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Iran's captives
December 3, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal have been detained by the Iranian government for more than four months now, despite numerous calls for their release.
posted by serazin (38 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
CIA or stupid. Not a lot of sympathy either way. Sorry.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:54 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


You think they're CIA Joe? Seriously? These three are all well known (in the Bay Area) progressive activists. Their good buddy Tristan is the guy who was doing Palestine solidarity work and got shot in the head by Israeli police.
posted by serazin at 10:57 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eh, they're not CIA nor really stupid, just unfortunate and a bit careless. Now they're caught up in a diplomatic no man's land gray area game that the Iranians seem to enjoy playing
posted by Burhanistan at 10:59 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Besides, what the hell would CIA or any other Western spy agency be doing sending white people in as HUMINT like that? The MO is to use natives managed by proxy, not James Bond shit.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:01 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this post. I think of them often. No one around here who knows them (and I live in their neck of the woods) believes they did anything more than make a mistake on their hike path.
posted by bearwife at 11:05 AM on December 3, 2009


They aren't CIA. I know the fourth hiker. Anarchists shy away from the CIA types.
posted by josher71 at 11:07 AM on December 3, 2009


In the same way as walking down a dark alley doesn't mean you deserve to be mugged, these guys don't deserve this, and I hope they're released soon. That said, it does seem somewhat foolish to be hiking near the Iranian border, especially as Americans.

The CIA accusation seems strangely out of left field though, Joe Beese. Are you sure you didn't mean to implicate Obama as being at fault instead?
posted by explosion at 11:09 AM on December 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


Contrast with Iran freeing British sailors.
posted by boo_radley at 11:11 AM on December 3, 2009


A would-be fourth hiker who stayed back due to illness explained why they were vacationing near Iran on Democracy Now a few weeks ago. From his story, it doesn't seem that they were being particularly foolish.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:16 AM on December 3, 2009


it doesn't seem that they were being particularly foolish.

Beyond the initial foolishness of choosing a vacation spot in Iraqi Kurdistan near the Iranian border. I wouldn't wish their current fate on anyone, but I still have difficulty feeling much sympathy for adventure tourists who get in trouble.
posted by fatbird at 11:19 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


When hasn't Iran's diplomacy strategy centered on kidnapping?
posted by mullingitover at 11:19 AM on December 3, 2009


but I still have difficulty feeling much sympathy for adventure tourists who get in trouble.

Well, if you read up on why they were in the area, they weren't being "adventure tourists". They were students living in Damascus, and took that trip because it was recommended by others, and Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the more stable places in the region, purportedly. It's not like they were taking a bus ride from Kabul to Kandahar for kicks or something.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:21 AM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


explosion: "The CIA accusation seems strangely out of left field though, Joe Beese. Are you sure you didn't mean to implicate Obama as being at fault instead?"

Of course not. It's very clear by now that Obama has no power over the CIA at all.

I have no idea whether the three are CIA or not. I wouldn't take Iran's word for it. But to claim that it's implausible when we've been aggressively fomenting disorder there for decades would be disingenuous to say the least.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:25 AM on December 3, 2009


I like how you approach things Joe Beese.

Oh Iran kidnapped some hikers? Fuck em they could be CIA.
Oh Iran kidnapped some british sailors? Fuck em they could be MI6.
Oh Iran kidnapped an entire embassy? Fuck em they could be CIA (some of them probably were!)

These were students who were out there learning about different cultures. That's pretty important for any society. They were in some mountains where there isn't a line marking the border. They could have stayed in Iraqi territory the entire time too. Not like there is much evidence to show they actually entered into Iranian territory with their own free will.

But fuck the ignorant right. Bad things happen to bad people, not us god fearing folk.
posted by Allan Gordon at 11:36 AM on December 3, 2009


OK, let's not go down the pile-on road here. I think all of us are pretty much coming from the same political perspective so lets play nice.
posted by serazin at 11:40 AM on December 3, 2009


They could have stayed in Iraqi territory the entire time too.

