Sarah Shourd Speaks Out
December 27, 2011 6:56 AM   Subscribe

In one of the year's closely watched stories, American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were released from prison in Iran, following the release of a third hiker, Sarah Shourd. Here, Shourd explains for the first time why she thanked Iran after her ordeal—and the response from global Iranians.
posted by josher71 (93 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've not heard of this "Threat Reduction Act"; it sounds like it would curtail diplomacy when we need that the most nowadays. Anyway, glad they made it all out of there alive.
posted by Renoroc at 7:09 AM on December 27, 2011


Wish we could get Hoder out of there alive.
posted by cashman at 7:19 AM on December 27, 2011 [26 favorites]


Hopefully, the release of Fattal and Bauer means that we'll never have to put up with another story that blithely ignores the possibility that a trio of kids who went hiking in a war zone just might have been doing exactly what the Iranians said they did.
posted by Toby Dammit X at 7:29 AM on December 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


When I came out of Iran's Evin prison 16 months ago, one of the first things I did was thank the individuals who were responsible for holding me hostage, having accused me of crossing Iran's border on a hike in 2009.

That may have been what happened, but it was definitely not what she was being accused of. She and her friends were accused of being American spies, but since the Iranians didn't water-board her, we'll never really know the truth.
posted by three blind mice at 7:30 AM on December 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


> Wish we could get Hoder out of there alive.

As much as that would be a good thing, the fact is that the Iranian government has taken the position that he is an Iranian citizen, so it's really a whole different game.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:36 AM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Hopefully, the release of Fattal and Bauer means that we'll never have to put up with another story that blithely ignores the possibility that a trio of kids who went hiking in a war zone just might have been doing exactly what the Iranians said they did.

They weren't hiking in a war zone. They were hiking in northern Iraq, where there was no American troop presence and no combat. As an aside, I think it's amusing that people think the CIA works by smuggling white operatives into western Asia rather than recruit locals through networks.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:38 AM on December 27, 2011 [18 favorites]


I've not heard of this "Threat Reduction Act"; it sounds like it would curtail diplomacy when we need that the most nowadays.

I'm wondering if it's constitutional. Article II section 3 of the US Constitutions charges that "(the president) shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers" -- the implication being that diplomacy is the province of the executive, other than agreeing to treaties, which requires both the assent of the President and the US Senate.

Congress is given the power to regulate commerce with Foreign Nations (Art. I Sec.8) and, to "define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations" (ibid.) and, of course, the ultimate in diplomacy by other means, declare war and grant letters of Marque and Reprisal (ibid.)

But otherwise, diplomacy is very, very much constitutionally part of the executive, indeed, the most senior cabinet secretary is the Secretary of State.*


* Seniority is by date of creation. Thus, after State, there's Treasury (1789) and then Defense, which absorbed the Department of War (1789), then Justice, created 1870, but at its head was the Attorney General, created in 1789. All the others came later, the last being Homeland Security in 2002.
posted by eriko at 7:42 AM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Swedish journalists who hiked into Ethiopia put into jail and now in court.

Lots of random hikers must not be having any maps for all these remote and not really your backyard type of places, no?
posted by infini at 7:47 AM on December 27, 2011


A cursory google did not turn up a map of their hiking route. As much as Toby might just be trolling, it is hard not to read a couple paragraphs and not think "off on a hike in friggin Iraq" what were they thinking?
posted by sammyo at 7:56 AM on December 27, 2011


This was such a bullshit story. *Of course* they weren't just "hikers." To believe otherwise is to happily trip down the fairy tale path, tra la la.

"I want to go hiking, but I can't decide between Yosemite and Iraq." Bullshit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:58 AM on December 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


what were they thinking?

Here.
posted by josher71 at 7:59 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Bullshit.

Ok, but if you actually, you know, read about what happened you'll see that they were hiking in Kurdistan. They were encouraged by locals because of the scenery. It was probably boneheaded, but the kneejerk reactions are really silly.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:00 AM on December 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think it's amusing that people think the CIA works by smuggling white operatives into western Asia rather than recruit locals through networks.

I haven't got such a high opinion of the CIA that this doesn't sound exactly like something it would do...

But you really don't have to be a CIA recruited agent to fall under suspicion of a somewhat justifiably paranoid regime when you turn up in a remote part of their country and claim you were just hiking and accidently crossed the border.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:03 AM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


> But you really don't have to be a CIA recruited agent to fall under suspicion of a somewhat justifiably paranoid regime

Right, I wasn't talking about the Iranians, who both are paranoid and put up a false front for saber rattling. I was more talking about people here. Anyway, I'll quit hogging the thread.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:06 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's amusing that people think the CIA works by smuggling white operatives into western Asia rather than recruit locals through networks.

