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An Admitted US Assassin

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The following is from Canada's rightwing national newspaper, The National Post, formerly owned by Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour.

Lafond's film presents conspiracy theories

Debunked stories portrayed as real in documentary

Graeme Hamilton, National Post

Published: Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MONTREAL - Jean-Daniel Lafond, whose association with former FLQ terrorists sparked criticism of the appointment of his wife, Michaelle Jean, as Governor-General, is courting controversy again in a new documentary.

American Fugitive: The Truth about Hassan lends credence to a number of anti-American conspiracy theories and offers a generally sympathetic view of its subject, David Belfield, an admitted assassin wanted in the United States for the 1980 murder of an Iranian diplomat.

Mr. Belfield, exiled in Iran and known as Hassan Abdulrahman, tells Mr. Lafond the U.S. is making "American state terrorism the primary ruling doctrine of the globe." He adds: "I'm not killing anybody. George Bush is killing people every day, so what makes him the champion of democracy and what makes me a terrorist?"

The 75-minute film, to be premiered on Saturday at Toronto's Hot Docs festival, is Mr. Lafond's first release since Ms. Jean was appointed Governor-General by then-prime minister Paul Martin.

In interviews conducted in Iran, Mr. Belfield tells Mr. Lafond how, as a black American growing up in the 1960s, he became radicalized and converted to Islam.

After attending university in Washington, D.C., he fell in with Iranian students supportive of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. On July 22, 1980, he showed up on the doorstep of Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a former press attache of the Shah, disguised as a mailman.

"When he came to the door for a signature, I shot him. Simple," Mr. Belfield told Mr. Lafond.

Mr. Belfield, 55, fled the country, driving first to Montreal, then flying to Europe and on to Iran. Beyond the reach of U.S. extradition treaties, he had disappeared from public view until he landed a starring role, under a pseudonym, in the acclaimed 2001 Iranian movie, Kandahar.

The man who would be responsible for prosecuting Mr. Belfield if he were returned to the United States said the last thing the assassin deserves is a sympathetic documentary film.

"Usually a guy who walks up and shoots somebody and then skips town doesn't get sympathetic treatment," Douglas Gansler, State's Attorney for Montgomery County, Md., said in an interview yesterday.

"I don't think there is another side of the story. From my perspective, when somebody executes another human being in cold blood, there is no sympathetic side to the story.... What his personal problems or philosophies might be really are not of concern to law enforcement in the United States."

In Mr. Lafond's film, author Joseph Trento is interviewed, saying he believes U.S. authorities permitted the Tabatabai assassination, hoping to curry favour with Ayatollah Khomeini and win the release of the 52 American hostages held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

The film allows to pass unchallenged the widely discredited theory of Gary Sick, a deputy national security advisor under president Jimmy Carter, that the Republicans successfully delayed the release of the hostages in order to ensure Ronald Reagan's victory in the November, 1980, presidential election.

Mr. Lafond also leaves unquestioned Mr. Belfield's contention that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were "murdered by the state."

Mr. Gansler, who is interviewed in the Lafond film but has yet to see it, called "absurd" the suggestion that the United States was complicit in the Tabatabai killing.

"If that were true, then he wouldn't have to disguise himself as a postal worker and then flee the country immediately after committing the execution," Mr. Gansler said. "If they were complicit, that wouldn't be a problem, now would it? It seems inherently contradictory."

Mr. Lafond was unavailable for an interview for this article. In a recent interview with Maclean's, he maintained his role as a filmmaker is not to provide answers but to stir debate. He said he has "no power to say" whether it is true that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were murdered by the U.S. government. He said he had "the impression" that there was a U.S. conspiracy behind Tabatabai's murder. A press release accompanying the film's release says it "raises grave questions about the convergence between Iran's conservative clerical rulers and their neo-conservative counterparts in Washington."

In a speech last month at the presentation of the Governor-General's Awards in visual and media arts, Mr. Lafond offered his view of the artist's role in society. He despaired that the 21st century "is already characterized by barbarism" and said it is up to artists to be "resisters, calling with their very souls for the insurrection of hearts and minds." If not, he continued, "What society do we hope to leave future generations? What example? A society that says, 'Eat human flesh, it's good?' The legacy of Auschwitz, September 11, Baghdad?"

Mr. Lafond's earlier films, and his association with former FLQ members, led to an outcry after Ms. Jean's appointment was announced last August. In a book he published to accompany a 1991 film about the poet Aime Cesaire, he wrote:

"So, a sovereign Quebec? An independent Quebec? Yes, I applaud with both hands and I promise to attend all the St-Jean Baptiste Day parades." He now says the words were taken out of context and he has never belonged to the separatist movement.

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