The Wizard in Purgatory

TIME Magazine — September 21, 1953

The Mossadegh Project | December 17, 2013                   

TIME magazine ridicules the deposed Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, in this article on his 1953 military court trial.

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Problem Prisoner

TIME magazine, September 21, 1953

In Iran’s new hour of suspense, the big question was what should be done with Mohammed Mossadegh. The Shah and his ministers dared not let him go free to stir Iran once more to rebellion, and chaos. They also feared to execute him for treason, and thus give him a martyr’s crown. They even worried that a public trial would give the old wizard a stage from which to work his spell on Teheran’s easily swayed street mobs. Mossadegh, after all his years at the game of plot, imprisonment and exile, knew too well how to capitalize on his captors’ uneasiness.

“Kill Me Now.” Held in strict detention—first in Teheran’s plush Officers’ Club, then in the Sultanabad army barracks some ten miles from the city—Mossy was allowed to see only his guards, a military prosecutor, his wife, daughter and nurse. But the ex-Premier knew that if his performance was good enough, its fame would spread to the streets and make it harder than ever for the Shah and new Premier Fazlollah Zahedi to get him off the political stage. Resolutely he resisted the prosecutor, who came to interrogate him in preparation for a trial. “I refuse to be questioned by you or by anyone else,” cried Mossadegh. Sometimes he simply pretended to fall asleep. He demanded to see a lawyer—to draw up his will. He wept in the old abundance, and once he cried, “Kill me now!” He wanted permission to see some old friends and henchmen, and when this demand was rejected, Mossy announced to the captain of the guard that he was going on a hunger strike. “I will fast to death,” he vowed. Mossy dramatically refused his breakfast and his lunch. But by supper-time—to the relief of the government—he was bawling for food. “I have only been able to preserve my physical powers with strong food,” said the man who ruled Iran for 28 months, mostly while encased in pajamas, and lying on a cot. “I must eat three roast chickens every day . . . a robust soup and a good dessert.”

On one occasion, Mossadegh announced that he would throw himself out the window. The captain of the guard walked to the nearest window and opened it. “I have an order against bringing your friends here,” said the captain, “but I have no order against your jumping out of the window.” Two hours later the captain came back; his prisoner had left his bed and was sitting sulkily on a chair in a corner far from the window.

Trial & Punishment. But in spite of the 74-year-old ex-dictator’s dramatics, the prosecutor came day after day to Mossadegh’s room in the army barracks and piled up statements and evidence. At week’s end, the government announced that Mossadegh eventually will be tried by a military court-martial for his “illegal acts” against the Shah and the country between Aug. 15, when the Shah fired him as Premier, and Aug. 19, when the mobs chased him from power and recalled the Shah from his brief exile in Rome.

The Shah’s court and the government could not agree on whether to hold the court-martial in public and run the chance that Mossadegh would steal the stage, nor had they settled on the punishment to be exacted. Theoretically, he could be condemned to death as a traitor. But in the streets, Mossadegh still commanded great popularity, and the Communist-led Tudeh (in spite of vigorous government efforts to defang it by throwing its leaders into jail) was busy last week cooking up sentiment for a pro-Mossadegh uprising. Those who feared that Mossadegh’s wizardry might live after him were urging a secret trial, a death sentence and then a merciful commutation from the Shah which would send Mohammed Mossadegh into long imprisonment or into exile.


Related links:

Mossadegh’s Histrionics: This Is a Trial? | Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dec. 3, 1953

IRAN: The People Take Over | TIME magazine, August 31, 1953

Pro-Mossadeh Supporters Urge Strike In IranUPI, November 11, 1953

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

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