But they'll never think that a bunch of Berkeley grads are working for the CIA!
posted by gyc at 8:17 AM on December 27, 2011


I know lots of people who go hiking in remote areas of the world. The part of Iraq where they were is completely safe. I have no idea or opinion on the truth of the matter, but I there's nothing about their story that seems unbelievable.
posted by kyrademon at 8:24 AM on December 27, 2011


Cool Papa Bell: "I want to go hiking, but I can't decide between Yosemite and Iraq." Bullshit.

I see no reason to retype what I've already written, so I'll direct you here.

Back in 2007, after Iran released those British sailors, some of them came out and spoke very poorly of the Iranian government. While I have no doubt that Faye Turney's 180 was truthful, I don't think it helps future hostage negotiations with Iran.
posted by gman at 8:24 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you josher71, the detail is interesting and allowed a good google maps zoom in. But "There is no Lonely Planet Iraqi Kurdistan" comes across a bit disingenuous, they were folks living in the middle east, traveling to Iraq (certainly Kurdistan is known to be quite safe) but one would think that from a quick look at any map a reasonable question would be about issues with the border patrols, military.

I certainly know folks that will blindly (sometimes with great archeological/ethno-cultural-ish research that totally ignores current events) plow ahead into a questionable area. So sure the excuse of "well it seemed like a nice hike at the time" is not at all a surprising excuse, and sure, yeah, waterfalls are cool, and lets get away from the local tourists for some "quit time". But, sputter, but, just look at the map.
posted by sammyo at 8:28 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


And of course they could be doing both. "Oh, you guys are going hiking on the border? Could you snap a few pics for us here at the 'State Department' while you are there?" Why exercise your network when you can save money AND do double duty[1] with someone already going your way?

That said, these don't sound like the people that'd agree to something like that and we have no evidence they were doing anything other than what they said they were.

[1] If they get the info, great. If they don't, you still get stuff like learning what won't pass unnoticed, propaganda opportunities (Iran So Unreasonable In Re: American Hikers, etc).
posted by DU at 8:31 AM on December 27, 2011


1) Capture hostages.
2) Release hostages in a magnanimous gesture of goodwill.
3) "Look, Iran is willing to negotiate and make concessions!"

How many times is this game going to work?
posted by Behemoth at 8:33 AM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Iraqi Kurdistan is actually quite a lovely place - I'd gladly go myself - but even the official Web site encourages people to be as smart as possible about traveling there. There are a handful of good travel reports over at Thorn Tree (which is part of the Lonely Planet site). Unfortunately, the border regions are probably tricky to figure out "on the ground", so I'm not surprised this whole thing transpired as it did. But the suggestion that they might actually be spies is dumb as hell, sorry.
posted by mykescipark at 8:33 AM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


The part of Iraq where they were is completely safe.

Obviously not, if it was totally safe except for an unmarked border (that's close enough to hike over) that you cross at peril of being imprisoned for a year. The fact that bombs weren't going off doesn't mean it was a luxury resort.
posted by fatbird at 8:44 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


mykescipark: But the suggestion that they might actually be spies is dumb as hell, sorry.

Government spies are one possibility, but another is that they were some sort of freelance journalist - not spies by our definition but possibly by Iran's.

It certainly makes a hell of a lot more sense than believing that someone was brainless enough to think that it would be a good idea to vacation in a country within which our military was engaged in significant combat operations. The spy explanation, really, gives them a lot more credit; a spy at least has a legitimate purpose to be there. Someone vacationing in Iraq (even in a 'safe' area, because no insurgent would ever go even a little off the beaten path) is just criminally stupid and irresponsible.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:45 AM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


They should've just gone to Cancun
posted by ReeMonster at 8:45 AM on December 27, 2011


In late July the four of us decided to travel from Damascus, Syria to Iraqi Kurdistan for a short vacation. Sarah had to return to work in a week. While going there might seem strange to Americans, the Kurdish territory is actually very beautiful and quite safe. Since the Kurds gained autonomy in 1992, no American has ever been harmed there.

I am glad that they're safe but I don't understand this way of thinking. That whole region is unstable, all of the wars, all of the various ethnic conflicts. I don't care if the "brochures" or "a friend" said it's safe. You couldn't pay me to visit that region.
posted by Fizz at 8:49 AM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everest isn't exactly safe either, but people go there all the time.
posted by boofidies at 9:20 AM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fizz: “I am glad that they're safe but I don't understand this way of thinking. That whole region is unstable, all of the wars, all of the various ethnic conflicts. I don't care if the "brochures" or "a friend" said it's safe. You couldn't pay me to visit that region.”

But that whole region isn't unstable. Granted, this article by a security advisor in Iraq is from a few months ago (back in July) but...
I regularly write about how violence has escalated in the north of Iraq, usually in relation to the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. I occasionally write that conditions have been quiet in Kurdistan, but I don’t often dwell on it. For me, it is obvious. Kurdistan is arguably as safe as a European country, and statistically speaking it sees fewer terrorist attacks than its neighbour (and popular tourist destination) Turkey. As a result I normally have very little to report on.
So, er – yeah. A parallel situation might be the fact that Juarez is pretty much a war zone these days. Would you say, based on that fact, that 'you couldn't pay me to visit Texas' because 'that whole region is unstable'?
posted by koeselitz at 9:21 AM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


As an aside, I think it's amusing that people think the CIA works by smuggling white operatives into western Asia rather than recruit locals through networks.
It's kind of weird you don't think they do both. I mean this guy managed to shoot a bunch of people in Pakistan and get arrested for it, 4 months before bin laden got killed, about 200 miles from abottabad. What government department do you think he was working for?

I remember hearing about an Iraqi American they recruited to go back to Iraq and inquire about the WMD program by asking people she knew, but that's not really a 'local'. I'm sure it happens, but there's a huge problem of trust if you just get some local to do the job. One 'local recruit' I heard about in Afghanistan

Plus, I mean, don't you think it's kind of pompous to be all "it's so amusing you don't believe the same thing I believe", when there is no way you could actually possibly know.

Were they spies? I kind of doubt it, had they been the U.S would have been more willing to do prisoner swaps, buy their freedom, or whatever. But that doesn't mean someone at the CIA might try some hair-brained scheme. You wouldn't think the Russians would have been as dumb as they apparently were to try the Anna Chapman stunt, but they did.

Also, let's not forget that Kurdistan region of Iraq was not only very friendly towards the U.S after being protected for so long by the no-fly zone, but they were actually running ads encouraging people to travel there as tourists. So it's possible that people heard this PR and decided, mistakenly, it was safe.
You couldn't pay me to visit that region.
Well, maybe they were more naive, or perhaps not very risk-averse. There is one mefite who has taken trips in that region, I think.
posted by delmoi at 9:22 AM on December 27, 2011


boofidies: Everest isn't exactly safe either, but people go there all the time.

I think the critical difference here is that if your get yourself into trouble on Everest, it's your problem. If you get into trouble in Iraq, we'll feel obligated to help you, which means that you might end up endangering members of the military in a rescue operation or requiring the state department to give up concessions to a hostile government.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:25 AM on December 27, 2011


From TFA
The reason I moved to the Middle East was because I wanted to do solidarity work with Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, a choice that stemmed from my long-term opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.
These were educators working in the Middle East, trying to do some good, not adventure tourists. They had a couple weeks off and wanted to see Kurdistan, which was presumably safe. Realize not everyone can afford to take their short vacation and go to Yosemite or Can-fucking-cun, dude.
So, after working in war zones they ended up in an area where there were no bombs going off, no gunfire, and they relaxed and subsequently got a little careless. Did they mess up, certainly. "Jailed and tortured" mess up, dude, I think not.
posted by mikoroshi at 9:26 AM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Of course mefites don't understand hiking in Kurdistan. That would involve getting more than 100 feet away from the computer desk.
posted by happyroach at 9:27 AM on December 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


The part of Iraq where they were is completely safe.

It's a border between two countries, who in the 1980s had an eight year war that killed maybe a million people.

I've backpacked/traveled through three 'militarily sensitive' areas - Western Sahara; Srinagar, Kashmir; and northern Kashmir/Indus Valley near the Indian-Pakistan border. In the latter case, I needed a specific permit. In all cases I made damn sure that I knew exactly where I was, where I could go, where I could not go, and had all the necessary maps, routes, and paperwork. There was no Lonely Planet ...? Give me a break.
posted by carter at 9:28 AM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


If there is anything I learned from playing Diplomacy, it's when they STOP talking to you that there is a problem.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:32 AM on December 27, 2011


I haven't got such a high opinion of the CIA that this doesn't sound exactly like something it would do...

The CIA mostly recruits for a position called "Collections Management Officer" -- this is a locally placed person, often a westerner, who recruits other people to gather intelligence. They don't recruit leftist activists to do James Bond shit.
posted by iamck at 9:45 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The CIA mostly recruits for a position called "Collections Management Officer" -- this is a locally placed person, often a westerner, who recruits other people to gather intelligence. They don't recruit leftist activists to do James Bond shit.

*Throws copy of Bourne Identity against the wall.*
posted by Fizz at 9:48 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


There isn't a shred of evidence these three (left-leaning activists highly critical of both US and Israeli policy in the region) did any spying at all or had any CIA contacts. Iran made allegations, but produced no proof at all. Nothing that has come out since has supported the allegation that they were more than hikers who went over an unmarked border. This was an error, but nothing indicates it was more than that.

The ongoing hostility and suspicion toward this three hikers here on MetaFilter has been mighty hard to understand. Can anyone at this point produce anything other than innuendo?
posted by bearwife at 9:52 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mean this guy managed to shoot a bunch of people in Pakistan and get arrested for it, 4 months before bin laden got killed, about 200 miles from abottabad.

a) There are an awful lot of "Westerners" in Pakistan. Sometimes those Westerners commit crimes. In the case of Raymond Davis, the US government was claiming him as a diplomat. This strikes me as considerably different from the situation of these three hikers.
b) It's kind of funny to hear Lahore, a city of about 6.5 million people, being described in terms of its proximity to Abbotabad. I can't think of a good analogy. "NYC, 40 miles from West Point," maybe.
posted by bardophile at 9:52 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


You couldn't pay me to visit that region.

And a lot of people say this about Pakistan, too. And yet, shockingly enough, an awful lot of us continue to live in Pakistan, or divide our time between other countries and Pakistan. And even more shocking! There are actually people who come to Pakistan from the US and other Western countries solely as tourists, or as educators cum tourists, or journalists cum tourists! People have different comfort levels with reference to their own safety, whether or not they are employed by intelligence agencies.
posted by bardophile at 9:56 AM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is one mefite who has taken trips in that region, I think.

I think you're thinking of gman, who was arrested by the Kurds. He linked upthread to previous comments about his experiences.
posted by homunculus at 10:00 AM on December 27, 2011


But the suggestion that they may be spies is dumb as hell.

Also, that super-secret spy drone that Iran captured and claimed was illegally in its airspace "we accidently lost control of and veered off course".

To be suspicious of an agency whose principal export is lies doesn't seem dumb, it seems mighty smart.
posted by formless at 10:02 AM on December 27, 2011


The CIA mostly recruits for a position called "Collections Management Officer" -- this is a locally placed person, often a westerner, who recruits other people to gather intelligence. They don't recruit leftist activists to do James Bond shit.

*Throws copy of Bourne Identity against the wall.*


Get a copy of Fair Game instead.
posted by homunculus at 10:10 AM on December 27, 2011


They don't recruit leftist activists

Period.
posted by josher71 at 10:24 AM on December 27, 2011


It's kind of weird you don't think they do both. I mean this guy managed to shoot a bunch of people in Pakistan and get arrested for it, 4 months before bin laden got killed, about 200 miles from abottabad. What government department do you think he was working for?

We have an embassy in Pakistan; and people are more or less free to travel around the country. A white American dude who speaks English could be a spy- he could claim he's a diplomat.

Also, that super-secret spy drone that Iran captured and claimed was illegally in its airspace "we accidently lost control of and veered off course".


What the are you talking about? The United States doesn't pretend it doesn't spy on Iran. There's the standard "neither confirm or deny" stuff, but it's very thinly veiled: In a recent speech, President Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, hinted at secret efforts by the United States to keep watch on Iran’s nuclear program.

“We will continue to be vigilant,” Mr. Donilon said last month at the Brookings Institution. “We will work aggressively to detect any new nuclear-related efforts by Iran. We will expose them and force Iran to place them under international inspections.”

posted by spaltavian at 10:31 AM on December 27, 2011



They don't recruit leftist activists

Period.


but Ross Perot, who is highly critical of all the wars in that region, isn't a leftist. if OWS has re-inforced in it's past 101 days is that here in the US, "left" and "right" often do not mean a thing when it comes to financial & foreign policy.

am not saying these people were working for the CIA. all am saying is that the definition of "left" or "right" may not mean what you think they mean when when it's in reference to policy in policy positions about the middle east.
posted by liza at 10:36 AM on December 27, 2011


all am saying is that the definition of "left" or "right" may not mean what you think they mean when when it's in reference to policy in policy positions about the middle east.

Can you elaborate a little more on this idea?
posted by josher71 at 10:48 AM on December 27, 2011


Discussing the CIA and whether or not the three were spies tends to limit itself unnecessarily to this idea of CIA operatives who were trained in Langley or something. "Spies" can cover a whole spectrum of actions by people, from NOCs parachuting in by night to locals passing gossip along.

For example, the Mossad famously uses a network of Jewish "helpers"--local Jews who aren't, by any stretch, Mossad employees or operatives, but who are loosely connected, and might get a phone call one day that someone is going to crash on their couch that night, and don't bother him with too many questions.

I've related here before about a friend who attended McGill law school, an Iranian woman whose family was connected to the Shah's regime, who lived in Canada from childhood, and had charges of prostitution in Iran booked against her, in case she tried to return. Iranian students who came from Iran to attend McGill law were quite open (and hostile) about the fact that they reported back to Iran on her, and were able to recite details of her life and "secret" file that no stranger would ever know.

Intelligence agencies use low level informers for simple tasks to continually rake information. Most of it's useless, but it can suddenly become useful to be able to, say, construct a dossier on someone who's become suddenly important, or refer back to a series of reports that a particular area was peaceful for several years.

This is why it's not crazy to believe they were "spies", in some sense, or at least for the Iranians to treat them as such.

They don't recruit leftist activists

And you're sure that all three are really leftist activists?
posted by fatbird at 10:49 AM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Whether or not they were "spies" or "working for the CIA" is a question that may not lend itself to a black-and-white, yes-or-no answer. It is not unheard of for the CIA to secretly fund organizations that advance its mission in some ways (remember Stephen Spender and the CIA-funded literary magazine he edited?). The "hikers" had strong connections in activist circles and it is not unthinkable that they may have naively found themselves serving interests other than their curiosity about the world.

Certainly, it was not in their interest to admit that they were doing anything other than hiking.
posted by jayder at 10:50 AM on December 27, 2011


And you're sure that all three are really leftist activists?

Yep. I know the fourth hiker, the one who didn't go because he was sick, in real life. These people are for real.
posted by josher71 at 10:56 AM on December 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Let me rephrase my question to be more clear: Are you sure that each of them, individually, are really leftist activists? The FBI successfully penetrated a lot of anti-war, leftist groups in the 70s, so successfully that sometimes it wasn't inaccurate to accuse the FBI of carrying out the protests themselves.
posted by fatbird at 11:19 AM on December 27, 2011


I - a blond American female journalist - traveled (and went on some hikes) in lovely Kurdistan, summer 2007, before heading to Baghdad. This was at the very height of the surge. All things considered, it was relatively safe.

I'm glad they were released.
posted by cyndigo at 11:21 AM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


No, I'm not sure. However, as far as I can tell there is zero evidence to conclude that they are anything else than what they claim.
posted by josher71 at 11:21 AM on December 27, 2011


People. This is what a US spy in Iran (allegedly) looks like.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:49 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am glad that they're safe but I don't understand this way of thinking. That whole region is unstable, all of the wars, all of the various ethnic conflicts. I don't care if the "brochures" or "a friend" said it's safe. You couldn't pay me to visit that region.

When I was these kids age I was doing pretty much the same kind of shit while working in the West Bank. I was in my early twenties, fearless and in hindsight incredibly lucky. I volunteered and worked with Palestinian kids in East Jersalem and the West Bank. On our days off my colleagues and I arranged some roadtrips to dangerous holy sites and even went down to Gaza. I had guns pointed at me by Hamas, Fatah and IDF. I was caught up in a riot and tear gassed. We kept doing it though. I wanted an adventure and I had one.
posted by humanfont at 12:14 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was planning at first to go hiking on the Iranian border, but now I think I'll take the safe route and go sailing off the coast Somalia.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:15 PM on December 27, 2011


"Now that I know more about Iran, it makes perfect sense. Iranians understand what we went through better than anyone else. Their government is rapidly devolving into a neo-totalitarian regime that uses random arrests, assassinations, show trials, and executions to manipulate, silence dissent, and set an example."

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani could be hanged in Iran: Judiciary officials exploring whether woman whose sentence to death by stoning was suspended can be hanged instead
posted by homunculus at 12:41 PM on December 27, 2011


FWIW, and I know this is just a guy on the internet talking here.

I've a direct-know-him-face-to-face local friend who has known Bauer for a hell for along time (family friend, that sort of thing) and has nothing but absolute scorn and derision for the notion that Bauer has/had anything to do with the American Intelligence Service.

Is it possible? Yeah I guess, but it is also possible that I'm Ron Paul and will be the next American President.

Go figure.
posted by edgeways at 12:52 PM on December 27, 2011


Metafilter's Own Ron Paul!

Exxxcellent.
posted by cyndigo at 12:56 PM on December 27, 2011


fatbird: “Let me rephrase my question to be more clear: Are you sure that each of them, individually, are really leftist activists? The FBI successfully penetrated a lot of anti-war, leftist groups in the 70s, so successfully that sometimes it wasn't inaccurate to accuse the FBI of carrying out the protests themselves.”

These are people we're talking about. What the FBI did in the 1960s was terrible, but most importantly it was borne of a ridiculous, faith-undermining paranoia that permeated everything and allowed people to label other perfectly innocent people as "traitors" or "Communist agents."

When we paint people as FBI agents when we have absolutely no evidence that that is what they are, we're doing precisely the same thing. So: go ahead with this line of argument if you wish, discussing seriously the possibility that young people who have had to experience a lot of pain at the hands of a tyrannical regime are actually secret FBI agents. Just know that, in doing so, you're engaging in the same paranoid witch-hunting the FBI is guilty of.
posted by koeselitz at 1:12 PM on December 27, 2011


What the FBI did in the 1960s was terrible, but most importantly it was borne of a ridiculous, faith-undermining paranoia that permeated everything and allowed people to label other perfectly innocent people as "traitors" or "Communist agents."

Except for the word "communist", this is different from the last decade in what way?
posted by fatbird at 1:22 PM on December 27, 2011


Let me rephrase my question to be more clear: Are you sure that each of them, individually, are really leftist activists? The FBI successfully penetrated a lot of anti-war, leftist groups in the 70s, so successfully that sometimes it wasn't inaccurate to accuse the FBI of carrying out the protests themselves.
No one can be certain of anything, but why put the burden of certainty on people who don't think they should have been detained and tortured for over a year? Certainly, you would expect Iran to monitor who crosses their border and potentially detain them, the U.S does that. But that doesn't mean they deserved it.

So is the question "Can you be absolutely certain none of them were spies?" instead of "Does it seem more likely that they were spies, or less likely?"
posted by delmoi at 1:22 PM on December 27, 2011


You don't have to believe these three were CIA operatives to still believe they did indeed cross the Iranian border (unintentionally), which is enough reason for Iran to suspect they were spies and detain them.

It was either on this site or another message board, when after they were first captured, that I read a post that made the point that if three Iranian tourists were hiking along the Canadian border and accidentally wandered into Washington state, if US border agents would have caught them, the US govt wouldn't treat those Iranians much differently that Iran treated those three US tourists.

Shane Bauer even said as much after he was released.

"In prison, every time we complained about our conditions, the guards would immediately remind us of comparable conditions at Guantánamo Bay. They would remind of us of CIA prisons in other parts of the world and the conditions that Iranians and others experience in prisons in the U.S.," says Shane Bauer.

To their credit, even though they were stupid enough to cross into a hostile country's territory, they will still smart enough to understand why the country acted as it did.
posted by riruro at 1:43 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


fatbird: “Except for the word ‘communist’, this is different from the last decade in what way?”

In no way.

But I see you've missed my point. You're right, these kids are Communist agents. Oops, I mean "FBI agents." I keep forgetting to update my language.
posted by koeselitz at 1:45 PM on December 27, 2011


It's not really a question of whether or not they were spies, because that's almost as unanswerable question as "WTF were they thinking, hiking on the border of Iran?"

But I see you've missed my point. You're right, these kids are Communist agents. Oops, I mean "FBI agents." I keep forgetting to update my language.

No, I got your point, but you're acting like it's the only point that matters when it isn't. Interestingly enough, Shane Bauer didn't miss the point, as riruro quotes.
posted by fatbird at 1:50 PM on December 27, 2011


In the early '80s just after China "opened up" (1981, I believe) my sister - an American - lived in Lanzhou China for a year while teaching at the University. On a trip to Hong Kong she was approached by an American business man who had close ties to the American government and was asked whether she would be willing to provide information on scientists working in the chemical industry in Lanzhou. She politely declined but wondered nervously whether anyone in the Chinese intelligence services had observed their meeting and what such an observer might report back to Beijing. It didn't make her feel comfortable. What if something like this had happened to these hikers?
posted by vicusofrecirculation at 1:51 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are two things that are getting conflated here: Iran's understandable paranoia of western spies, and internet people in the US laboring under the impression that these hikers were spies without bothering to look much at the details.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:52 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


It was either on this site or another message board, when after they were first captured, that I read a post that made the point that if three Iranian tourists were hiking along the Canadian border and accidentally wandered into Washington state, if US border agents would have caught them, the US govt wouldn't treat those Iranians much differently that Iran treated those three US tourists.

Assuming these hypothetical tourists were handled by the US justice system (versus Bush's military commission abortion of a system), hell yes they'd be treated darn differently than Iran treated these three young hikers. In the US justice system, among other things, there are open trials, due process, and a lack of torture.

Also, when did we forget that two wrongs don't ever make a right? That the US has mistreated people in Guantanamo Bay and via renditions does not make Iran's treatment of these young people all right. That is one of the points Shourd's thoughtful comments makes.

There isn't any evidence at all that these young hikers did anything like spying or that would look like spying. Everyone that knows them has said that there is no way. They look completely innocent of doing anything but getting lost.

The wrongdoer here is Iran's oppressive government.
posted by bearwife at 2:18 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


There isn't any evidence at all that these young hikers did anything ....that would look like spying.

I think a lot of people here are making the point that accidentally turning up in Iran and saying 'oops got lost' kind of looks a hell of a lot like spying, because who the fuck is dumb enough to actually get lost like that? So their best case argument is 'yep, I'm dumb as a rock'. Unfortunately, rule 1 of being a paranoid regime with known enemies is: never attribute to idiocy what could be attributed to malice.
posted by jacalata at 3:34 PM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


[delmoi/Burhanistan, take it to MeMail please]
posted by jessamyn at 3:43 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Getting lost looks like spying? Really?

Even assuming that's so, we are now years past the event. And that is all the basis there has ever been to accuse these three of being spies. Maybe MetaFilter, which prides itself on being fair, rational, and evidence-based, should demand more.

What there is clear evidence of here at this point is wrongful accusation, wrongful trial, wrongful incarceration, and wrongful treatment during incarceration. And as Shourd says, that is standard practice for Iran in its treatment of its own citizens too.
posted by bearwife at 3:56 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Getting lost looks like spying? Really? To Iran. Yes, I imagine it does. See one sentence above your post, where I mention 'paranoia'. I myself am completely on board with the explanation 'dumb as a rock'.

I don't know if we're simply reading everything differently, but I am not accusing them of being spies. I assume it goes without saying that no, I disagree with indefinite detention, with torture, with killing puppies. I am also not saying 'hey Iran seems to have a perfectly reasonably justice system'. I'm saying - given that these kids are all 'hey I live in the Middle East I know all about it, this might seem strange to americans (and btw what are they?) but we know better' - then maybe they should have known better. Maybe the kind of dumb hiker mistake that you can get away with in Yellowstone ('oh I thought we were going 20 miles northwest but turns out we went south towards the hostile border') is simply not as recoverable in the Middle East. Maybe that's why I, and others, are mildly unsympathetic - because hey, that was a terrible thing that happened to them. But if this was a friend or someone I cared about, I would have spent that year alternating between 'OMG PLEASE BE OK' and 'YOU FUCKING IDIOT I WILL KILL YOU MYSELF'. Kind of like you'd react when you saw someone run out in front of a car. That doesn't mean that if the car happens to be speeding, you're suddenly a huge fan of speeding.
posted by jacalata at 4:18 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just caught the rebroadcast of Democracy Now! where an author recounted the story of one of the American hostages in Iran in 1980. He eventually learned to accept why they took him hostage--it was a hedge against another US-backed coup like in 1953. It doesn't mean they weren't then or aren't now erring on the side of paranoia, but they don't just take citizens from nations hostile to them to be bullies. I don't particularly like what they do, but when you see it from their position, it at least makes some strategic sense.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:25 PM on December 27, 2011


Regardless of what they actually were or whether they had any intentions at all, it remains an element of realpolitik in the world that when you carry a valuable American passport you have the potential to be a pawn in public politics with great visibility.

In the US justice system, among other things, there are open trials, due process, and a lack of torture.

Are we on the same planet or referring to the same types of people who will face these things or no? Any Middle Easterner accidently crossing a US border has very little likelihood of having the same justice system apply to them. Its bad enough simply catching a flight if you look the least bit brown.
posted by infini at 4:46 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are we on the same planet or referring to the same types of people who will face these things or no?

Yup. If we are referring to the US criminal justice system.
posted by bearwife at 5:20 PM on December 27, 2011


Then perhaps I misunderstood, I thought I'd read that you'd said they will face a system of justice.
posted by infini at 5:32 PM on December 27, 2011


Any Middle Easterner accidently crossing a US border has very little likelihood of having the same justice system apply to them. Its bad enough simply catching a flight if you look the least bit brown.

Yes ... it's a great point that you and others are making, that an Iranian wandering across a border into the US and claiming it was an innocent hiking trip gone awry would have those claims treated with howls of derision and incredulity (probably from some of the very same people steadfastly arguing for the innocuousness of Shourd et al's hiking trip).
posted by jayder at 5:34 PM on December 27, 2011


There is one mefite who has taken trips in that region, I think.

Been to the Iranian province of Kurdistan many years back. Except that, I was four years old, and I don't remember much except it being really cold and that the giant wheel and a giant slide in a central Sanandaj park were really tall, and that the local ambulance driver had an awesome Mercedes ambulance on which he took us kids on rides.

This was in 1986; my dad remembers bombs going off from the Iran-Iraq war. In fact, a bomb went off some 800 m away once.
posted by the cydonian at 6:09 PM on December 27, 2011


I think it's amusing that people think the CIA works by smuggling white operatives into western Asia rather than recruit locals through networks.

There's ample precedent.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:30 PM on December 27, 2011


Hey, don't forget the textbook case!
posted by Burhanistan at 7:14 PM on December 27, 2011


This is an article that one of the jailed Americans wrote for The Nation. It's called "Iraq's New Death Squad."

The optimist in me desperately wants to believe that the CIA is now agitating against US-trained death squads. The realist in me believes that CIA involvement didn't go any farther than an incognito agent who told the hikers, "You gotta check out over that hill; it's totes beautiful and definitely still in Iraqi Kurdistan."
posted by compartment at 9:55 PM on December 27, 2011


I think the critical difference here is that if your get yourself into trouble on Everest, it's your problem.

Mitrovarr, I wish that were true, but the fact is that in good weather helicopter rescues are attempted - always at risk to the helicopter crews. Everest is never a nice place.


The part of Iraq where they were is completely safe.

