The Hiker Hostages: Was it really our fault?

Just a few days ago, the world watched in happiness as American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were finally released from their terrible stint in an Iranian prison. Fellow hiker Sarah Shourd was released approximately a year earlier than the young men.

Yesterday in a press conference upon their arrival in New York City, they were given some time to speak to the world.

First, let me say how elated I am to hear that fellow Americans have been released from a hell like that of an Iranian prison. I would wish such a thing upon no one, much less fellow Americans. What a wonderful, amazing thing it is that three people made it out of a place from which few leave.

Overshadowing this reaction, however, is the frustration incited by some of their words.

In a press conference that should have been one of simple thankfulness for the efforts  that worked together to bring them home (not to mention the possible concessions the U.S. government made, i.e. prisoner swaps etc.), they took it a step further. After their words of thanks, they used the press conference as a political soap box from which to spew sentiments generally held by the very people who kept them as prisoners. Specifically, Bauer used his time to point out that, in his mind, the United States does the exact same thing in Guantanamo and other CIA prisons around the world. He pointed out how the guards reminded them of this fact every chance they could:

“He added that he believes that reports of abuses and poor conditions in CIA-run prisons, prisons inside the United States and at the military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ‘provide an excuse for other governments, including the government of Iran, to act in kind.’ Bauer said every time the two complained about their conditions, ‘the guards would immediately remind us of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay. They would remind us of CIA prisons in other parts of the world, and the conditions that Iranians and others experience in prisons in the U.S.'”

For the record, here is a report from the L.A. Times regarding a first-hand visit to Guantanamo. Some corrections to another article are being made here as well:

. . .all detainees have been issued sleep masks. . . (Due to the fact that for security reasons, lights are kept on 24/7.)

. . .The prisoners can also see each other when being escorted to showers or interrogation, during recreation time and when the aperture is opened for meal delivery. 

. . .Prisoners are allowed at least two hours of recreation daily.

. . .The article said the prison library had 2,000 books and magazines; it has 5,000, including multiple copies of many titles.

. . .The article said that once a prisoner had skipped nine meals he was considered to be on a hunger strike and taken to the medical center where he was force-fed. Medical officials say hunger strikers are force-fed only when their weight has fallen to 85% of their ideal body weight and a doctor recommends it. (In other words, there are doctors there 24/7 monitoring the health and well-being of the inmates)

. . .each prisoner gets more than 4,000 calories a day, with five meal choices to accommodate vegetarians, the overweight, the toothless and the sensitive of stomach.

. . .Each is equipped with a bunk, sink and toilet. Only the most compliant detainees can keep a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap. Those being disciplined or segregated from others must ask for their hygiene items from guards, who monitor their use, then remove them.

. . .Discipline or segregation status means loss of “CIs,” or comfort items. These include toilet paper — each prisoner is given 15 sheets daily — a change of clothing, a mattress, prayer beads, playing cards and a few hours’ access to pen and paper.

These individuals are known terrorists and murderers; yet they are being treated quite well, with a great deal of regard and respect for their basic needs and wants. They are even granted the right to prayer times throughout the day! Show me where in an Iranian prison Christians would be given the same right. While the 3 Americans jailed in Iran described the time they were beaten or thrown down a flight of stairs, as well as the horror of having to listen to other prisoners receive their unending punishments, the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay receive little more than a slap on the wrist for “misbehavior.” I don’t think one can compare loss of “comfort items” with being beaten senseless.

Back to the point at hand, I’d say the three were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, but judging from their backgrounds coupled with the fact that they view a hiking trip in such a volatile region of the world to be prudent, I’d deduce that their conclusions about their time in prison and how it relates to the U.S. treatment of terrorists were opinions that they’ve held for quite some time. You see, there are people who truly believe that the ills of the world are caused by superpowers like the U.S. They hold the view that nations like Iran are simply reacting to the U.S. and that pure, unabashed evil isn’t a factor. They believe that if they simply make it clear to nations like Iran that they “aren’t like” the rest of America, that they will be treated fairly. Frankly, if two years in an Iranian prison doesn’t convince a person of the ever-present evil in this world, well….I have no words for.

Fattal and Bauer pointed out that the majority of people being held in Iranian prisons are there for simply expressing certain beliefs or opinions. Specifically, “There are people in Iran who have been imprisoned for years for simply attending a protest, for writing a pro-democracy blog or for worshiping an unpopular faith. Journalists remain behind bars and innocent people have been executed.”

EXACTLY.

Guantanamo Bay does not house unpopular journalists, teachers, religious officials, or political dissidents, nor do the mentioned “CIA” prisons, or regular prisons, for that matter! Specifically, the prisoners at Guantanamo (and CIA prisons) are terrorists captured in warfare; terrorists who have either directly killed American citizens, soldiers, or collaborated in the efforts to do so. Frankly, Mr. Bauer, how dare you compare them as equal. It’s wrong, it’s unpatriotic, and quite frankly, it’s a slap in the face to the very nation in which you are so blessed to reside at this moment.