Which was pretty easy to do considering they were in Iraq.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:41 AM on December 3, 2009


Burhanistan as I understand it the Iranians are saying the hikers went into their territory. Which is why they are currently in an Iranian prison.
posted by Allan Gordon at 11:48 AM on December 3, 2009


"At a Nov. 9 news conference, Ahmadinejad said Iran's judiciary would deal with the American hikers — then noted that Iran accuses the United States of holding several of its citizens."

The above has led some to suspect that Iran is holding the hikers as exchange-bait for an Iranian arms dealer who was secretly imprisoned in the US for the past two years.
posted by Wufpak at 11:50 AM on December 3, 2009


I certainly hope they get released soon, but the Iran/Iraq border seems like a very poorly chosen destination for their weekend "hiking trip". It's like walking right up to the very edge of a cliff and peeking over, and then being surprised when the lip crumbles and you fall off. Sure it looked pretty safe, and you weren't actually trying to jump off, but you still made the decision to walk right up to the very extreme edge of the cliff and look over. I would imagine Iran is just holding out to use them as leverage to get a favorable bargaining position, but then again people have languished for years in Iranian prisons for less.
posted by sophist at 11:58 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I understand it the Iranians are saying the hikers went into their territory. Which is why they are currently in an Iranian prison.

Sorry, I misread your comment since I've seen some people that were unsure that they were vacationing in Iraq.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:01 PM on December 3, 2009


If they were CIA, we would already be at war.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:07 PM on December 3, 2009


Here's the fourth hiker's account (PDF). Apparently they couldn't find the area they were going to hike, Ahmed Awa, on a map, but still set out from their hotel in Sulaymaniyah under the impression that their destination wasn't anywhere near the Iranian border. It doesn't seem that they asked anyone if it was, but figured that since no one mentioned it was it wasn't.

This reminds me of a camping trip I once went on. We set out from a friend's cabin near the Allegheny reservoir for a waterfront camp site that was approximately 3 miles away. Shortly after leaving we realized that we forgot the map, but one of us had been there a few times and was certain he'd be able to find the trail. Well, we ended up taking the wrong fork somewhere, which eventually dwindled into nothing, and finally decided that if we kept heading downhill we'd eventually hit the lake. What should have been an hour and a half hike took over 3, as we hit water what turned out to be about a mile away from the camp area when I finally looked at a map. The next time we made that hike I was sure to bring a map and a compass.

My point? It's easy to get lost while hiking, especially when relying solely on directions given by locals. Leaving for a hike without a good map is foolish, and leaving from a town 25 miles or so from the Iranian border without knowing exactly where you're headed is doubly so.
posted by waxboy at 12:23 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


for those of you who think, well they crossed the border by mistake, tough luck....

is that what you think the penalty should be? when people accidentally cross the border in a civilized country, if they are not malicious, they get fined, deported, excluded, whatever. its fucked up to hold them indefinitely.

what the iranians are doing here is trying to get even with the US for taking their folks (diplomats) hostage in Irbil a few years back. which the US did. and it was fucked up. the president of Iran and other Iranian officials have alluded to this in his public statements.

anyway, even if you think the Iranians should be able to retaliate, they are choosing the wrong vehicle for the job. these 3 are not just "innocent" people, they are not politically neutral naive stupid american tourists who pretend to have nothing to do with anything. all 3 are smarty, aware, politically engaged and active people who have clearly, publicly, and long before they went hiking, came out in OPPOSITION to their own country's policies towards iran and the middle east. they even took numerous actions in OPPOSITION to those policies.

imagine the US arrested some pro-western pro-democracy north korean journalists who crossed into California from Mexico without the proper documentation. would it make sense for us to "get back" at kim jong il by holding these political opponents of his in prison? thats the wierd ass analogy to what Iran is doing. WTF Iran, I thought you folks were smarter than this!

*get home soon sarah, shane, and josh!
posted by mano at 12:43 PM on December 3, 2009


One of the hikers is a local, so we've seen some updates about this story. It's a pretty sad story, lost harmless kids. A local restaurant is doing a fundraiser. Jenkintown’s West Avenue Grille is teaming up with Laura Fattal, mother of Elkins Park native Josh Fattal, who is currently being held in Iran.
posted by fixedgear at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2009


for those of you who think, well they crossed the border by mistake, tough luck....

No one here thinks the Iranians are acting in a just or fair way; we all recognize that the three are pawns in a dangerous game they didn't start. But there's a degree of feeling that hiking in Iraq near the Iranian border is courting danger, so it's hard to get that worked up about the injustice they face.
posted by fatbird at 1:16 PM on December 3, 2009


so it's hard to get that worked up about the injustice they face.

Hope no one you know is ever in a situation like that, then. There's every reason for people to be upset and demand release.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:22 PM on December 3, 2009


Hope no one you know is ever in a situation like that, then. There's every reason for people to be upset and demand release.

My outrage gland can only pump so many times during the day, and Metafilter alone is often enough to drain it. Of course they should be released. Am I supposed to collect my tears in a bottle, too?
posted by fatbird at 1:31 PM on December 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


"These three are all well known (in the Bay Area) progressive activists." Which has the unfortunate side effect of making it seem even stranger. A journalist, a women's rights activist, and an environmentalist. All three things that the Iranian government just *loves* these days. (sarcasm intended)

We have a game called Geocaching, where people use GPS coordinates to find objects the size of a 35mm film canister in the middle of nowhere yet three hikers were completely unaware of the fact that they had crossed into another country? They even had a guide with them. I'm agreeing with the others that think they took a very dangerous and unnecessary risk by going anywhere near the Iranian border, regardless of how peaceful the Iraqi side of it was. This is especially true considering the political climate that has been going on with Iran. They're SF Bay Area activists, so it's quite likely that they at least read a little bit about the issues with Iran these days.

And as others have pointed out, the British government negotiated the release of British seaman within a week, yet four months later these three are still in jail? That's why it seems so fishy, as if there's a lot that we haven't heard about.
posted by drstein at 1:32 PM on December 3, 2009


I can definitely relate to empathy fatigue. There's injustice every single minute. It's hard to muster emotion for every wrong. Especially when it feels like these kids might have taken risks unnecissarily - made choices we didn't make.

I figure though, those dangerous choices are the core of why I should give a damn about them. They weren't like me, sitting at home on the internet. Instead they were activists, journalists, students, people who used their curiosity about the world to explore it deeply, and to try to share information with the rest of the world - for the sake of improving the lives of others. Sure, I'm not visiting Iraq, so I'm not getting arrested. They chose to live in Damascus. But that's what makes them better people than me. The least I can do is try to get the word out about them.
posted by serazin at 1:35 PM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


You think they're CIA Joe? Seriously? These three are all well known (in the Bay Area) progressive activists
Sounds like a good way for an undercover CIA agent to gain "Street Cred". There were plenty of undercover people running around in the hippy/radical movement back in the 60s.

Actually I doubt they are CIA agents, But they do seem pretty dumb.
These were students who were out there learning about different cultures. That's pretty important for any society. They were in some mountains where there isn't a line marking the border.
Just because you can't tell where the border is easily doesn't mean you should just cross it. I'm sorry, when you live in a country that is: one, constantly threatening to bomb Iran (our current secretary of state said we would "annihilate" Iran if they attacked Israel, during the primary campaign) two, kidnapped Iranians in Iraq with legitimate diplomatic passports, and just one and a half months after they had a contested election and people are protesting in the streets trying to bring down the incumbent government, then you don't just wander into Iran. It's just Very Stupid

It's like trying to pet a wild hyena. "They couldn't see its teeth" isn't a good excuse.