It takes a special kind of detachment from reality to believe that any part of a war-torn country like Iraq is safe, kyrademon. Don't bogart the good stuff, pass it around.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:54 PM on December 27, 2011


> It takes a special kind of detachment from reality to believe that any part of a war-torn country like Iraq is safe

Northern Iraq wasn't/isn't Baghdad. I can't find any stats but I'd be willing to bet a small sum that there were less murders per capita in that region than say, Baltimore. That doesn't mean that it was the best idea in the world to take a hiking vacation in the borderlands of Iraq/Iran, but it also doesn't mean that people suggesting that a part of a country isn't particularly dangerous are out of their minds.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:15 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom: "It takes a special kind of detachment from reality to believe that any part of a war-torn country like Iraq is safe, kyrademon. Don't bogart the good stuff, pass it around."

This is flatly incorrect, IAmBroom. Kurdistan is perfectly stable and safe - safer than Turkey, for instance - and has been for two decades. I provided a cite for this above. Where's yours?
posted by koeselitz at 11:20 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the critical difference here is that if your get yourself into trouble on Everest, it's your problem.

Mitrovarr, I wish that were true, but the fact is that in good weather helicopter rescues are attempted - always at risk to the helicopter crews. Everest is never a nice place.


Provided the climbers are not on the top third of Everest, since the ceiling for (light) helicopters can be as low as 8,000 feet and most helicopters fall well short of 20,000 feet, and Everest is just over 29,000 feet high.

There is a highly dubious, unsubstantiated claim of a helicopter reaching the peak though:

"On May 14th, 2005, an Ecureuil/AStar AS 350 B3 helicopter operated by Eurocopter was reported to have landed on Mount Everest (29,035 feet). The landing is in dispute. The listed service ceiling of the rotorcraft is between 17 and 18 thousand feet, which is considerably short of the summit altitude.

An unmanned high altitude helicopter is nearing completion. TGR Helicorp in New Zealand has designed the "Alpine Wasp" specifically for rescue evolutions on Everest. The machine's diesel engine will give it an operating ceiling in excess of 30,000 feet."
posted by Devils Slide at 12:07 AM on December 28, 2011


Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option

The worst case for war with Iran

Kroenig's case for war with Iran

Why attacking Iran is still a bad idea
posted by homunculus at 12:47 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think there will be any kind of major attack on Iran during the Obama Presidency, even if he wins a second term. We are effectively isolating Iran and increasing pressure on their economy. Covert operations against the program seem to have delayed the project and increased costs. Increasing supped of Iraqi and Libyan crude along with diminished Iranian export capacity have made Iran less important to the global oil supply. Iran is increasing unstable as various hard line factions grapple over a succession crisis and domestic unrest.

An attack would reduce Irans isolation and diminish internal political strife in Iran. It would likely have an unverifiable impact on the nuclear program. It would also send the price of oil up strengthening Iran and hurting the US economy.

A plan of attack would involve striking hundreds if not thousands of targets. We would need to patrol Iran's enormous coastline to protect shipping and keep the Straight of Hormuz open. We'd need to provide protection for in Theater forces for attack by WMD and conventional means. All of this would cost tens of billions of dollars which we don't have.
posted by humanfont at 1:43 PM on December 28, 2011


more analysis of Iran's threat to close the strait of Hormuz.
posted by Shit Parade at 10:11 PM on December 28, 2011


Closing the strait would significantly limit Iranian oil exports. They should give it a try.
posted by humanfont at 1:20 AM on December 29, 2011


Luckily the US seems set on limiting Iranian exports whether or not they close the strait.

nytimes
posted by Shit Parade at 6:14 PM on December 29, 2011


Iran threatens American fleet.

Fortunately the Stenis just left the Gulf for the open waters of the Indian Ocean for a long deployment, so there will not be an immediate challenge to the threat by the Navy. Watch most of the Republicans scream that he should turn around and pull right into Dubai just to show em. Days like this we can be thankful that we don't have POTUS McCain.
posted by humanfont at 11:12 AM on January 3, 2012


Iran squeezes Web surfers, prepares censored national intranet
posted by homunculus at 1:14 PM on January 7, 2012


Iran Imposes Death Sentence on U.S. Man Accused of Spying
posted by homunculus at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2012


Not just a man, but a Marine. Way to reduce tension Iran. I'm sure the jarheads will advocate for a measured and calm reaction to this news and seek to resolve this via diplomatic means. They are all about leaving a man behind.....
posted by humanfont at 1:03 PM on January 9, 2012


> They are all about leaving a man behind.

Perhaps, but the Marines have very little influence in matters of diplomacy. He's a former Marine, and one who later worked for the CIA. Combine that with his Iranian parentage and you have a perfect storm of circumstantial guilt for the Iranians. Doesn't matter if he was only there to hug his grandma. As it seems now, he was there to both visit family and shop around his new intelligence entrepreneurship. That's not to say at all that he's guilty of anything criminal (since we have no information), but that the State Department will certainly take a different tack in trying to negotiate his release.

As tensions ratchet up there will be more of this kind of thing. Any US citizen traveling to Iran had better triple check that they are impeccable in the eyes of the authorities there lest they end up as pawns in a saber rattling game.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:57 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


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