While we’re on the subject of prisons run by the U.S., yes, there have been unfortunate cases of abuse (Abu Ghraib, for example). What is important to note is that these are anomalies; they are not the norm as it is in nations like Iran. In the cases in which abuse of any kind has been uncovered, the perpetrators have been dealt with swiftly. Show me a case in an Iranian (or any other state sponsor of terror) prison such as the one those three hikers sadly had to call home, that punishes its guards for carrying out actions of abuse.

Returning to the rationale of hiking in that region, wasn’t traipsing across that volatile part of the world, knowing that neighboring Iran might want to do exactly what they ended up doing, just a smidge dangerous and rather irresponsible? The very fact that they know (regardless of whether or not they’ve got the reasoning correct) that Iran hates the U.S. should be a clue. Please forgive my tone here, but I have a difficult time feeling much sympathy for individuals who place themselves in such a situation, and then proceed to blame their own country in the end. To the three: Let me restate again that I am elated that you are safe, sound, and back on American soil. Let me restate again that I would not wish your ordeal on you nor anyone. I am simply taken aback by your attitude.

Bauer brought up the “mutual hostility” between Iran and the United States. He said that “the irony is that Sarah, Josh, and I oppose U.S. policies towards Iran, which perpetuate this hostility.” This speaks to my point. They were shocked at the irony that they oppose U.S. policy, yet they were held as prisoners regardless.

Despite his time in the Middle East, how very little this man seems to understand about this so-called “mutual hostility.” He’s right about the hostility’s presence. It exists, alright, and incidentally the very fact that Bauer, Fattal, and Shourd ARE Americans is the very reason that they are alive today.  They were kept alive precisely because they are Americans that could be used as pawns. They were unfortunately made to be part of a political “game” (as he calls it) that reaches back for quite some time between a nation that despises personal freedom and a nation that honors and protects it. It isn’t a “political” game, it is a monumental difference in ideology. Moreover, our actions towards Iran have been defensive, not offensive. From the hostage situation during the Carter and Reagan administrations, to the funding of terrorist groups as well as nations that call for the death of American citizens, Iran’s government has spewed its hatred for the United States and the West constantly and unapologetically, and for no other reason than that it wishes the demise of Western culture entirely.  Call me crazy, but doing our utmost to make sure that Iran stays put, ends its funding of terrorists groups around the world, and ceases military nuclear operations isn’t exactly asking for the moon.  It’s also not shocking that a nation that wishes for the annihilation of the Israel as a start, and most of the Western culture as the ultimate goal, isn’t taking kindly to our fighting back.

Speaking of Iranian support of terrorist groups and nations that promote despicable conditions of human rights, Sarah Shourd has written articles while working as an English teacher in Syria (which incidentally happens to be a state sponsor of terror and a despicable human rights violator as well), in which she specifically addresses her feelings against Israel’s actions in the Golan Heights region, siding with Syria in the matter. What I find interesting is that Iran happens to back Syria and so many other nations like it, yet the three place very little or blame on the Iranian government for their own capture and imprisonment. (After all, the Iranians are reacting to the United States, right?) Incidentally, the Golan Heights dispute among others is a complex and highly important topic (in which Syria is hardly innocent) that I’ll save for a later time.

Shourd also voiced her opinion about Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2010 when she had the chance to meet with him in New York City. She is quoted as saying “I have no animosity towards him or the government,” prior to a meeting that she described as “friendly.” Yeah. I hear Mussolini could be a pretty charismatic guy, too.

My point is simply this: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad backs the ideology that is responsible for the way Iran is today. Believe it or not, Iran was not always our adversary. In fact, there were times in which we had no qualms with the nation.

Bauer ended his statements at yesterday’s conference with the following:

“We do not believe that such human rights violations on the part of our government justify what has been done to us,” Bauer said. “Not for a moment. However, we do believe that these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse for other governments, including the government of Iran, to act in kind.”

So, why did I feel the need to write such a post during a time that should be one of celebration at their return?

I’m sick of it. . . I’m sick of the way that American is portrayed in the world. I am sick of people such as these three, who have just secured their freedom from the very antithesis of the United States and all the freedoms for which it stands, sit there and blame the United States for the ills they suffered.

Let me be very, very clear: The United States of America is the reason why that kind of terror is not worldwide. Period. We are a nation that has been blessed with great economic power and military might, and could easily choose to use its power for ill. Instead, we give back land wherever we have fought; we send billions in aid to nations that in return spit in our face; in short, we fight for freedom around the world. And these three- these three sit there with precious American citizenship in hand, and scoff at the very nation that has ensured that the sort of blatant human rights abuses that Iran (and Syria!) and so many other nations perpetrate has been not spread far beyond their borders. No, we are not the world police, nor do I maintain that we should be. However, United States has been a force for good and a bulwark against abuses to freedom across the world, and it is shocking to me that these three very, very lucky ex-prisoners would suggest otherwise.

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