystifying questions.
With the collaboration of our friend Stephen Galster who was at the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C., my wife Rabia Ali and I embarked upon an investigation which would span more than a year and bring us into contact with a labyrinthine network of underground arms merchants in Europe…. We were able to unlock the details of an illicit world of arms trading linked to the joint U.S.-Israeli effort to supply Iran with weapons officially prohibited for export. The obscure and peculiar Durrani case served as a window to a more expansive panorama of illegality and deception….
Yet, Durrani's story remained central and not merely incidental to our investigation. One may well ask, as some have with dismissive contempt, why anyone should care what happens to a man like Durrani. After all, it has been argued, he was an arms dealer who profited immensely from trading in the commodities of war. But in our view in a democratic society one's distaste…should not cloud the issue of equal justice. The duplicity, the lies, and the cynical disregard for human life are not merely the domain of private arms merchants. Many governments—even those with democratic credentials—can hardly pass the test. In this sense, the obscure case of Arif Durrani epitomises the many-sided reality of crime and punishment in the Iran-Contra Affair.
From the Foreword, by Lawrence Lifschultz
New Haven, Connecticut, July 12, 1991
BORDERING ON TREASON is a gripping tale about an arms dealer drawn into an off-the-books American intelligence operation—and sent to jail as a result. Arif Durrani was caught between the 'deniability' needed to protect a national security scandal and the prosecutorial demands of an American legal system that refuses to recognise the professional dishonesty that pervades the U.S. intelligence community.
Bob Parry won the George Polk Award for national reporting in 1984 for his work on the Iran-Contra Affair. He was the first reporter to uncover Oliver North's secret Iran-Contra network. He made several documentaries on the story for PBS's program, Frontline.
The Durrani story is part of the great tangle of the Iran-Contra affair. [The authors] have done an exceptional piece of research on a difficult subject. Was Durrani actually part (or did he believe himself to be part) of a government-sponsored program of selling arms to Iran?… With admirable enterprise they have traced the story to Belgium and unearthed important documentary evidence on the magnitude of the underground arms industry.
Gary Sick is a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Middle East Institute. He served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan.