Saberi's Release: Due Process or Political Games?

Journalist Roxana Saberi was released today after a month of captivity in an Iranian jail. But the timing and circumstances of her release show that it is purely President Mahmud "I'm-A-Dinner-Jacket" Ahmadinejad playing political games.

The Iranian-American journalist, who has dual citizenship, was arrested in April for trumped-up charges of spying. Sentenced to eight years in prison, the international community demanded her release. Saberi, whose citizenship means that she is bound to Iranian law, went on a hunger strike to protest the political nature of her captivity. Though she was previously sentenced by a secret court, her appeal this morning was heard in a fair trial -- and she was even granted access to a lawyer!

Yesterday was the filing deadline for the Iranian election, which takes place on June 12. President Ahmadinejad and another conservative face off in a four-person match against two more moderate men, according to the BBC. The moderate front-runner, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, hopes that the two conservatives will split the vote. At a time when the world views Iran as increasingly extremist, each candidate argues that he is the best one to reshape the nation's image.

Saberi's arrest on ridiculous charges (it's sort of unreasonable to assume that the freelance reporter for NPR and the BBC is spying for the US government), and subsequent release in a show of judicial fairness, is Ahmadinejad's not-so-subtle way of showing the world that he can manipulate his country's judicial system. For better or for worse, he can flick on and off his courts' extremist interpretations of Muslim shari'a law. But this is more than a sign to the world that he has control over his own clerics. At the same time, I'm-A-Dinner-Jacket is using his presidential clout to show that he too can be a "reformer." And in so doing, he's undermining his opponent's platform.

The election in June will be pivotal -- perhaps even more so than the Israeli election -- in deciding how the Middle East will go in the next few years. If an moderate is elected, Obama's diplomatic overtures will get a fresh look and an agreement will certainly be reached over Iran's support of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. If it's an extremist...well...we better start preparing for that possibility.