(And what, GPS doesn't work around there?)
is that what you think the penalty should be? when people accidentally cross the border in a civilized country, if they are not malicious, they get fined, deported, excluded, whatever. its fucked up to hold them indefinitely.
Yeah well, what do you think would happen to someone if they were suspected of being Al-Quaida? During the bush administration? Chances are they'd end up in Gitmo, guilty or not.

Now I do think they are not spies, and they should be released. But like I said, they should have been more careful.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on December 3, 2009


when you walk amongst lions a few will get eaten, it is no less a tragedy, but not unexpected.
posted by edgeways at 2:39 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


(And what, GPS doesn't work around there?)

Even if it does, the available maps are not likely very good. Just going into Mexico turns the average GPS in a sort of Global Estimation System.
posted by flaterik at 3:03 PM on December 3, 2009


It seems like there's some kind of deep-seated human instinct to regard the misfortune of others as confirmation of one's own good sense/superior morals/refusal to leave mom's basement.

It actually sounds to me like the sort of moral law Bierce would have noticed; of course, the combination, with the internet, of relative anonymity in commenting, and a constant supply of stories about people one does not know, provides us with a near-daily stream of examples, which would no doubt warm the cockles of his misanthropic old heart.

It's perfectly understandable, nobody wants to admit how random life can be, and if a stranger gets hit by a bus, no-one wants to think "that or similar could happen to me"- it feels much better to 'hurf durf darwin award' about it.

These kids - I don't know them, maybe they're stupid, maybe they're sekrit spies, I don't know that much about it, but at least now I know Metafilter's filled to the brim with people who would never ever do whatever these people did, because y'all are just too darned SMRT to go out like that. Great- thanks for sharing, I'm sure you'll never make a consequential mistake, and I'm proud of you for that.
posted by hap_hazard at 4:55 PM on December 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


for the sake of improving the lives of others.

...or maybe they were just doing it cuz it sounded cool.

Sure, I'm not visiting Iraq, so I'm not getting arrested. They chose to live in Damascus. But that's what makes them better people than me.

No, that's what makes them st00pider than you.
posted by Doohickie at 8:27 PM on December 3, 2009


Great- thanks for sharing, I'm sure you'll never make a consequential mistake, and I'm proud of you for that.

There's a difference between just happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and going far out of your way to ensure you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. Consequential mistake? Boneheaded move is more like it.

Does that mean that Iran should hold them? No. But just like when Jewish soldiers will shoot a Palestinian kid if he throws enough rocks at them, there are certain things that, if you think it through, should be obvious that it's just not too wise.

Besides, they will get released after another month, maybe another year, whatever, and make fortunes off the books they'll write.
posted by Doohickie at 8:32 PM on December 3, 2009


when people accidentally cross the border in a civilized country, if they are not malicious, they get fined, deported, excluded, whatever. its fucked up to hold them indefinitely.

Iran clearly does not meet the criteria of a civilized country in this context. It is fucked up to hold them, but there are lot of people sitting in Iranian and United States prisons who don't belong there either. Particularly in Gitmo, where I wouldn't be surprised if we have more than a few people from the other side who were in the wrong place at the wrong time just as these people were.

WTF Iran, I thought you folks were smarter than this!

Are you serious? Did you miss the massive protests against the Iranian election this year, where hundreds of people were injured or killed and even more were thrown in prison indefinitely? You seem to be under the impression that Iran gives a fuck about human rights. On the contrary, I think Iran probably saw a good future bargaining chip and a great opportunity to be deliberately antagonistic towards the United States. I can also assure you that the fact that these activists were not big fans of the Bush administration or our policies in Israel means absolutely nothing to their captors or the fundamentalist regime in power. They will be released when we acquiesce to demands of the Iranian government, most likely in some hushed up hostage trade.
posted by sophist at 12:00 AM on December 4, 2009


Hossein Derakhshan, Now Detained for Over a Year
posted by kliuless at 6:40 AM on December 4, 2009


Iran Says 3 Americans to Face Trial
posted by homunculus at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2009


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